People living with HIV must have equal opportunities to work when they are able to do so, and have the support to live with dignity and respect when they are unable to be in employment due to their condition or effects of medication. A number of people living with HIV require access to social security benefits at different times for various reasons; to stay in work, maintain their health, wellbeing and independence, or to meet basic living costs.
HIV continues to be poorly understood in the context of welfare and people living with HIV are already being disproportionately impacted by welfare reform. Although people living with HIV across Scotland can now expect a normal life expectancy and good quality of life, there remain a significant minority who are chronically unwell and disempowered.
Welfare Reform Act 2012
Under the previous UK coalition government, a number of changes were introduced through the Welfare Reform Act 2012. The impact of these reforms were documented in our report titled Welfare Reform in Scotland [PDF - 2MB] (HIV Scotland, 2014) which detailed the increased uncertainty experienced by people with blood borne viruses, which was at odds with national strategies aimed to improve the lives of people.
Amongst the reforms was the introduction of Universal Credit to replace a range of existing means-tested benefits and tax credits, whilst a new benefit, Personal Independence Payment (PIP), is being rolled out across the UK. PIP has replaced Disability Living Allowance (DLA) for anyone who wants to make a new claim and it will eventually replace DLA for all existing claimants if they meet the new reassessment criteria. In addition, some Housing Benefit claimants will receive a reduced amount of support if their accommodation is purportedly larger than needed – often described as the Bedroom Tax.
Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016
Following the passing of the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016, further changes are due to be implemented around the way in which social security is delivered across the UK. The biggest change is the further reduction of the total amount of benefit people can get, otherwise known as the benefit cap. Whilst there will be some exemptions from the cap for those claiming particular benefits, the reduction does not provide sufficient protection for vulnerable people living with HIV who may be in receipt of other benefits.
Other reforms include a reduction in Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) which is awarded to those who have not been found ‘fit for work’. Whilst those claiming ESA in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) are thought to have health-related barriers which may reduce over time, there is no expectation that people living with HIV in the ESA WRAG will be able to work or look for work. The reduction of ESA WRAG by £30 per week is a cut to income for people living with HIV and unable to work.
As recommended in the Smith Commission report in 2014, the Scottish Parliament is expected to be given powers over some areas of welfare policy. These include: discretionary welfare payments, benefits for disabled people and carers, and programmes to help people back into work. The new powers are due to come into force from April 2017 and it will be the Scottish Government who directly oversees the delivery of these benefits.
In the report we produced with Hepatitis Scotland titled Welfare Reform in Scotland [PDF - 2MB] (July 2014), we set out a range of recommendations that must be taken forward, by the UK Department for Work and Pensions, the Scottish Government, the NHS and local authorities.
HIV Scotland is a member of the Scottish Campaign on Welfare Reform (SCoWR). This coalition of over 40 key third sector organisations, faith groups, unions and charities from across Scotland was set up to highlight shared concerns about the UK government’s welfare reform proposals.
The need for a new approach to social security has never been more pressing and together we are campaigning for the following:
- Increasing benefit rates to a level where no one is left in poverty and all have sufficient income to lead a dignified life.
- Making respect for human rights and dignity the cornerstone of a new approach to welfare.
- Radically simplifying the welfare system.
- Investing in the support needed to enable everyone to participate fully in society.
- Making welfare benefits work for Scotland.
All of the above changes could go far to insure that people living with HIV were not disadvantaged within the welfare system and supported to live healthy and fulfilling lives.
Following the announcement of welfare powers being devolved to the Scottish Parliament, SCoWR has been proactive in calling for a new social security system in Scotland to prevent poverty and support those in need whilst also protecting their dignity. Ahead of the 2016 Scottish elections, SCoWR produced a manifesto detailing calls for change.
HIV Scotland is extremely concerned that the welfare reforms being implemented at a UK level may not be appropriate in a Scottish context, and in a UK context are not at all suitable to the needs of people living with HIV. Going forward, the Scottish Government must work closely with key partners across all sectors to mitigate the negative impacts of welfare reform, whilst establishing a new system in Scotland that better supports and empowers people living with HIV who rely upon welfare due to the effects of their condition.
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