Opinions

Social Security: New social security powers offer opportunity to do things differently

Written by: Niall Sommerville, Policy, Public Affairs & Campaigns Manager, Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Society Scotland

Published: 19/09/2016

Niall sets out some key aspirations for the future delivery of social security in Scotland.

We recently received welcome news that one of our supporters, David Trotter, has been successful in his appeal against a decision made on his disability benefits.

At his initial assessment for Personal Independence Payment (PIP) in March it was decided by the assessor that he was no longer eligible for the higher rate of mobility allowance, despite being assessed as unable to walk unaided for further than 50 metres.  Previously under Disability Living Allowance (DLA) he had received these payments which meant he could access a Motability car, allowing him to travel to work and maintain his independence.

The decision meant he had to give up his car and ultimately his job.  Yet here we are five months and a 35 minute re-assessment later seeing the decision being overturned.  David will now be able to get his car back and return to work but has endured five months of stress and turmoil and effectively had to put his life on hold.

This story is just one illustration of what is wrong with the current system of accessing disability benefits and the lack of fairness and accessibility in the system.  Sadly we are hearing stories like this too often from across the MS community.  But we do have a chance to start to change this.

Announced in the recently published Programme for Government was Scotland’s first ever Social Security Bill. For the first time Scotland will have powers over elements for the welfare system, including over disability benefits such as DLA and PIP.  We know that around 80 per cent of people with MS have to give up work within 15 years of diagnosis and disability benefits help to fill this gap.  Without them 65 per cent said they would be unable to afford essential items such as food and heating.  But we know that the system at present isn’t working.  Around 90 per cent of people with MS found the process of claiming disability benefits stressful and one in three didn’t claim the benefits they were entitled to due to stigma.

The new powers coming to Scotland mean we have an opportunity to do things differently, to create a system that is fair and accessible and puts the needs of the user at its heart.  Any new system must be built on user experience and co-designed by those that use the system.

That’s why recently we held a joint consultation event with the Scottish Government and other neurological charities to gather views on a new social security system for Scotland.  We welcomed along the Minister for Social Security, Jeanne Freeman MSP, so she could hear first-hand from people with neurological conditions about the difficulties many face in accessing disability benefits.

The attendees discussed their issues with the system at present but more importantly talked about what should be done to create a better system.  Topics ranged from reintroducing lifetime awards and a right to advocacy support to creating greater flexibility based on a person’s condition and creating a more positive application process.  It was invigorating to hear such a range of ideas and opinions on how we could do things better in Scotland.

It will undoubtedly be a tough ask but the political will does seem to exist for creating a fairer system in Scotland, the need amongst people accessing benefits is clear.  It is now up to all of us, the Scottish Government, Parliament and third sector, to turn that will into a reality.

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Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Society Scotland

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