With Scotland’s greater disability history, cuts and caps take their toll
Despite devolution, welfare benefits in Scotland are still run from London
Protesters carry a Scottish Socialist Party banner at the Glasgow protest against the “bedroom tax” levied on dwellings deemed underoccupied. Photograph: John Lanigan
Gordon Colgan with his mother, Julia Kliszcz. Mr Colgan lives on disability benefits, while his mother gets about £120 a week, including a £59.75 carer’s allowance.
The house where Gordon Colgan, who suffers from cerebral palsy, grew up in Invergordon deep in the Scottish Highlands overlooking the Cromarty Firth, was busier when his two siblings lived at home. Today, Colgan (24) lives there with his mother, Julia Kliszcz.
He lives on disability benefits, while his mother gets about £120 a week, including a £59.75 carer’s allowance.
Two bedrooms upstairs are empty, but neither is of any use to Gordon since he cannot get to them. Since April 1st, mother and son have faced an increase in the cost of renting the property from the local council – up from £13.60 a week to £36.25 – although a discretionary Whitehall-approved payment is covering some of the extra costs – for now.
Despite devolution, welfare benefits are centrally run from London, where work and pensions secretary Ian Duncan- Smith argues that state-owned housing stock should be used as efficiently as possible.
The validity of the theory is undeniable, although implementing it in practice is more complex, since there is usually a shortage of smaller properties to move into, while moves can shift people away from family connections or useful community ties.
So far, the change has led to a battle of nomenclature, with opponents labelling it as “the bedroom tax”, while the British government argues that they have made changes “to the spare room subsidy”. It is a battle that Duncan-Smith has lost.
In Colgan’s case, his downstairs bedroom was converted by the local council to give him an accessible wet-room; a hoist was installed to help him get in and out of bed, while a ramp gives him access to the garden.
“What would be the point of spending all this money to give him the same facilities somewhere else in a smaller house?” his mother asks, adding that the discretionary payment will last for only three months before it expires.
Although reluctant to move, she has spoken to the local council about smaller properties but nothing suitable is available. This has led officials to suggest that she move into a one-bed flat while her son moves into supported accommodation.
The family’s difficulties are nothing new, according to Richard Hamer of Capability Scotland. “Scotland had significant amounts of social housing, which was never really the same way in England. There is still more of it today,” he tells The Irish Times.
“Inevitably, now, there is a greater effect from the bedroom tax. There is a greater history here of disability. That is put down to heavy industry, mining, ship-building. Even the Conservatives accept that that is the case. We are in a phoney war stage, however.”