Campaigners celebrate as Scotland bans privateers from benefits system

Scotland leads UK in banishing private firms from welfare assessments 

CHARITIES AND UNIONS have hailed a “new age of compassion” and welcomed yesterday’s (Thursday 27 April) announcement that private firms would no longer be allowed to carry out benefits assessments in Scotland.

In Holyrood, the Scottish social security minister, Jeane Freeman MSP, told the chamber that the new agency would create 500 jobs and have running costs of about £150m a year.

The moves followed the devolution of parts of the welfare system to the competency of the Scottish Government, representing around 15 per cent of welfare funding.  

The minister confirmed that there will be no role for the private sector in carrying out assessments of Scots disabled people’s entitlement to devolved disability benefits. Private companies such as Atos, hired by the UK department for work and pensions, have been blamed for their treatment of benefit claimants, sparking protests and outrage. Campaigners point to thousands of deaths of disabled people after they were deemed fit for work after assessments.

Read more – Fiona Robertson: We’ve already seen DWP inhumanity towards the disabled, now it’s rape victims turn

Bill Scott, Inclusion Scotland’s director of policy, 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. We stand ready to work with Scottish Government to make the future assessment process both fairer and simpler.”

In 2015, the UK Government signalled its intention to cut its annual social security spending by £12bn per year by 2017-2018.

Read more – Disability campaigners urge Scottish Gvoernment to act as welfare powers are transferred 

As part of the reforms and cuts, the UK Government phased out Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and replaced it with Personal Independence Payment (PIP), which it claimed saved the taxpayer more than £4bn.

However, figures from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), have shown that the obstacles to equality for disabled people have widened, even before the impact of the latest cuts.

Eleven benefits are being devolved to Scotland including DLA, PIP and Attendance Allowance. These are vital to help disabled citizens maintain independence and dignity and have been placed under threat by cuts and what campaigners have termed the “humiliation and brutality” of private sector assessments.  

Ten of the 11 devolved benefits will be delivered directly by the new Scottish central agency, with the 11th – discretionary housing payments – as well as the Scottish Welfare Fund, continuing to be controlled by local councils.

Read more – Disability rights groups slam UK Gov for falling living standards in week of catastrophic cuts   

Freeman said: “We will be guided by our principles. One of those principles is that profit should never be a motive nor play any part in making decisions or assessing people’s health and eligibility.

“Over and over again, I have heard the personal experiences of so very many who have found this to be one of the most difficult, distressing and demeaning aspects of their whole experience, and I am in no doubt that the current UK assessment model must be substantially changed.”

Inclusion Scotland pointed to cases like that of Alan Buchanan, which they believe demonstrate that private companies are putting their profits before human needs. Alan was left severely impaired after a stroke, buit still had to endure transferal from DLA to PIP.

“One of those principles is that profit should never be a motive nor play any part in making decisions or assessing people’s health and eligibility.” Jean Freeman MSP

The private assessor turned up at Buchanan’s home at a time that suited their own schedule rather than the time arranged for the assessment by Buchanan’s carer, his wife Heather. As a result Buchanan’s disability benefits were withdrawn and his partner was told by the DWP to go to a Foodbank if they didn’t have enough to live on.

The PCS union which represents jobcentre staff and assessment administrative staff welcomed the Scottish Government’s moves towards a policy which they said safeguarded benefits for Scots and ensured that staff would not be overworked and underresourced.

Lynn Henderson, PCS national officer, said: “PCS welcome the minister’s decision to deliver devolved social security from one Scottish Government agency, whilst allowing for the provision of face-to-face services locally. We presented our case for a central delivery model and against a postcode lottery of services in our recent parliamentary session on social security which the minister was able to attend.”

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Comments

Peter Dow's picture

Peter Dow

Fri, 04/28/2017 - 19:20

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.

Bill White

Fri, 04/28/2017 - 21:37

This is a very, very welcome announcement. Disabled people and those seeking social security have been treated in a heartless, uncaring and negligent manner by ATOS and their ilk.

I want to live in a country which treats ALL its people with respect, dignity and empathy. Every disabled, unemployed or other person needing support is a father, son, daughter or mother just like everyone else. When they are treated badly, we are all diminished. The creeping de-humanisation of our society needs to stop.

Fynesider

Sun, 04/30/2017 - 17:54

Peter Dow: You, very obviously, do not know Ms Freeman...!

She will do as she has stated....

Peter Dow's picture

Peter Dow

Mon, 05/01/2017 - 00:03

@Fynesider

Oh I don't doubt that the SNP government could make disability assessments a public service and stop it being run by private companies. That's a broad brush action that ministers can do, easily enough.

What Freeman won't do is prevent civil servants doing the same job from leaving disabled people with no money.

What Freeman won't do is admit it when disabled people are treated without respect and dignity by civil servants under her government because those civil servants will claim "we just followed the rules and the law and the directions of our management".

What Freeman will do is say "Oh, ministers can't get involved in individual cases".

What Freeman won't do is sack civil servants who have left disabled people with no money.

Freeman will state platitudes about treating people fairly, with respect and dignity. Her civil servants will reply to her "YES, MINISTER" but in practice there will be no change.

Peter Dow's picture

Peter Dow

Sun, 04/30/2017 - 23:59

What people fail to understand is that although the disability assessment is done by a private company - all the company is doing is providing a recommendation to a clerical worker, a civil servant, working in the DWP called "the decision maker" who is the person who actually decides to deny the disabled person his or her benefits.

The real issue is that that "decision maker" is empowered to cut disabled people's benefits off.

Only a government which outlaws such decision makers cutting disabled people's benefits off, which guarantees that any such decision maker who dares to do that EVER, WILL BE SACKED 100% of the time - so that it is the decision maker who lives in fear of being sacked for denying a disabled person their benefit, not the disabled person who must live in fear of having their benefits cut off, then the status quo of disabled people being cut off benefit will continue as now.

I would like to think that the unions of clerical workers would be happy to know that their members WILL DEFINITELY BE SACKED for daring to cut a disabled person off their benefits, but somehow I doubt it.

Sadly, I suspect that many clerical workers want their unions to empower them to do WHATEVER THE HELL THEY LIKE, including cutting disabled people's benefits off.

But I would be so happy to learn that no, actually, surprisingly clerical workers unions really want clerical workers SACKED EVERY TIME for daring to cut disabled people's benefits off.

Peter Dow's picture

Peter Dow

Mon, 05/01/2017 - 00:21

Right now there must be many "decision makers" working for the DWP in Scotland.

Now, if Freeman had said - "All those decision makers who have previously cut disabled people's benefits off WILL BE SACKED", if Freeman had squared up to the clerical workers unions, saying "Your bad members are for the sack", THEN maybe we could take Freeman's platitudes seriously.

But Freeman has not squared up to clerical workers unions. The unions as reported here all seem to be on the same page as Freeman. That means clerical workers feel "untouchable", that their jobs are safe, even if they have previously cut disabled people off their benefits.

So long as clerical workers are "untouchable", the same as police, prosecutors and judges are "untouchable", unsackable, unaccountable then abuses will continue.

There are many so-called public "servants", who don't like serving the public - they want to be MASTERS of the public, they just love it when they can impose misery on members of the public, leave them with no money, no hope, feeling suicidal.

We need a new breed of politicians, quite unlike Ms Freeman, who was, after all, a senior civil servant herself, new politicians whose mission is to bring these abusive so-called civil "servants" (misbehaving like MASTERS) to account.

Peter Dow's picture

Peter Dow

Mon, 05/01/2017 - 00:25

Peter Dow is a Scottish scientist and a republican socialist whose legal human rights are cruelly violated by the police and courts in Aberdeen, where he lives.

Peter Dow's political defence blog publishes the truth about the wrongful and unjust royalist arrests, prosecutions, convictions and punishments he endures.
http://peter-dow.blogspot.co.uk/

ejfj's picture

ejfj

Tue, 05/02/2017 - 08:33

We need to bring the "decision-makers" home to Scotland, where they will be subject to Scots Law. Then we need a great deal more judicial activism to ensure that people's rights are protected as they are supposed to be under the human rights legislation which is binding on the Scottish Government.

The actions, decisions and edicts of DWP in particular (with the Home Office a close runner-up) must be properly subject to challenge and appeal before the Scottish courts. Indeed, the relevant regulations and legislation themselves should be subject to such scrutiny, as the current Westminster regime has signally failed to pay any heed whatsoever to the impact of its (mis)deeds on the human rights of the disadvantaged, and in particular those of disabled people (full disclosure) such as myself. In fact, impact assessments have rarely been carried out, and those that were carried out have been deliberately ignored.

We know that not all decisions by departments of the Westminster government are correct, proportionate, reasonable and well-founded. What is it, 65% of PIP decisions overturned on appeal already, and that figure does not count those of us who have simply given up trying? The Home Office too have a record of thoroughly obnoxious, abusive and unreasonable decisions and actions.

Those injustices too absolutely must be made easier to challenge and overturn in the Scottish courts. More judicial activism is urgently required, and more pushing of the legislative envelope. There is no point whatsoever in having human rights legislation, or in the UK government signing up to international human rights treaties and conventions, if there is no practical way to have them enforced.

We must resist in the first place by ensuring that the legislation and the regulations are consonant with Scotland's and the UK's human rights obligations, and ensuring that the human rights protections which are supposed to be in place are actually enforced. Currently, those protections are pretty much a dead letter. Nevertheless, how else can we prevent and punish the abuses and malfeasances so routinely practiced by Westminster departments and agencies?

Therapymum

Tue, 08/29/2017 - 15:55

Bill White
Well said! I hope that ScotGov has also been in negotiations with the local DWP on the way forward, as they are controlled by Westminster. This is a fantastic first step and makes me feel proud!

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