Shetland Charitable Trust’s long-running financial hardship scheme – popularly known as the “Christmas bonus” – is to end after this year, it was decided at a Trust meeting yesterday.
Trustees voted by seven to three to scrap the scheme, which has run in one guise or another since 1976. The scheme will cost the Trust £157,000 in disbursements this year and an undisclosed sum paid to the Citizens Advice for administration.
Trustees accepted a recommendation from the trust’s chief executive Ann Black to end the scheme on the grounds that it cannot be administered from within the trust’s own resources.
Trustee Jimmy Smith “reluctantly” moved the motion to accept the recommendation, which was seconded by Betty Fullerton.
Allison Duncan moved to keep the scheme going and was backed by Andrea Manson, who was unusually participating in the debate by telephone, as was Amanda Westlake.
Mr Smith said it was a “difficult decision” and did not want to disadvantage people, but the scheme was inherently unfair as there were no new entrants and it was impossible to differentiate between deserving cases and others. To means test everyone would be a huge job needing many staff and “it was not possible”.
Mr Duncan made a passionate case for retaining the hardship scheme, citing benefit cuts, Shetland’s deplorable record on fuel poverty, the dearest fuel in Britain, the rise of the Salvation Army foodbank and the dreadful state of insulation of many old Shetland houses as compelling reasons for keeping the fund open.
Mr Duncan said that the blow would once more fall on “the most vulnerable people in Shetland,” who were being discriminated against when the charitable trust was otherwise operating a standstill budget.
He added: “This does not put out a good name for Shetland and the Shetland Charitable Trust. Please leave them [the applicants] alone for one year and let them get their money.”
He said there was “simply no excuse” for letting the scheme go and outside help could be called in to administer it if need be. With 497 applicants this year, 265 of whom were over 70, there was clear demand from the public.
Ms Manson agreed with the “excellent case” put by Mr Duncan and said that the trust “cannot be seen to be doing this to the most vulnerable people in society. I think it’s essential that we continue with this for one year and maybe review it after that.”
She was backed by Ms Westlake who said: “If there’s a will there’s a way.” She added that bureaucracy and red tape should not be allowed to “put a hindrance on the most vulnerable in Shetland. I think we should fight and find a way [of maintaining the bonus].”
• Full story in this week’s Shetland Times.