Disability and SNP campaigner turns on Scottish Government over benefit devolution delays

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Scottish Government is allowing DWP to conduct a "scorched earth" policy, says activist

8th March 2019 by Robert Armour 1 Comment

A prominent SNP activist and disability campaigner has launched an unprecedented attack on the Scottish Government over delays to the devolution of disability benefits.

John McArdle who heads up Black Triangle - well known for its direct action protests outside jobcentres and disability assessment centres – slammed the way Scottish ministers have dealt with the transfer of social security powers from Westminster to Holyrood, calling it "shambolic" and "unnaceptable."  

The activist has been a strident critic of Westminster cuts to sick and disabled Scots while promoting a pro-SNP stance. 

McArdle told TFN he was speaking out because his "first loyalty was to the sick and disabled people of Scotland" and that the Scottish Government's decision to delay these benefits would leave people at the mercy of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and could cost lives.    

Last week, social security secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville confirmed that Westminster will retain partial control of 11 benefits for the next five years – as the new Scottish social security system is not yet equipped to handle them.

These include disability living allowance, personal independence payments and carers' allowances.

Overall responsibility for these welfare payments will sit with the Scottish Government from April 2020 when the new Scottish social security system gets up and running.

But Somerville indicated that the full transfer of cases and payments might not be complete until 2024.

Speaking to TFN, McArdle, who is also an elected equalities officer for the SNP, hit out: “Every single day we are seeing people pushed to the brink because of DWP decisions. It’s totally unacceptable then that the Scottish Government is delaying what could mean for some a life and death situation. It’s incomprehensible that this Scottish Government that does so well in other ways to mitigate Tory cuts, is allowing this to happen.

“I understand the Scottish budget does not have enough to mitigate for all benefit cuts, but there are priorities here. People are being assessed and reassessed as we speak as part of an inhumane and hated system. Everyday people are being pushed to the brink.

“It's opening the way for the DWP to conduct a scorched earth policy. We are utterly furious about these delays. The Scottish Government must act."

A Scottish Government spokesman responded by saying it will take time to get the new system right.

“As we launch the new Scottish forms of disability assistance it is therefore imperative that we take the time to get it right. As already confirmed, from April 2020 the Scottish Government will have full responsibility for the devolved benefits – including funding and policy,” he said.

“Organisations such as Inclusion Scotland have welcomed our approach, particularly the additional help we are providing 16,000 families with disabled children by way of a £200 lump sum winter heating assistance payment.”

However Somerville has also been rocked by claims she secretly dropped responsibility for Severe Disablement Allowance (SDA), allowing the DWP to administer it instead.

SNP ministers promised in 2016 the benefit would be one of the 11 devolved to Scotland.

It was created in 1984 for those unable to work for 28 weeks in a row due to illness or disability but was closed to new applicants in 2001.

Labour’s social security spokesperson Mark Griffin called the move a “disgusting dereliction of duty.”

“Shirley Ann Somerville’s decision to leave 2,000 severely disabled pensioners at the hands of the Tories is outrageous,” he said. “Carers, disabled people and pensioners are being forced to wait for change while the SNP leave new powers on the shelf gathering dust.

“That is a disgusting dereliction of duty. The SNP must apologise to every person in Scotland they are leaving in the hands of the Tories.”

Ms Somerville responded: “The Severe Disablement Allowance has not been open to new claimants for 18 years.

“The number of people receiving the benefit in Scotland has now fallen to around 2000 and will continue to decline.

“SDA is closely interlinked with the pension system and, given that remains reserved to the UK government, establishing a separate payment system would put claimants at risk. This is another example of why it would be easier to have full responsibility for the social security system, rather than having to work with the complex and often dated systems in place in the UK government.”

12th March 2019 by Bill Scott, Director of Policy

Just to clarify but Inclusion Scotland did not welcome the projected time it will take to fully transfer disability benefits from the DWP to the Scottish Social Security Agency. Every additional day that disabled people spend under a system that denies them their entitlements, dignity and respect, whilst also causing untold stress for them and their families, is a day too long.However, like most of us, we are not in a position to judge whether the Scottish Government have got their timescales right or wrong. We simply do not have all the information required to make that judgement. Nor do we have very far to look to see the appalling consequences of ill-thought through policies and delivery of social security benefits - another disaster of the magnitude of Universal Credit anyone? We also know that some of the disabled people who actually claim benefits, those on the Experience Panels, favour investing time in getting the new system right over introducing it too hastily. It is also the case that transfer requires the co-operation of DWP, something over which Scottish Government has no real control.To sum up we of course continue to urge the Scottish Government to transfer disability and carers benefits as quickly as possible whilst acknowledging that to do so safely may take longer than we - or many others - would otherwise choose