The motion, which passed at the STUC Disabled Workers Conference in Glasgow on 2 December 2023, called on the STUC to lobby the Government to:
- Streamline the benefits application process.
- Make the Scottish social security system more transparent and reflect any changes to employment law within Scotland.
- Ensure advocacy services are visible and accessible.
- Review the role of benefits in relation to self-employment in consultation with disabled people and relevant labour market experts.
The motion was moved by MU member Neil Patterson, who shared his personal experiences on navigating the freelance world and benefits process as disabled musician. Read his full speech to conference below.
Having a disability only compounds the issues of combining work and benefits
Let me start by pointing out that many members of the Musicians Union are freelance or on very limited contracts. This means that jobs can be hard to come by and outlawing future income can be next to impossible, especially given the current state of the arts and culture sector. Having a disability only compounds these issues.
Let's be honest here, no one ‘wants’ to be on benefits. However, there are things that make combining work and benefits especially difficult when paired with my previous points.
Let's use income returns as an example. Depending on the area some members are being asked to report monthly, whereas others only need to report annually. This is extremely stressful as some months we may go over the threshold for benefits, whereas other months we can be drastically under it.
Given that being even a pound over the income threshold can result in loss of benefits, the stress is understandable. Add to this the fact that the public and even the DWP can have very negative outlooks toward those on benefits and things just keep spiraling. This is not aimed at frontline staff, but more towards generalised press statements. Yes, these are intended for those cheating the system, but it's often the ones trying to balance work and benefits who take it to heart.
We often hear from members that they feel the system is built more to trip them up than help them. I know from personal experience that there are advocacy services available. The trouble is that most people don't find out about them until they are in dire straits. Even the advocates themselves will say that if they were brought in from the start then many problems could be avoided all together.