Disability campaigners urge Scottish Government to act as welfare powers transferred

UK government to set out timetable for transfer of welfare powers as disability rights campaigners call for urgent action

DISABILITY rights campaigners yesterday called on the Scottish Government to mitigate the loss of Personal Independence Payments (Pip) to disabled claimants, pending the transfer of power over the benefit to Holyrood. 

The call comes as the UK Government gets set to lay out the timetable for the transfer of welfare powers to the Scottish Parliament, as determined by the Scotland Act 2016. The powers being transferred include control over Personal Independence Payments, Carer’s Allowance, and the housing element of Universal Credit. 

Scottish cabinet secretary for economy, jobs, and fair work, Keith Brown, said: “We want to build a fairer social security system that supports the vulnerable in society and treats people with dignity and respect. We have already committed to extending winter fuel payments to families with severely disabled children and reform assessments for disability benefits.”

“We believe that the points based assessment system used by PIP is deeply flawed.” Bill Scott

Campaigners, however, fear that by the time the benefit is transferred to Holyrood, many will already have lost out. Gathering outside Holyrood, campaign group Black Triangle submitted a petition, which stated: “We, the undersigned, call upon the Scottish Government to re-instate the benefits of Scottish-based recipients who have lost all, or part, of their disability benefits entitlement owing to having been re-assessed for Personal Independence Payment (PIP).”

It continued: “We request that pending the establishment and satisfactory functioning of the Scottish Social Security Agency to administer Social Security entitlements for sick and/or disabled Scots...that our Scottish Government takes immediate measures to mitigate this patently unjust loss of support for our group.”

Bill Scott: “This can only further intensify disabled people’s isolation.”

Bill Scott of Inclusion Scotland, speaking to CommonSpace, echoed the call for urgent action: “On the DWP’s own projections over 100,000 Scots disabled people will lose entitlement to some or all of their disability benefits when they are assessed for Pip. This will include nearly half of those currently entitled to the Higher Mobility Component. This can only further intensify disabled people’s isolation. Thousands might even be forced out of employment because they can no longer afford the transport costs.”

He added: “We believe that the points-based assessment system used by Pip is deeply flawed. It also gives much less weight to the enormous impact that mental health issues can have on people’s lives. So we have seen people who are extremely ill and under psychiatric care being denied benefits because of their Pip assessment.”

The eligibility-assessments for Pip in Scotland are currently carried out by private firm Atos. Bill Scott said: “The disabled people we talk to are completely opposed to private companies being involved in the assessment process. The National Audit Office found that Pip assessments are three and a half times more expensive than the system it replaced.”

“The last time I went for Pip, they took mobility off me. I can’t walk far.” Nicola Balfour, claimant

One claimant who has had a difficult time with their Pip claim was Nicola Balfour, 38, from Edinburgh. “I suffer from fibromyalgia, chronic pain, and obviously that comes with a lot of other health problems. Every day in my life is different. Today I might be able to do one thing, the other day I can’t.” She says her Pip helps her pay for home helps to do her garden and other domestic tasks. 

With her initial claim, she was knocked back, but with the help of a support worker, she was successfully awarded Pip. A subsequent assessment saw her money reduced to the basic rate. 

“The last time I went for PIP, they took mobility off me. I can’t walk far. I spend a lot of the time in the house. I can’t afford the buses,” she said.

Balfour says the experience has made her feel frustrated and nervous. “I was told that if I appealed I would lose it completely. Because I suffer from my anxiety and panic attacks I didn’t want to put myself through it. It is quite frustrating because I don’t think they understand the illness. I assumed they were [medically qualified]. When you get the report it feels like they’ve not heard a word you’ve said.”

Picture courtesy of: Mike Vallance 

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