Opinions

A new era of social security for disabled people and carers?

Written by: Debbie Horne, Senior Policy Officer (Social Justice), Citizens Advice Scotland

Published: 01/04/2021

Social Security

This election comes at a time when an adequate and human rights based social security safety net has never been so important.

While the social and economic impact of the pandemic has touched us all, some people have been hit much harder than others. This includes the disproportionate number of disabled people and carers who were already locked into poverty before we had ever even heard of COVID-19.

Every day, advisers from Scotland’s Citizens Advice network provide social security advice to people living with a disability and to carers. In a single year, Citizen Advice Bureaux advisers give out almost 100,000 bits of advice on disability and carer related social security issues.

The links between disability, caring responsibilities and poverty are widely recognised.

  • We know disabled people are three times more likely to live in poverty.
  • We know the evidence shows the current rates of disability payments aren’t enough to cover the real additional cost of having a disability.
  • We know that carers are more vulnerable than those without caring responsibilities to finding themselves living in poverty.

Without ambitious action going forward, this will remain the case. And surely, we can all agree we can and must do better than this.

So, what needs to change?

As set out in the ALLIANCE manifesto, Equally Valued, there needs to be ambition from all political parties to deliver a progressive and ambitious model of social security.

Starting with a commitment to an independent review of social security for disabled people, leading to the creation of a world-leading system, based on the principles set out in the Beyond a Safe and Secure Transition – A Long Term Vison for Social Security report. One of these principles is ensuring that disability payments are adequate. Research has estimated the monthly additional cost of having a disability at £632 per month, when we know that current payment rates are lower than this.

We also need to recognise the value and contribution of unpaid carers to our society. That’s currently one in five people in Scotland.

Under existing rules, a carer – including young carers aged 16-18 – are only able to study for up to 21 hours a week before losing entitlement to carer’s social security support. Meaning an almost always impossible choice between education, caring and financial hardship. A similar choice is faced when it comes to employed paid work. Where carers face a cliff edge of losing their eligibility for Carer’s Allowance if earning just over a low earnings limit. Committing to changing these rules in the new Scottish Carer’s Assistance should be a priority for all parties.

Getting social security right for disabled people and for carers in the next Scottish Parliament is vital to realising human rights, tackling inequality and eradicating poverty. The experience of the Citizens Advice network in Scotland demonstrates why the social security commitments the ALLIANCE are asking parties to make in their manifestos are essential.

Scotland has the chance to create a world-leading social security system. The next Scottish Parliament must seize this opportunity and deliver positive change for disabled people and carers.

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Citizens Advice Scotland

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