Campaigners celebrate as Scotland bans privateers from benefits system

Nathanael Williams

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.

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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.”

Picture: CommonSpace

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