Private firms barred from benefits assessments

Medical assessment  wide

Profiteers will have no place in Scotland's new welfare landscape

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27th April 2017 by Graham Martin 4 Comments

Profit-raking private firms will have no place in Scotland’s new social security system.

The new agency set up to deal with benefit assessments will put people before profits and exclude the private sector, a Scottish Government figure said.

Jeane Freeman, social security minister, firmly ruled out private sector involvement in deciding whether vulnerable people get lifeline payments.

The involvement of private companies such as Atos and Capita in assessing benefits has been controversial for years.

They have been accused of carrying out humiliating and degrading procedures.

In statement to the Scottish Parliament, Freeman said: “One of our fundamental principles is that profit should never be a motive nor play any part in assessing or making decisions on people’s health and eligibility for benefits. 

“We are building a system based on dignity and respect – this means an assessment process which isn’t demeaning or deliberately difficult.

“I am very clear that assessments should not be carried out by the private sector and I want to give people in Scotland this assurance as we take forward our new social security agency.

“It also means setting up an agency that has a local presence with a human face where people can go to get one-to-one support if required. This is very different to what exists at the moment.”

Freeman’s announcement has been welcomed by third sector groups.

The exclusion of the private sector was a key ask of the Poverty Alliance, whose director Peter Kelly said: “We welcome today’s announcement from the social security minister.

“It is absolutely right that private contractors have no role in delivering social security in Scotland.  Social security is an investment in each of us, and therefore should not be run for profit.

“This is an issue of key importance to the people we work with, and it is important that their voices are heard as we continue to develop a social security system for Scotland.”

Disability rights charity Inclusion Scotland also welcomed the move.

Director of policy Bill Scott said: “We very much welcome the minister’s decision to dispense with the services of the private sector in carrying out benefit assessments for the devolved disability benefits.

“We have consulted with hundreds of disabled people in the past year and their unanimous view was that the private sector should not be involved.

“Far too many disabled people have been losing their benefits on the basis of poorly carried out assessments where what they have told assessors, and clear medical evidence, has been totally ignored.

On its own this will not be sufficient to restore disabled people’s confidence in a stressful and fear-inducing assessment process but it is a significant and necessary first step.

“However disabled people also want to see far fewer face to face assessments being carried out in the future with an increased number of longer and lifetime awards than those being awarded under the current PIP regime.

“We stand ready to work with Scottish Government to make the future assessment process both fairer and simpler.”

Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations' (SCVO) director of public affairs, John Downie, added: “We are pleased that the Scottish Government has heeded the advice of SCVO, and many of Scotland’s third sector organisations, by choosing not to open up the Social Security assessment process to unaccountable, profit-driven companies.

“Quite apart from delivering terrible value for money, private companies currently involved in DWP assessments have breached human rights and, frankly, made life hell for many of Scotland’s most vulnerable people. To allow them to be involved in Scotland’s new Social Security Agency would run counter to the Scottish Government agenda of creating a fairer Scotland and establishing an agency with dignity, fairness and respect at its heart.

“In choosing to pursue this new route, we are confident that those who interact with the new agency will have a far more positive experience, receiving the assistance and understanding they require at a challenging time.”

John Dickie of the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland welcomed the move, but questioned the need for blanket assessments - by whoever carries them out.

He said: “The Scottish Government’s commitment not to contract out assessments for disability benefits to the private sector is welcome.

“Recent UK experience of contracting out medical assessments has created huge problems for sick and disabled people – with both Atos and Capita consistently failing to meet quality targets for personal independence payment. 

“However, we urge the Scottish Government not to assume that medical assessments must form part of the process for claiming disability benefits.

“Face to face assessments should only be used sparingly, at the claimant’s request or where there isn’t enough existing evidence to allow a decision to be made.”

Last month, TFN reported on Labour MSP Mark Griffin's move to have the private sector barred from assessments.

Freeman said that the new agency, created after certain welfare powers were ceded to the Scottish Parliament as part of the post- independence referendum devolution agreement, will have a central location as well as providing a local presence across Scotland so it is directly responsive to individual needs.

A decision on where the main agency will be located will be made in the autumn.

It was also confirmed that the new agency will employ at least 1,500 staff – making it one of largest executive agencies of the Scottish Government.

Comments

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28th April 2017 by Nichole Kid

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28th April 2017 by Keith Calder

Ha ha Tories and Damien Green, Ian Duncan Smith and Penny Murduant, up yours, dtick yer Atos and Maximus where a monkey sticks his nuts. No more shite fae these companies terrifying disabled people. Sorry for the poor folks in England though, but perhaps a reason for the to dump the tories.

28th April 2017 by Peter Dow

Well good intentions only go so far. I am sure that the SNP government Justice Secretary, Mr Matheson (who should resign or be sacked for being useless in my opinion) has good intentions that the (public sector, not private for profit companies) police and courts should do their job fairly and competently, uphold human rights yet whenever you confront your MSP or he or she on your behalf, confronts the government about particular instances of unfairness, incompetence and abuse by police and courts then suddenly the standard excuse is "Oh, the police, prosecutors and courts are independent of government", "government ministers cannot get involved with individual cases", "it would not be right" and so on. So even though the police and courts are not private companies, government always washes its hands of responsibility for abuses. I am concerned to be honest that even with the same good intentions that disability assessment unfairness and incompetence will happen in the public sector too but we will hear and read the same tired old excuses from Jeane Freeman MSP - "oh, the civil servants are independent, ministers cannot interfere" and so on. It's not enough to have good intentions. Government ministers need to exercise control and proper management, so to speak, "to get a hold of their public servants by the throat, by the short and curlies" - whatever it takes to force public servants to do the right thing or have them sacked. What we could be witnessing here is yet another example of SNP spin and window dressing that is not going to make any real difference to how people are mistreated by the state. Or perhaps Jeane Freeman can tell it me that it was a "proud moment for Scotland" when in July 2014, 7 weeks before the indyref, the officers of Police Scotland smashed their way through my front door to arrest me, ransack my wee flat and seize my computer with all my science data on it, keeping it for 2+ years, all on the pretext of a few harmless political tweets? Hey Jeane, perhaps you can tell me where the "fairness, dignity and respect" was when I was locked up in a police cell for a whole weekend - from Friday to Monday, last summer simply on account of having typed something online? The truth is Jeane, that the police state treats me and other Scots with contempt and does everything it can to get away with being unfair and to disrespect us. No amount of SNP well-meaning platitudes that are completely in denial about how "public servants" (state gangsters) actually abuse people is going to wash, not with me anyway.

29th April 2017 by Greig Craig

Right decision, but I don't see the requirement to decrease face to face assessments. If a person is so disabled that they require state aid to survive then they should have no issues in appearing before a qualified sympathetic and fair assessment procedure to state their case. The system has to be fair and seen to be fair to the tax payer as well!!