Vulnerable people are being “stigmatised” by welfare reforms supported by a public that does not understand their implications, social workers warned at a Social Services Expo & Conference held in Edinburgh.
Practitioners voiced their frustration at policies being pursued by Westminster during the Expo event, held to coincide with World Social Work.
They claimed it was vital that ways were found to inform the public how cuts are affecting people who already face social and economic exclusion.
Tim Parkinson, Development Officer with the Scottish Association of Social Work, said: “The welfare reforms are like a domino effect and I don’t think policy makers have any idea of their implications.
“As an Association, we are using the connections we have to say you need to do something to mitigate these effects on social work practice.”
Mr Parkinson highlighted areas of concern in the Welfare Reform Bill such as the impact to the criminal justice system of the so-called “bedroom tax”, which the Scottish Government has called to be scrapped.
“If you think about ending the cycle of reoffending, the vast majority of offenders are young, single men when they come out of prison. Without community care grants and the ability to work straight away and without a single-bedroom flat available, they stand no chance of doing anything to get back into society.”
Indications from housing associations piloting monthly direct payments to social housing tenants, rather than weekly or fortnightly payments to landlords, also suggests more people will be forced into financial crisis, said Mr Parkinson.
“People are not able to learn to manage because they are having their rent paid directly into their bank account and the bank is saying ‘we need this payment because we are owed money’, so they don’t have the opportunity to keep it for their rent.
“Social workers are going to spend so much more of their time doing things like welfare and trying to find emergency hostels rather than doing the kind of practice they trained for.”
One social worker labelled welfare reforms an attempt to demonise people on benefits: “The welfare cuts are not about cost. It is a deliberate attempt to stigmatise vulnerable people. I was brought up in a council house and I never felt stigmatised. But the term social housing is stigmatised now and it shouldn’t be.”
Another social worker added: “There is some public support for welfare reform, largely because people don’t understand what the impact will be. The headlines in some sections of the media focus on families getting £50,000, but those families are absolutely minimal.”