A welfare reform of Scotland’s social security system by Holyrood ministers could see the word ‘benefits’ disused due to its negative connotations, in a move that is expected to cause widespread pedantry and relief to unemployed people getting £7 a week to make ends meet.
With the Scottish Parliament now being given full responsibility for the financial support system, Social Security Minister Jeane Freeman said assessing the retention of the word is paramount as she moves to place “dignity, fairness, respect, honour, valour, heroism and joy” at the centre of welfare.
Ms Freeman said: “I do think there is value in looking at whether or not we continue to use the word ‘benefit’, because there is an implication in there that is the rest of us doing something nice for somebody else, which is actually charity, but we can’t say that about benefits because it’s offensive, even though that’s not what ‘benefit’ means strictly, so maybe we should rethink ‘charity’ too now I think of it, but in the meantime I’ll get rid of ‘benefit’ and come up with something else.
“Part of how you make dignity, fairness, respect, honour, valour, heroism and joy real as opposed to just fine words, like ‘benefit’ or ‘charity’, is about how people receive that in their dealings with that organisation, and I don’t want those people to feel like they’re just sort of ‘benefiting’ from our welfare system, even though they are, I don’t want them feeling they are, though they would do.
“There are some things you can do to affect quite quick cultural change, and part of that is around language and thinking, so there is value in looking at whether or not we don’t simply call these payments, as opposed to benefits, or some other word, or even no word, but probably a word because otherwise it’d be confusing; I’m thinking ‘happy funds’, though that’s two words.
“When I hear the word ‘benefits’, I immediately think of Benefits Street, so I have to ask the question; would you feel the same way about Benefit Street if it was called Downing Street? Or Coconut Grove? I don’t think so.”
As part of the devolution, full responsibility for a range of social welfare payments such as disability living allowance, personal independence payments, attendance allowance, severe disablement allowance and spare change allowance have been given to Holyrood, with ministers eager to change the names of them all to cheer up the luckless electorate.
Maternity grants will be renamed as ‘best start grants’, funeral payments will be called ‘best ending grants’, and cold weather and winter fuel payments will be dubbed ‘kindling cash’ in an effort to make the people who need them feel better about needing them.
It has been suggested by senior aide Jack Culloden that the renaming of ‘benefits’ be decided by a public vote, and he says he is “confident” the people will opt for calling it “something sensible” rather than ‘Wey Pay’ or ‘Hitler Did Nothing Wrong Allowance’.
A full social security bill – which will soon be known as a ‘People Good To Good People But Them Still Independent (People Not Country)’ Bill – is expected by May or June or July or August of 2017, though early reports suggest the government is already two years behind schedule.
Ms Freeman and Social Security Secretary Angela Constance, who has moved to have her position title changed to ‘Social Security Doer’ to avoid being confused with an actual secretary, will head a project which has been backed by Nicola Sturgeon, who said: “I heartily endorse this event or legislation”.
The bill has already led to minor hectoring in parliament, with Ms Constance suggesting that it proved the SNP care more about the recently homeless Jim Murphy than his party Labour, only for their social security spokesman Mark Griffin to shrug and ask: “Who’s Wim Gerty?”