The long road to independent advocacy

Written by: Ian Welsh, Chief Executive, the ALLIANCE
and Andrew Strong, , Assistant Director (Policy and Communications), the ALLIANCE

Published: 11/12/2017

Ian and Andrew look at what the Social Security Committee's new report could mean for independent advocacy in the new system.

Published earlier today, the Social Security Committee’s report on the Social Security (Scotland) Bill makes for interesting, if not light, reading.

Devolving social security powers was always going to be difficult, with a total of eleven entitlements coming into Scottish Government control. In fact it has been argued that this is the biggest change since the creation of the Scottish Parliament in 1999.

It’s not just the creation of a new Agency which creates difficulties – but the issue at hand. Social security has long been controversial and the change from Disability Living Allowance to Personal Independence Payment since 2010 has been a long protracted affair, with an ailing assessment process and some left dejected or rejected by the approach adopted.

Back in 2013, the ALLIANCE discussed with a range of our members approaches which could be taken to mitigate the health impact of these issues for people with a range of long term conditions. The message we received loud and clear from members was that independent advocates, a well informed voice in the room at assessments, had the skill to deal with the inherent power imbalance and add value to create a more accurate assessment.

Working alongside a range of existing independent advocacy organisations, in Dundee, Glasgow, Midlothian and Forth Valley, the ALLIANCE and the Scottish Independent Advocacy Alliance (SIAA) worked closely to deliver a Welfare Advocacy Support Project, which after 18 months had ensured that an estimated additional £3.1m would be received from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) by 1,000 people with learning disabilities, mental health problems and neurological conditions.

Over recent months, the evidence from this project has added to the argument that a right to independent advocacy should be added to the new Bill. Alongside colleagues from a range of organisations including Camphill Scotland, Inclusion Scotland and Disability Agenda Scotland, the ALLIANCE has been outlining the value of independent advocacy to MSPs.

It is, therefore, satisfying to note that the Committee has recommended a new principle “that individuals will have the right to independent advocacy under and with regard to the Scottish social security system.”

The Committee’s report marks a significant step in a road, but needs Scottish Government commitment, including resource, to ensure that people’s rights are at the heart of the new approach. We will keep working, alongside our partners, to ensure a rights-based system is delivered.

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