Welfare Rights and Wrongs  for Older People in Dundee

Laurie Bidwell

16 January 2013

At the Council’s Policy and Resources Committee on Monday night we considered a report, "Hospital Fund and the Johnston Bequest",  which recommended that:

"..... a budget of £25,000 be provided from the Hospital Fund and
Johnston Bequest to pilot a targeted welfare benefit advice service for older people in Dundee 2013/14."

What could be controversial about such a proposal at a time when, according the Department of Work and Pensions, 1 in 6 pensioners in Dundee are living on a low income?

Additionally, that group of older people in our city will be finding their incomes severely squeezed by significant rises in their day to day living costs for essentials such as food and fuel. 

It is also widely recognised that as the benefit system is turned on its head, some of our older citizens will need help to navigate their way from one set of cash benefits to another and with submitting Internet only applications for government cash benefits.

Furthermore, we know that our existing welfare rights advice agencies in the city are already under pressure.

While most Councillors were satisfied with reassurances that the new focus for some of the resources from these funds was legally acceptable, Liberal Democrat Councillor Fraser Macpherson, moved against this proposal with an amendment which read:

"I move as an amendment, that there should be no change to the current arrangements whereby from time to time, when funds allow, all 29 Councillors on the City Council are invited to nominate another deserving pensioner for addition to the list of beneficiaries and that the Chief Executive should be instructed to investigate the possibility of funding a pilot welfare advice service for older people in Dundee ass part of the process for setting the 3013/14 Revenue Budget."

In a nutshell, Councillor Macpherson, supported by Conservative Baillie Scott, wanted to keep the status quo whereby periodically, all 29 City Councillors were asked to nominate a deserving pensioner in their ward for an annual lifetime 'pension' of £70.

I thought that, in the context of the Fairness Strategy for Dundee which the Council had previously adopted, this proposal was a creative and constructive way of using some of the resources from these bequests, to benefit a wider number of older people.

Furthermore, this proposal has the prospect of adding a more significant sum to many, not just a few, pensioners' pockets. 

The amendment by Councillor Macpherson (West End), supported by Conservative Baillie Scott (The Ferry) was defeated by 26 votes to 2.