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#ScotSocialSecurity and language

Emma Trottier is Engender’s policy manager, and leads our work on social security. Over the coming months she’ll be blogging about the key issues at the heart of the debate about Scotland’s new social security system. Here, she talks about the importance of language.

At the end of February, the Scottish Government released its analysis of the written responses to the consultation on social security, in which a number of themes emerged. As we work our way through the responses, we want to share some of the key themes, beginning with the importance of language.

Much attention was given to shifting the vernacular dealing with social security. Though the stigma experienced by those on social assistance is widely known, Engender wishes to challenge notions such as regarding social security as a ‘benefit’. Social security is not a ‘benefit’. It is a program to support those in our communities who are most in need of assistance, whether as a temporary response to an emergency or for the long term. Social security is premised on the belief that all people should live healthy and fulfilling lives, free of the myriad of social, cultural and economic barriers that stem from life lived in poverty. By definition, the use of the term ‘benefit’ frames social assistance as an advantage. As explained by one individual in his/her response to the consultation, those who depend on social assistance have little choice but to do so to ‘survive and not starve or become destitute’. Social assistance is not an advantage or a ‘benefit’, it is a program that aims to protect the dignity, safety and well-being of our fellow community members.

Though this topic is part of a broader discussion on understanding the realities of living in poverty, we at Engender feel that it is vital to take an active role in shifting the tone and language used around social security. Our work is wide-ranging, but it is rooted in equality for women. As women are twice as dependent on social security as men, it is essential that our work and our writing act as a catalyst to positively change social and political attitudes towards social security.

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