While the right-wing press is quick to jump on stories about alleged benefit cheats and cruelly label anyone on welfare as “scroungers” and “layabouts”, hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people (if not more) are missing out on social security payments they rightfully deserve.
Estimates by the Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe) suggest more than £2bn in social security benefits remains unclaimed in Scotland every year, which given the stigma attached to claiming benefits is perhaps understandable.. but by no means acceptable.
It sadly means that many of the poorest and most vulnerable people are losing out on vital support that could help lift them and their families out of poverty, or at least improve their financial security.
SPICe estimate that £428m worth of working tax credits – financial support designed to top up the incomes of low-paid workers – or child tax credit remains unclaimed each year.
Meanwhile, Scottish families and individuals are also failing to claim £251m of housing benefit every year, which could go a long way in helping to keep a roof over their heads.
People who take care of sick, elderly or disabled loved-ones are missing out on £190m in carer’s allowance, which again isn’t being claimed, and pensioners are missing out on £210m of pension credit each year.
The £2bn estimate also includes £100m of unclaimed council tax reduction payments.
The shocking figures mean hundreds of thousands of Scottish people are potentially missing out on vital support, at a time when a growing number of people are turning to food banks or simply struggling to make ends meet. Others may find themselves without a place to call home, and some are even taking their own lives in extreme cases.
It’s clear that a concerted effort is needed, not only in Scotland but across the UK, to ensure vulnerable people are getting the benefits they are legally entitled to. The media also needs to be reminded of their social responsibilities and immediately halt the demonisation of benefit claimants – you’ll never see Welfare Weekly behave in such an irresponsible manner.
A spokesperson for the Scottish Government said: “We have a clear commitment to do all we can to see incomes maximised, which is why we believe it is important that people receive all the benefits to which they are entitled.
“Unfortunately, at present, benefits are reserved to the UK Government and they have taken no action to improve take-up and provide much-needed support for many people.
“That is why, in 2017, we will be taking our own action to support people to take up benefits to which they are entitled including our benefit take-up campaign.
“We have also always been clear that having the right advice available is essential to support the most vulnerable and plays a vital role in tackling poverty.
“The Fairer Scotland budget is providing £3.6m of funding in 2016/17 for projects designed to provide advice and support services. These projects are helping to maximise incomes and support people to access benefits.”