Johnstone wins action on hated benefits assessments

Scottish Greens today successfully pushed for a duty to be placed on government to consider existing evidence before ordering additional assessments for devolved social security benefits.

Assessments for the controversial Personal Independence Payment, which thousands of Scots have been called for, can be stressful and humiliating and in many cases not necessary because there is sufficient existing medical and other evidence.

At a meeting of the Scottish Parliament’s Social Security Committee, the Minister for Social Security, Jeane Freeman, accepted the intention of the amendment from Alison Johnstone MSP and pledged to work with her to implement its intentions before the Bill passes, likely this summer.

Speaking after the meeting, Ms Johnstone, a Lothian MSP, said

“If we are to found this new system on the principles of dignity and respect, then we should protect applicants from unnecessary assessments that cause distress.

“I am pleased to hear that the Scottish Government accept the principle of my amendment, and have agreed to work with me to ensure the final bill enshrines a duty for existing evidence to be considered by the Scottish Government before an assessment can be ordered.”

Citizens Advice Scotland describe such a move as “the highest priority for the Scottish social security system”.

The move comes after two earlier successes. The Scottish Social Security system will now include a principle that social security should reduce poverty, as a result of a Green amendment now passed.

Also as a result of a Green amendment, the Scottish Government has now recognised the unfair situation faced by carers who care for more than one person. Alison Johnstone has raised the issue that Carer’s Allowance claimants who care for more than one person yet receive no recognition of this. This can mean that some carers miss out on the support altogether.

Jeane Freeman said: “I fully appreciate the point that Ms Johnstone makes, and the fact that many of Scotland’s carers are splitting their hours of care between more than one person and might be missing out on support despite having significant caring responsibilities. I am also sympathetic to the principle that we should recognise a wider range of caring situations and ensure that we are providing support to those who need it. I want to ensure that we fully support carers, as I know Ms Johnstone does.”

Alison Johnstone added:

“Greens are helping to build a fairer Scotland. As a result of Green action, the new social security system will have the overriding aim to reduce poverty and the Scottish Government has pledged to look at the situation facing people who have multiple caring responsibilities, which Greens raised.

And today, the Scottish Government has accepted the Green manifesto pledge to significantly reduce the number of unfair benefits assessments by making better use of existing evidence.”