The Christmas grant scheme for pensioners and disabled people is to be cut to a quarter of its present level, Shetland Charitable Trust has decided.
Trustees voted by seven to three to pare back the £361,800 Christmas bonus to £100,000 despite the impassioned pleas of a minority of trustees led by Allison “Flea” Duncan.
The smaller fund will be disbursed by the SIC’s social work department, but the trust will continue to point applicants in the right direction should they approach the trust directly.
The savings will go back in the trust’s finance pot and it was agreed that more money might be made available to the new scheme if it is needed.
There was a collision of ideas of how most fairly to target the neediest members of society at the meeting in Islesburgh Community Centre today.
What was agreed will be looked at again in the next year’s “review of disbursements” which happens at the end of the three-year financial timetable.
But in cutting the Christmas grant scheme at this time the trust has chosen to “fast-track” it ahead of the wider review, owing to administrative difficulties.
While the government and council staff may have access to personal financial details of applicants, these are not shared with the charitable trust.
Trust vice-chairman Jonathan Wills moved to accept a report option that will see the fund reduced and assistance targeted at younger people in need.
Dr Wills claimed it had become “impossible” for trust staff to administer the fund, which required pensioners to be effectively means tested, following the axing of the blanket bonus several years ago.
However, Mr Duncan said that by agreeing the motion, the trust was “attacking the most vulnerable in society”.
He said it was an “attack on our senior citizens” at a time when they were already suffering fuel poverty and struggling with one of the poorest state pensions in the European Union.
Trust chairman Bobby Hunter said the cut was “not about saving money, it was about putting it in the right place”.
Mr Hunter said the Christmas grant had become increasingly difficult to administer owing to changes to the benefit system and external agencies and was no longer “equitable”.
Mr Duncan was backed by trustees Andrea Manson and Amanda Westlake in an amendment that would see the status quo being maintained until the disbursement review is undertaken.
He said that many of the pensioners who had worked so hard to make Shetland the “better place it is today” had not shared in the wealth of the oil boom and were restricted to a single, very poor pension.
He told trustees: “I have a lot of sympathy for the pensioners and disabled persons. I am fighting for what I believe is justice.”
Ms Westlake said that with 300 applicants out of a population of 200,000 she could not see the need to change the scheme. Instead, she called for closer scrutiny of the trust’s much larger grants to recreation and the arts.
Trustee Jimmy Smith admitted he was one of the people who had “made a lot of money out of Sullom Voe” and did not have the face to apply for the Christmas grant, nor did any of his friends. “We should direct this money to where it is most needed,” he said.
Dr Wills said no-one wanted to target or victimise the elderly and that he would have backed continuation of the grant scheme, but the trust simply could not wait for the review by the disbursement committee. Admin staff were facing “overwhelming, insuperable difficulties”.
Trustee Drew Ratter, who backed Dr Wills’ motion, said that it was “sad” to see the end of the scheme, which had been around since the very early days of the trust, but the world had “changed massively since the scheme was first devised”.
Trustee Betty Fullerton said that the present scheme was “promoting inequality” and contingency funding should be available if needed under the new scheme.
Mrs Fullerton acknowledged that although Shetland was booming, there were many poor people around and it was harder being a poor person in a rich society.