DESTITUTION, poverty, discrimination, inadequate housing and unemployment are not accidental. They are the product of political choices.

One of the most gruesome examples of political vindictiveness against vulnerable people in the UK is social security law.

Social security law has been used to punish people with nasty Dickensian sanctions designed to facilitate destitution and misery. The original premise was to provide a welfare safety net, but in recent years it has been fashioned into a legal weapon to attack people deemed unworthy of support.

We now have a multitude of meaningless barriers, bureaucracy and hurdles designed solely to deter people from taking up what they are entitled to as a matter of legal right.

The recent English High Court case of R (Connor) v. Secretary of State for Works and Pensions (DWP) was a welcome respite from the relentless injustice dished out to people going through tough times. Mr Connor was in receipt of employment support allowance (ESA) which has now been replaced with universal credit (UC) for new claimants.

The DWP deemed he was capable of work and terminated his ESA. Before 2013, it was possible to appeal straight to the tribunal and your benefit would be reinstated pending the outcome of the appeal. In 2013, the UK government decided to stop people appealing to the tribunal without first submitting a “mandatory reconsideration” (MR).

Pending a MR, a person would receive no payment of ESA and would instead have to make a fresh claim for another social security benefit like income support, otherwise they would have zero money to live on.

The judge in Mr Connor’s case asked the DWP to explain why no ESA was payable pending MR? The court received a response and Mr Justice Swift said, “none of this further information provides the answer”. Of course it didn’t. The real answer is to make life as difficult as possible for people; to deter them from accessing their legal rights.

The DWP took six months to complete Mr Connor’s MR, and to his great credit he took them to court in the public interest, argued his case himself and won. He relied on the Supreme Court decision in R (UNISON) v Lord Chancellor – this was the case that brought down the imposition of employment tribunal fees.

In the Unison case, Lord Reed held that the need for a worker to pay fees to access the employment tribunal “effectively prevents access to justice and is therefore unlawful”. Likewise, in Mr Connor’s case the judge held that the need to exhaust a MR without any income was “an unjustified impediment to the right of access to court guaranteed by European Convention on Human Rights Article 6”.

Sadly, new claimants who now have to seek UC do not enjoy the ability to receive payments pending an appeal – because there is no entitlement to UC pending an appeal. UC is like a next generation Terminator designed to make your life even more intolerable and grim.

As we approach the end of the furlough scheme in October, something will have to give because UC isn’t a plausible solution if millions of people are made unemployed later this year.

New research over the weekend from the Institute for Public Policy Research has warned that a cliff edge end to the furlough scheme will cause unemployment levels “not seen since the Great Depression of the 1930’s”.

Part of the solution has to be removing the DWP’s barriers to social security and ensuring people have a decent income to live on without pernicious rules that leave them with no or reduced income for weeks or months on end.

For me, the first priority of any government must be to protect and safeguard the wellbeing of the people it serves. If you cannot do that you shouldn’t be in government or politics.

The UK government is seriously mistaken if it thinks it can pull up the draw bridge of Covid-19 support at the end of October.

We know that the largest group of people in financial difficulty are private renters. The independent Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) has found that in Scotland almost half of private renters have experienced a drop in income since March and are worried about their ability to pay rent.

The JRF findings demonstrate the financial strain the economic impact of lockdown is putting on people in different housing tenures, and in different parts of the country. Of private renters experiencing a drop in income, seven in 10 have cut back on spending, and nearly six in 10 have had to borrow or use up savings, the highest proportion of any tenure.  

Part of the solution in Scotland has to be some form of rent control for private renters, as well as a commitment to ensuring no-one is evicted this winter because of Covid-19. The Scottish Government’s extension period of delayed eviction notices is very welcome, but it isn’t enough to prevent serious detriment later this year.