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Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Funds for Glasgow project to curb impact of welfare reform

Written by The Editorial Team

A project to help Glaswegians develop the skills to claim benefits and find jobs online is to receive £170,000 support from the Scottish Government, Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced today.

The Glasgow City Council project aims to reduce the impact of the UK Government’s welfare reforms, including the introduction of Universal Credit, which expects most applicants to make claims online.

The scheme will provide IT training and support to help claimants access digital services independently, using the existing network of Glasgow Life Libraries.

Ofcom data shows that broadband uptake – one measure of digital engagement – is only 53 per cent in the Glasgow region, lower than the Scottish average of 61 per cent. This discrepancy suggests many benefit claimants in the city could be disadvantaged by the UK Government’s rapid move to online services.

The Scottish Government is providing £170,000 of support towards the £300,000 project, which will operate over the next two years (2013/14 and 2014/15).

The investment is part of the Scottish Governments on-going work to minimise the impact of the welfare reforms being imposed on Scotland by the UK Government, and to support people in Scotland through the transition to the new system.

Speaking ahead of today’s  debate in Parliament on welfare reform, Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said:

“Westminster is imposing drastic welfare cuts on Scotland, which will affect the most vulnerable groups in our society, including people with disabilities, families on low incomes, and those seeking work.

“The Scottish Government has consistently made that case to UK Government Ministers that we are opposed to these cuts and changes to the rules, and that we will not turn our back on vulnerable people affected by them. That is why we are investing in schemes, such as the Glasgow Libraries project, to help mitigate the worst impact wherever possible.

“We believe that digital access to public services is vital for the twenty-first century.  However, the introduction of Universal Credit will be a wholesale change in experience for benefit claimants, many of whom may not have the skills or confidence to get online.  This could be a particular issue in areas in and around Glasgow, where digital engagement is low, and which means some of the most vulnerable people in our society may have problems accessing and applying for benefits.

“Local support will be vital to bridging this gap, which is why the Scottish Government is working with Glasgow City Council to deliver this two-year project to offer free IT training to empower claimants to get online and manage their benefit claim independently, and to become more job ready.

“This Government has undertaken a range of actions to mitigate the potentially devastating impact of UK Government welfare reform measures.  Under the current constitutional settlement, this Government can only do so much - only through independence would we have the powers needed to create a welfare system that reflects our values and beliefs and ensures fair and decent support for all in Scotland.”

Councillor Matt Kerr, Executive Member for Social Care at Glasgow City Council, said:

"The changes in the welfare reform agenda will wreak devastation for some of the most vulnerable people across the city.

"This strategy is just one project the council is delivering to help them. We're already spending more than £4 million a year on financial inclusion projects.

"The council is investing a further £130,000, funded by Macmillan Cancer Support, on this specific project and this additional money from the Scottish Government will assist in our efforts to ensure everyone is empowered to claim the support to which they are entitled."