VOLUNTEERS at Citizens Advice Scotland are being given suicide awareness training to help clients distressed by cuts to welfare spending, the head of the charity has told MSPs.
Margaret Lynch, the body’s chief executive, said frontline advisers were having to counsel people left “destitute” by the UK government’s cuts as she claimed the welfare system was being “ripped asunder”.
Ms Lynch told Holyrood’s welfare reform committee yesterday that the charity had also been forced to put in place support services for volunteers who had suffered stress and were upset at dealing with poverty-stricken clients.
The stark warning about the effect of cuts came as the UK’s Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith was heavily criticised by MSPs for failing to agree to give evidence to the welfare reform committee at Holyrood about the cuts, on the same day he was to speak at a conference on welfare in Edinburgh. SNP ministers have claimed the UK’s Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has approved £2.5 billion in reductions to payments for Scottish households.
Ms Lynch said: “A lot of clients are being referred to services where they receive food parcels due to extreme destitution.
“Our volunteers get suicide awareness training. It a necessary and responsible thing to do. How is it possible in the 21st century in an advanced capitalist society that’s one of the richest nations that we are having to give our volunteers suicide awareness training because the welfare state is being ripped asunder?”
The revelations about the charity’s suicide awareness training were described as “frightening” by SNP MSP Jamie Hepburn, deputy convener of Holyrood’s welfare reform committee. He said: “The evidence we’ve heard today backs up everything we know – Westminster’s welfare reforms are hurting Scotland.”
Meanwhile, Mr Duncan Smith’s decision to speak at a conference on welfare reform on 27 March, where public sector delegates have to pay up to £350, and to stay away from Holyrood, was attacked as “disrespectful”.
Labour MSP Michael Mc- Mahon, the welfare reform committee convener, said: “People should not have to pay to hear the views of the UK minister on such an important matter.”
However, the DWP said Mr Duncan Smith had discussed reforms with SNP ministers as it defended the government’s controversial policies on welfare and cuts.
A DWP spokeswoman said: “We are clearly engaging with the Scottish Government and have provided extensive support to help them understand the very necessary reform of the welfare state.”