New work and pensions chief visits Scottish Parliament to defend sanctions and assessments regime
SCOTTISH Parliamentarians have raised serious concerns over the extent of welfare reform planned by the new UK department for work and pensions (DWP) minister Damian Green during his visit to Scotland.
The parliament’s Social Security Community grilled Green during his visit to Holyrood today (3 November), questioning the extent to which he was considering reforming the DWP’s punitive system of assessments and sanctions.
Cross-examining Green, committee chair Sandra White MSP asked about a section of the DWP’s new green paper which suggested assessments for people with long term chronic conditions, contradicting statements by the new DWP chief that he would consider removing people with lifetime conditions from assessment every six months.
She said: “We’ve heard horror stories of people being forced into jobs that they just can’t [do].”
“Can I draw your attention to paragraph 114 of the green paper.
“There is a section on people with life threatening illnesses and disabilities, who will be put into this group where they don’t aways have to go to a work capability assessment.
“But in paragraph 114, its says there is currently no requirement for people in this particular support group to stay in touch with their job centre besides engaging with reassessments.
Reading from the paper, she said: “’We could consider implementing keep in touch discussions with work coaches to offer appropriate support tailored to the individual’s circumstances, reflecting any changes since their work capability assessment.’
“’This could be explored as a voluntary or mandatory requirement.’
“I’m quite worried when I see that word mandatory.
“Mr Green, are you saying that people with disabilities will once again have to go through this revolving door of work assessments?”
Responding to White’s concerns, Green said: “Not all of them.
“One of the decisions I’ve already made is that anyone found not fit for work, and whose condition cannot get better….anyone like that we will stop reassessing.”
Pressed on the issue of wether some with long term chronic conditions could still be forced to undergo some form of assessment, Green said there were some people whose chronic conditions go “back and forth” so that they could be found fit for work.
“There are people who at some stages in multiple sclerosis can work, and it may get to some stage where they can’t work.”
Within the group of people on benefits but out of the system of work capability assessments (WCA) “there may well be people whose condition goes back and forth.”
An example of another group of people with long term conditions that could be subject to assessment were, Green speculated “people with mental health conditions”.
Later, Green said: “There are people who think there shouldn’t be any kind of work capability assessment.
“I think there needs to be some kind of assessment.”
The DWP has pledged to reform its approach following the departure of Iain Duncan Smith, whose tenure at the department saw escalating sanctions on people claiming jobseeker’s allowance and other benefits and thousands of disabled people die after being found fit for work.
Around 15 per cent of welfare spending is set to be transferred to the Scottish Parliament under a fresh devolution of power. The Scottish Government is currently engaged in a consultation to create a new social security system that it says will embrace different values from the DWP.
Scottish Government ministers have already indicated they will resist sanctions and WCAs.
Another committee member, SNP MSP Ben Macpherson challenged Green to accept the damage caused by the DWP in recent years.
He said: “There was an implicit recognition on Monday with the publication of the green paper, around the fact that there have been significant failures and problems with the roll-out of welfare reform since 2010”
“There has been a significant amount of distress to citizens and many of the constituents we represent.”
But defending the sanctions system, which has seen claimants lose vital payments for turning up late to an appointment by minutes, Green said: “I do think at the end of the system you need a sanctions regime. It’s very much the last resort.”
Some of Scotland’s most influential civic organisations, including Scotland’s largest disabled people’s member led organisation the Glasgow Disability Alliance and the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union, which organises DWP workers in Scotland, have submitted proposals to the social security consultation calling for a humane system that helps the poor and vulnerable rather than punishing and endangering them.
Picture courtesy of Parliament TV
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