Welcome to the Early Warning System newsletter: September 2015

What is the Early Warning System?

With welfare reform expected to drive up to 100,000 more children into child poverty by 2020, CPAG in Scotland set up the Early Warning System (EWS) to gather information and case studies about the impact of welfare reform on children and families across Scotland. Using this information we support local and national policy makers and service providers in Scotland to identify changes that will help them continue to deliver better outcomes for children in this challenging context. We acknowledge the support of the Scottish Government through the Third Sector Early Intervention Fund, managed on behalf of the Scottish Government by the Big Lottery Fund in Scotland

By the end of August 2015, we had collected over 1200 case studies from:

  • CPAG’s second tier advice line
  • 85 frontline workers from other organisations signed up to submit case studies online
  • People attending CPAG training and events
  • Research following 12 low income families over 2 years
  • Qualitative research with six families accessing food banks

What have we learned from the Early Warning System?

This month CPAG in Scotland launched its Hard Choices: Reducing the Need for Food Banks in Scotland report. The report, which was developed as part of the Early Warning System looks at drivers for food bank use and considers what might be done at local and national level to help families in crisis. The report highlights that while a great deal could be done locally, most people using food banks do so as a result of ‘income crisis’ – a dramatic reduce in family resources. In between half and two thirds of cases, this crisis is caused by problems with the social security system including errors, delays and the use of sanctions.

These themes arise again and again through the cases submitted via the Early Warning System. In particular, vulnerable families are affected by sanctions and delays, compounded by lack of communication on the part of the DWP.

A young lone parent who suffers from regular, but intermittent periods of depression, failed the work capability assessment for employment and support allowance (ESA) and claimed jobseeker’s allowance (JSA). She failed to attend an appointment at the Jobcentre due to her depression. A couple of weeks later she found there was no money in her post office account. She had been sanctioned for 13 weeks because this was her second offence. She didn't know anything about the first offence and had not been notified of the sanction.

Several of the cases highlight families living solely off child benefit and child tax credit for periods of time:

Liam is the lone parent of a nine year old disabled son. Liam has been receiving ESA for a number of years due to mental health issues and mobility impairment. He has twice had his ESA stopped in the last couple of years after he failed the work capability assessment. He claimed JSA but had weeks where their only income was child benefit and child tax credit. During these periods, Liam relied on help from his mother, charity and a local foodbank.

You can read more about Liam’s story, and other in depth case studies from our qualitative research now on the CPAG website.

Income shock can have a devastating impact on family relationships:

One client's ESA was sanctioned. It took 3 months for this to be resolved during which time the client considered leaving his partner and child. He thought that the problems with the household income to be his fault and believed they would be better off claiming without him.

Due to complications with her pregnancy, a client missed her work capability assessment and her partner missed an appointment with the Jobcentre, resulting in a sanction. They had no income for a number of weeks causing stress and financial difficulties. They reported that this was a contributing factor their child nearly being taken into care.

What can you do?

  • Ensure you know how to refer a family in crisis to emergency support, including the Scottish welfare fund and welfare rights advice
  • Find out whether your organisation has referral pathways in place with the local SWF or welfare rights team. Could you suggest that such pathways be put in place?
  • Do you and your colleagues have a good understanding of what a sanction is and how to challenge it? Did you know that people who have been sanctioned can sometimes access something called a Hardship Payment from the DWP? Find out more here.
  • Consider any opportunities you might have to reduce costs and maximise incomes for families. If you work for a school, for instance, do all families know how to access school clothing grants, free school meals and free school transport? Find out more here.
  • Could you and your colleagues find five minutes to consider the financial and emotional impacts of income crisis and ways you could become more open and accessible to families with no money?

Example of good practice:

North Lanarkshire Council has established a working group to address food poverty in the area. The working group and local partners have developed a Food Poverty Referral Pathway aimed at addressing the causes of food bank use rather than its symptoms. Under the framework, anyone presenting to a service in ‘food crisis” is referred to the Scottish Welfare Fund (SWF) and/or income maximisation advice before being referred for a food parcel. The SWF has become the “hub” for ensuring families are accessing the support they need in the longer term. Although the project was only established in April 2015, early signs are promising, with an 11.5% reduction in demand for food parcels in April – July compared to the same period last year.

Other priorities for the working group include improving uptake of free school meals and breakfast clubs and maximising volunteering, employability and training gains for priority groups. For more information contact Amanda Gallagher at North Lanarkshire Council GallagherA@northlan.gcsx.gov.uk


A number of cases added to the Early Warning System concern the benefit entitlement of EEA migrants who are pregnant or have recently given birth. A woman who gives up work, or seeking worker, can retain her right to reside as a worker (and her entitlement to benefits and tax credits) so long as she returns to work or finds another job within a “reasonable period” of giving birth. DWP memo 15/14 suggested that reasonable period was the 26 weeks from 11 weeks before the baby is due, until 15 weeks after the pregnancy ends. New case law conveys a much more generous period. Judge Ward concluded that the reasonable period should be determined taking into account the 52 week period of ordinary maternity leave plus additional maternity leave and the circumstances of the particular case.

How we’ve used the cases recently

The cases have informed our policy, campaigns, media and training work, allowing us to ensure the real experiences of low income families influence public policy and debate.

Policy and campaigns: Early Warning System cases contributed to the evidence we submitted to Welfare Reform Committee of the Scottish Parliament on the use of future social security powers.

We also briefed Scottish MPs in advance of a debate on child poverty. The briefing was informed by cases submitted through the Early Warning System

Service planning: We contributed Early Warning System cases to a NHS Health Bulletin on the impact of social security reform on health and wellbeing which will be circulated in the coming weeks.

Early Warning System in the news: There was good pick up of the Hard Choices report on the radio and television, with articles on STV Broadcast and Online News, the Daily Record, the Evening Times and the National.

Blogs: Cases from the Early Warning System inspired a blog on tackling child poverty in a “Fairer Scotland” and one giving a first glance at how universal credit is working on the ground.

Coming up: We’ll be at the political conferences in October highlighting the implications of the Early Warning System cases. If you’re at the SNP, Green, or Labour conferences please pop by and tell us what you’re seeing on the frontline.

Get involved with the Early Warning System

Whilst we have over 1200 cases we need to collect more from frontline workers who have face to face contact with families and a true understanding of the impacts of welfare reform on the ground. If you would be interested in submitting case studies or have any queries about the EWS please get in touch with:

Kirsty McKechnie (Welfare Rights Officer)
Tel: 0141 611 7091 or email: kmckechnie@cpagscotland.org.uk

If you would like to discuss policy issues arising from the Early Warning System, please contact:

Hanna McCulloch
Tel: 0141 611 7090 or email: hmcculloch@cpagscotland.org.uk

We would like to thank everyone who has submitted case studies to the Early Warning System. It is your case studies that bring the impacts of welfare reform to life.