SCVO calls for MSPs' support for third sector campaigning at Scottish Government welfare debate
MSPs have been challenged to protect the right of the third sector to criticise government and campaign against welfare changes which have plunged people into poverty.
A Scottish Parliament debate on Westminster’s changes to the benefits system today (Wednesday, 13 August) called for a wide range of evidence.
Among those who submitted a briefing to MSPs was the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO).
SCVO, the national body representing the third sector in Scotland, told MSPs that charities and volunteer groups had been dealing head-on with the impact of welfare cuts and austerity.
Third sector groups’ frontline role means that it is essential they have a voice in both shaping and criticising policy.
Any attempt to silence this voice is bad for policy making, but also bad for democracyMartin Sime, SCVO
The Westminster lobbying bill (now and act) has been seen as a means of suppressing dissent – and senior government figures have brought pressure to bear on organisations that they say are acting too politically.
SCVO, in its briefing to the debate, has demanded MSPs give their backing to the third sector’s right to criticise government policy.
Martin Sime, SCVO chief executive, said: “Throughout the process of so-called welfare reform, the voice of the sector in challenging the benefit cuts and changes which have devastated communities and families has been both vociferous and powerful.
“We have spoken out strongly on issues of stigma and sanctions and will continue to do so. We would contend that any attempt to silence this voice is bad for policy making, but also bad for democracy. We would ask the Scottish Parliament to respond to our concerns on this matter.
“Amongst other things, the sector provides a voice for people in need – people who are fighting systems which reduce their capacity to live and to cope with financial challenges.”
On a wider level, the SCVO briefing makes a case for changes to how welfare is looked at in order to protect those suffering from Westminster government policy.
The submission states: “Whatever happens in September, Scotland must find its own way in creating a more humane and empowering approach to welfare – either in creating a new system or in responding to any additional welfare powers. It is vital that we learn lessons from our experience to date.”
SNP MSP Jamie Hepburn, who sits on the welfare reform committee, said: "When it comes to trying to help people cope with the deeply negative effects of Westminster’s welfare cuts, the difference between the Scottish Parliament and Westminster really is like that between night and day.
“While the Scottish Government has done its best to mitigate the worst effects of damaging Westminster policies like the bedroom tax and providing funding support to third sector organisations like the Trussell Trust to help with the foodbanks they operate, Westminster has proven to be hopelessly out of touch.
“As Westminster’s cuts continue to devastate communities, it has become clearer than ever that we need to have full responsibility for tax and welfare decisions in Scotland.”