Scotland well placed for PIP powers
In February this year, the House of Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee published a damning report about the assessment processes of the UK Government’s Personal Independent Payment (PIP) and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).
These are recommendations for the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) to respond to by halting the roll-out of PIP to allow them to make serious changes – actions we have called for consistently.
And, whilst ESA remains a reserved benefit the Scottish Government cannot change, I have taken a particular interest in the Committee’s recommendations on PIP as, by the end of this Parliamentary term in 2021, we will take over responsibility for PIP from the DWP.
This government is clear that social security is a human right and one that people should be able to access in a way that treats them with dignity and respect. This principle is so important it is enshrined on the very first page of our new Social Security (Scotland) Act.
There is a noticeable common thread that runs through the House of Commons Committee’s recommendations which is that the current system places undue stress on people, through unclear communications and appearing to require the repeated provision of evidence.
This is also what we have heard through our own engagement with our Experience Panels – 2,400 people with personal and direct experience of the current system. Our new social security agency – Social Security Scotland – is being co-designed using that experience and knowledge, and that of our stakeholder reference groups and user research. We are determined to design and build systems and processes that work for people, not against them.
For example, we have held a forum with people to understand the issues with the current DWP application process and in particular the self-assessment form so that we can make the improvements people need. We will ensure that all information is accessible and we are also developing an online route for applications, as well as Easy-Read and other accessible formats.
We are committed to ensuring that individuals are offered a choice of channels to apply for disability benefits. This will include as a minimum, in person, online, paper and telephone. We are continuing to test these principles with people who receive benefits to explore what other communication channels we should provide.
I understand the stress and anxiety, that can accompany current DWP face-to-face assessments. And an important commitment that I am making to people in Scotland is that we will reduce these as much as possible. Our Act specifically states that face to face assessments will only be held if necessary and crucially will never be with a private contractor.
Key to this is ensuring that we gather appropriate evidence at the initial stage. The person applying clearly knows best what they need but we are also exploring the range of health and social care evidence that could be used to support quality decision making and reduce the need for face-to-face assessments. We will take into account the needs of the individual to determine whether a home visit is needed, and people will be entitled to bring a supporter along with them who will be able to make representations on their behalf at every step of the way.
And anyone who, because of a disability, finds it difficult to engage fully with us, will have the right to independent advocacy support.
Through our work we will meet all of the Work and Pension Select Committee’s recommendations on what should be done, where we have the powers to do so.
The chance to create something different in Scotland is there. The chance to introduce a greater level of compassion and respect into our country’s social security service is one we fully intend to take.