Focus: Policy and Politics - Scots alliance tackles welfare reform

Nathalie Thomas

Charities are concerned about proposed changes to the system.

Charities in Scotland are leading the charge in the campaign on welfare reform. Thirty voluntary organisations, whose interests range from poverty to accessible transport, have come together to form a new coalition specifically to deal with the issue.

The Scottish Campaign on Welfare Reform, as the alliance is known, has begun lobbying MPs on its concerns about proposed reforms to the welfare system, which the Government set out in a Green Paper earlier this year.

Members are also launching a joint postcard campaign later this week.

The coalition has started lobbying activity early in the hope that welfare reform will play a big part in the forthcoming Queen's speech and the next Parliament.

"What people have picked up on is that welfare reform is going to be one of the key planks of the Queen's speech, and the Government is going to hit the ground running with this in October," said Kate Higgins, head of campaigns and communications at Capability Scotland, a coalition member.

The alliance, which includes Oxfam, Barnardo's Scotland, Leonard Cheshire Scotland and the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland, has identified three areas of shared concern.

The 30 members have written to MPs about the plans to compel individuals to return to work, the adequacy of benefit levels and the resources that are available for reform.

"We are concerned that the current welfare reform proposals do not provide either enough support for those wanting to move into work or enough protection for those who are unable to work," the coalition said. "Some aspects of the reforms may lead to people experiencing even deeper poverty."

They are urging MPs to raise the problems with John Hutton, the minister for work and pensions.

It is hoped that the postcard campaign, which will involve members of the public writing to their constituency MPs, will add to the pressure on MPs to consider the issues before a welfare reform bill starts its passage through Parliament.

But the coalition is also eager to use the alliance to show how Scottish charities are a force to be reckoned with when it comes to campaigning.

"It is also about showing you can do strong campaigning from a distance," said Higgins.

Although many of the coalition members have their head offices in England there aren't, as yet, any plans to reproduce the alliance south of the border.

"We have not found that going in with one hard line has been particularly useful," said a spokesman for the Child Poverty Action Group in London.

Most charities in England will continue responding to the issue individually and through the Disability Alliance, he said.

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