Chris discusses the challenge of navigating the social security system for people with learning disabilities and doing things differently.
Welfare has become a thorny political issue in recent years. All too often it is spoken of as a drain on resources. But for many of the most vulnerable people in our society this support really matters. In Scotland we have the opportunity and, I believe, the will to create a more positive story about social security based on dignity, respect and equality.
More specifically, the new social security powers devolved to Scotland provide the chance to take a fresh look at eligibility criteria, accessibility, assessment and evidence gathering processes to create a system that genuinely offers improved life chances for all.
The Scotland Act devolves around £3bn of social security expenditure to the Scottish Parliament and over half of this (£1.6bn) relates to Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and Personal Independence Payments (PIP). These benefits play a vital role in helping people with learning disabilities participate fully in society and access their right to independent living. But the on-going process of migration from DLA to PIP, and the mandatory reassessment this entails, has proved difficult and stressful for many people with learning disabilities and their families.
SCLD has concerns that the PIP model is over reliant on specific medical assessments which creates a real risk of poor decision making. People with learning disabilities have told us that they find the assessment process daunting and intimidating and can struggle to communicate their day-to-day difficulties clearly in an interview situation. They don’t always understand the criteria on which they are being assessed or grasp the potential impact their answers might have. A 65% success rate for those who appeal decisions to reduce or cancel their PIP award suggests that the PIP system requires a radical overhaul. The Scottish Government consultation on social security presents an opportunity to do just that.
This week (26 September) we held the first of three consultation events in Edinburgh. Two more take place next week in Dundee and Girvan. These events will enable us to gather evidence from people with learning disabilities and their carers on their experience of the system to date and hear about how they would like to see a future Scottish Social Security system work. There are still places available at next week’s events and I’d encourage anyone who wants to have their say to sign up.
There’s a lot to think about. We already know that there is scope for independent advocacy to play a bigger role in the support services that are available to people claiming disability benefits. Advocacy has been shown to help people navigate the claims and assessment process and make the system more accessible for people with learning disabilities. But we also need to make it easier for people to get social security support without relying on professional help and to create a more responsive system that is easier for everyone to engage with. We also need to avoid the trap of thinking about welfare support in isolation. The current discussion offers a chance to reconsider the value we place on social security in relation to other vital services and to achieve better integration for those who need support.
At SCLD we’re delighted to be engaging in the consultation so that we can help to ensure that the views of people learning disabilities are listened to and their experiences are shared. There is no shortage of challenges but this is also an exciting period of public service reform in Scotland which offers the opportunity to change people’s lives for the better.