A Scottish Social Security Agency - what will it mean for disabled people?

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Layla Theiner discusses whether a Scottish Social Security Agency be a saving grace for disabled people on benefits in Scotland

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16th August 2016 by TFN Guest 1 Comment

Devolving some social security powers to the Scottish Parliament will provide opportunities and challenges for disabled people, but the truth is that we need to manage expectations in terms of the scope of what can be achieved.

Not all disabled people are on benefits, but disabled people have been disproportionately affected by cuts in recent years.  

Reform of social security in Scotland must address the systemic failure of the benefits system to adequately compensate disabled people for the extra costs of living with disability, which averages £550 a month. Disabled people are twice as likely to have higher levels of debt and almost half of people in poverty are in a household with a disabled person or are disabled themselves.

Layla Theiner

Layla Theiner

Repeat assessments are unnecessary for people with conditions like visual impairment or learning disabilities, which are very unlikely to improve

Disability Agenda Scotland argues that the changes to the system in recent years have undermined disabled people's right to live independently in the community and their right to family life in contravention of UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities and the United Nations Convention on Human Rights.

A cut price welfare system is a false economy felt not only by disabled people themselves but by society as a whole.

Over half of the £1.63bn budget being devolved through the Scotland Act is currently spent on Disability Living Allowance and Personal Independence Payments. The Scottish Government has said it intends to be ambitious, taking a “distinctly different path to the one the UK government has followed”. This clearly is a cause for optimism for disabled Scots.

It’s clear that improvements need to be made, but they have to be done in a well-managed way, taking the time to get things rights. The system is already complex and now there will be two systems, with different expectations and cultures.

The Scottish Government has set out a vision for social security which includes key principles that focus on the dignity of individuals, processes and services being evidence based, continuous improvement, and efficient, value for money services. These principles are positive but there are obvious tensions between them!

It is critical that these principles are embedded in legislation. In our discussions so far, there have been questions over the need for a Claimant’s Charter. There may be benefits to a charter if implemented in the right way but legislation would provide the teeth to enable us to take for granted that these services work properly.

At DAS, we believe any changes to social security should ensure there is no detriment to existing benefits.

Whether there is one benefit, or several, greater automaticity would assist people to access the support they are entitled to. There could and should also be lifetime awards, with people expected to update the proposed Scottish Security Agency in the unlikely case that there is a change in circumstances.

Assessments currently include a lot of irrelevant questions, poor-quality judgements and a significant number of decisions are reversed on appeal. Repeat assessments are unnecessary for people with conditions like visual impairment or learning disabilities, which are very unlikely to improve.

Social security interacts with many areas delivered by Scottish and local government,  including health and social care. There is an opportunity for social security to be better coordinated with other systems of support and referral, such as the Welfare Fund.

Other opportunities for a better approach would include clear communications about the changes being made. Language is important, it is a positive step to be talking of social security, dignity and respect rather than welfare, but it would go even further to move away from a world of benefits, awards and claimants to a world of payments, enabling and citizens. 

Wouldn’t it be something to capitalise on this opportunity to remove a few of the barriers for some disabled people to live independent lives? DAS is continuing to develop its response and I would be happy to talk to anyone else who is interested in shaping the thinking on this critical opportunity for disabled people in Scotland.

Layla Theiner is Disability Agenda Scotland's campaigns and policy lead.

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31st October 2016 by Fran Macilvey

It is a pity that 'disabled people' are characterised - and we so often characterise ourselves! - by their / our disabilities, and by what we are perceived as being unable to do: We do everything that others do, though, as your article correctly points out, it costs us more. It also takes us longer, and we often have to resort to unorthodox methods to get our messages across - crawl across carparks, shin downstairs on our backsides etc. etc. So it helps to have the hide of a rhino, too.Wouldn't it be great, instead of being 'disabled' I was merely treated the same as everyone else? I don't want special treatment, after all, merely the understanding and the facilities that will enable me to have some quality of life some time soon.Thanks for an interesting article.Fran Macilvey, author and campaigner, Edinburgh.http://www.franmacilvey.com