Jeane Freeman targets disability assessments regime in social security consultation


Minister for social security expresses frustration at limitations of welfare devolution

THE SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT minister for social security has said that an important element of the DWP’s benefit assessments regime is “up for change” with the devolution of some powers to Scotland.

Jeane Freeman, who was given the brief for a new social security system for Scotland after being elected as an MSP in the May Scottish elections, made the comments at a major event in the Scottish Government’s consultation on creating the new system.

Speaking to CommonSpace after addressing hundreds of disabled people at Glasgow Disability Alliance (GDA) consultation, Freeman told CommonSpace that though the Scottish Government was frustrated that it couldn’t end all of the punitive aspects of the Department for Work and Pension’s (DWP) welfare regime, assessments of disabled people would be a focus.

“We will have the opportunity to look at how assessments are made,” she said.

“We won’t have, devolved to us, the benefits that the DWP imposes sanctions on, work related benefits. They aren’t coming to Scotland. So the sanctions regime won’t be under our control, but the assessment regime around disability will be and that will absolutely be up for change,” she added.

Jeane Freeman was addressing hundreds of disabled people in Glasgow as part of the social security consultation

The 2013 UK Conservative Government’s Welfare Reform Act included a transition away from the Disability Living Allowance (DLA) benefit towards a system of Personal Independence Payments (Pip) which critics feel is flawed and does not offer lifetime awards, therefore subjecting claimants to regular reassessments.

Disability rights groups in Scotland like GDA have campaigned against the transitioning of DLA recipients onto Pip. Recently the Scottish Unemployed Workers Network called on Freeman to lift assessments on mobility benefits among other demands.

A recent report by the New Policy Institute found that one in four working age disabled people live in deep poverty, with cities including Glasgow having a disproportionately high number of disabled people, as well as people living in poverty.

During her speech to the GDA rally in central Glasgow, one of the set piece events of the Scottish Government’s consultation into creating a new social security system, Freeman expressed her frustration that Scotland would only see the devolution of around 15 per cent of welfare powers.

She said: “I would love to have 100 per cent – it would be a damn sight easier to design the new system if we did.

“But for now the DWP will continue to be with us.”

Background read: 1 in 4 working age disabled people live in 'deep poverty', report finds

Speaking to CommonSpace Freeman said that she was creating the nascent social security system with a view to its full development upon independence.

“I am absolutely designing a system in Scotland which is capable of growth, because I believe in independence,” she said.

“I want to have 100 per cent social security spending for Scotland because I believe we will be independent at some point.  

“So I want to design a system that from day one has the right values and the right culture and the right approach that can then grow when the country has full powers.”

Glasgow city council leader Frank McAveety also spoke at the event, congratulating GDA for becoming one of the largest and best organised disabled rights groups in the country. The civic organisation, which has 3,500 members, is central to the Scottish Government’s social security consultation.

The consultation is expected to conclude in the middle of November 2016.

Picture courtesy of Scottish Government

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