There’s no doubt the UK’s social security system makes a mockery of its name. It often undermines people’s security, leaving them dependent on charities to put food on the table, and it does not afford its users the dignity and respect we would hope for in a fair society.
This week, Scotland has a chance to take a different approach. The Scottish Government’s Social Security Bill, covering aspects of newly-devolved powers, is an opportunity to put dignity and respect at heart of how people are treated.
One area where we can clearly make progress is assessments for disability benefits. There are far too many stories of people being forced through stressful qualification tests for PIP (Personal Independence Payment), often losing their Disability Living Allowance because of poor decision-making, with many people trapped in their own homes after losing their Motability cars.
Earlier this year we learned that all three private firms contracted to carried out these assessments are failing to meet the UK Government's own standards.
Examples of botched assessments include the recent report of a person with Down’s syndrome being asked by an assessor when they “caught” the condition, and one claimant’s assessment stating that she walked a dog daily, when she could barely walk and didn’t even own a dog.
This week I will amend the Scottish Government’s Social Security Bill to reduce these unnecessary medical assessments by ensuring decisions about benefits are made using already available evidence. This is regarded as the highest priority for Scotland’s new social security system according to users of Citizens Advice Bureaux across the country.
By ending these unnecessary assessments, we can prevent the errors and duplication which cause so much disruption and stress to applicants’ lives. Existing evidence from GPs, social workers and other professionals should, in many cases, be sufficient to corroborate a claim.
My amendments will also create a requirement to justify assessment requests if they are needed, and to take into account how and where people want any assessment carried out, and in particular how far applicants need to travel. This should hopefully remove some of the confusion and concern surrounding the process.
Already, Greens have successfully amended the Bill so that Scotland’s Social Security system will include a principle that it should reduce poverty, and we have made the case that carers who care for more than one person deserve extra payments.
These improvements are just the latest example of Greens engaging constructively in Parliament, making Scotland fairer and leading the change our society needs.
Update: Holyrood has voted unanimously to approve Alison's amendment to the Social Security Bill on ending unnecessary disability assessments. Great result!