BY STEVEN MCAVOY - WELFARE RIGHTS ADVISER
As the Scottish Parliament looks set to get more powers over benefits through the Scotland Bill, ENABLE Scotland members tell them how welfare reform has affected them so far.
Benefit cuts have been a major focus for recent UK Governments and the new UK Government, voted in last month, looks set to continue to this trend with £12 billion of cuts proposed in their manifesto.
Although it is the UK Government that are currently responsible for the vast majority of benefits, the Scottish Parliament are very interested in the impact that benefit changes are having on people in Scotland.
The Scottish Parliament has set up a Welfare Reform Committee to look at this and they recently invited our members to a meeting in Niddrie Community Centre in Edinburgh.
Members of our Edinburgh ACE group took up this invite and went along to tell the members of the committee what they thought of the current and proposed changes.
Top of our members agendas on the day were:
- the amount and size of forms people are asked to fill in
- cuts to benefits for disabled people
- and making sure that people with a learning disability who need a bus pass can get one.
It was especially important that our members took this opportunity to discuss their concerns with the Scottish Parliament for two reasons.
Firstly, The UK Government just published the Scotland Bill which will devolve some of the powers over benefits, including disability and carers benefits, to the Scottish Parliament. We need to make sure that the voices of people with learning disabilities help shape how the Scottish Parliament use these powers to produce the best possible outcomes for people who have a learning disability.
Secondly, ENABLE Scotland recently launched the #stopthebus campaign calling on the Scottish Government to improve access to the National Concessionary Bus Travel Scheme in Scotland. We want to see the Scottish Government to extend the eligibility criteria to include people who are entitled to the lower rate of the mobility component of Disability Living Allowance.
The Scottish Government already has the power over the concessionary bus travel scheme in Scotland and they can make a real change now. That is why it is important that we take every possible opportunity to tell our elected representatives why having a bus pass is so important to people who have learning disabilities.
You can find out more about what our members think about welfare reform by watching our short video.
You can also support the #stopthebus campaign by:
People often get confused about the difference between their social security benefits and the services that they receive from their local authorities or support provider.
This confusion is not surprising with each local authority in Scotland operating differently, an ever changing social security landscape and the introduction of Self Directed Support.
If we take a step back and try to understand the purpose behind each of these things then it can be easier to avoid confusion.
Social security benefits are sums of money which are usually paid from the Department for Work and Pensions from UK Government funds. Social security benefits are paid to cover specific things such as living costs (Job Seekers Allowance, Income Support or Employment and Support Allowance), housing costs (Housing Benefit) or costs linked to disability (Disability Living Allowance, Personal Independence Payment or Attendance Allowance).
You can receive social security benefits and not be in receipt of a Self Directed Support budget. You can be in receipt of a Self Directed Support budget and not get social security benefits.
This is because access to Self Directed Support is not based on your financial circumstances but on the help that you are assessed as requiring.
Under Self Directed Support you will be assessed by your local social work department. This assessment will generate a list of outcomes that would help improve your life. Based on these outcomes a financial figure will be produced that your local authority thinks will be adequate to help you achieve your outcomes. This figure will be your budget.
You then work with your local authority to produce a plan for how this budget will be used to help you achieve your outcomes. Your local authority should offer you four different options in how this money is spent ranging from controlling your budget for you to you being in complete control.
Your financial circumstances at this point are irrelevant.
Once the amount of your budget has been decided, however, your own financial circumstances do become relevant. This is because your local authority is likely to ask you for a contribution towards the cost of your budget.
The amount of your contribution is calculated by adding up your income from your social security benefits, savings and wages and then applying your local authorities charging policy. This contribution figure is then deducted from the budget you have been assessed as requiring and you will be expected to make up the difference.
Whilst your benefits may mean that you have to contribute an amount towards your services, your budget will have no impact on the amount of benefits that you receive.
Each local authority in Scotland has it’s own charging policy so the amount you will be asked to contribute can vary greatly from council to council. You should ask your local Social Work department for a copy of their policy and ask for assistance for them to explain this to you if you have any questions.
Further information on Self Directed Support can be found here: http://www.gov.scot/resource/0042/00423126.pdf
ENABLE Scotland has also been campaigning against the need for those in receipt of a budget to have to contribute towards this. We feel that this contribution is unfair and that it amounts to a ‘care tax’. Further details on this can be found here: http://scotlandagainstthecaretax.org/
If you disagree with your assessment then you can speak to your local social work department about challenging this.
By Steven McAvoy, Welfare Rights Adviser, ENABLE Scotland
If you live in a postcode area that beings with G (Glasgow), IV (Inverness), AB(Aberdeen), DD (Dundee), KA (Kilmarnock), KY (Kirkcaldy) or PH (Perth) then it is important that you know about the latest news from the Department of Work and Pensions about the roll-out of the Personal Independence Payment in Scotland.
It is also important you know exactly where to seek help if you, or someone you care for, currently receives Disability Living Allowance.
From the 26th of January 2015 people in the Glasgow and Inverness postcode areas receiving Disability Living Allowance will be asked to move over to the Personal Independence Payment if any of the following changes in circumstances occur:
- you tell the DWP about a change in care or mobility needs;
- a fixed term award of DLA is due to come to an end; or
- a child in receipt of DLA turns 16.
If any of these situations apply to you then you will be sent an invitation to claim the Personal Independence Payment. If you do not respond to this invitation then your Disability Living Allowance will stop so please do not ignore this.
In February 2015 this change will extend to people in the postcode areas AB (Aberdeen), DD (Dundee), KA (Kilmarnock), KY (Kirkcaldy) or PH (Perth).
Since April 2013 anyone between the ages of 16 and 64 making a brand new claim for a disability benefit has claimed the Personal Independence Payment. The plan is that, eventually, all current Disability Living Allowance claimants in this age group will be moved onto the Personal Independence Payment.
Unfortunately we do not know exact details of when and where the Personal Independence Payment will be introduced for those not in the areas mentioned. We also do not know exactly when those with indefinite Disability Living Allowance awards will be asked to change over.
Disability Living Allowance will remain in place for those under 16 and there are no current plans to change this.
The best thing that anyone who receives a letter about Disability Living Allowance can do is to seek advice from a free, impartial advice service.
ENABLE Scotland can help advise you on the changeover to the Personal Independence Payment, or help point you in the direction of a local advice agency to assist.
You can contact our ENABLE Direct helpline on 0300 0200 101 for further information.
Branches are also welcome to contact us if members feel that they would benefit from group information on this subject.
Written by Steven McAvoy
Recent comments from Lord Freud suggesting that some people who have a disabilities could be paid less than the minimum wage have attracted condemnation and calls for him to resign.
The controversy erupted when Lord Freud, during a conversation with a Conservative Councillor around the issue of getting disabled people into work, said that:
Now, there is a small… there is a group, and I know exactly who you mean, where actually as you say they're not worth the full wage and actually I'm going to go and think about that particular issue, whether there is something we can do nationally, and without distorting the whole thing, which actually if someone wants to work for £2 an hour, and it's working can we actually…"
ENABLE Scotland has always campaigned for people who have a learning disability to be treated equally and we are concerned to hear opinions that suggest that people who have a learning disability may not be worth the same as their colleagues.
Whilst we recognise that barriers still exist which stop people who have a learning disability from entering employment, and are committed to challenging these, we cannot agree that the starting point for any discussion should be that the work of a disabled person can ever be worth less than the statutory minimum.
ENABLE Scotland members know better than anyone the positives that paid employment can bring and they also know how frustrating it can be to want to work but be unable to find a job. But this does not mean that we should allow the skills of disabled job seekers to be devalued.
Yes, people who have a learning disability do sometimes require some additional support in the workplace but figures also suggest that people with a learning disability are less likely to take time off work due to sickness and more likely to stay in their job.
It seems wholly unfair that once again the focus is largely on what a person who has a learning disability might not be able to do other than the positives that they could bring to an employer.
The reasons for high unemployment rates amongst disabled people are complex but it is clear to ENABLE Scotland that barriers into employment often don’t come from the nature of a person's disability but from society's perception of that disability.
People who have a learning disability only want the chance to be treated the same as everyone else when looking for a job and when they get one. We can never achieve this if we accept that a person's disability can make them of less value than anyone else.
ENABLE Scotland members consistently report that the assessment process for Employment and Support Allowance is very stressful, and MPs from the UK Parliament’s Work and Pensions Select Committee recently released a report which agrees.
In its first report of the 2014 – 2015 session, the Work and Pensions Select Committee has stated; “Employment and Support Allowance is not achieving its aims and needs fundamental redesign.”
ENABLE Scotland is pleased that the committee has recognised the significant failings within the Employment and Support Allowance system, as we have been telling the Westminster Government about the problems it has been causing people who have a learning disability since the introduction of the controversial test. Earlier this year, we submitted written evidence to the Select Committee of our members’ experiences of the process.
In our submission to the committee we made four recommended changes:
- The Employment and Support Allowance assessment process changed to reflect the Court of Appeal decision that it discriminates against people with a learning disability.
- For claimants to continue to receive their benefit whilst going through the new mandatory reconsideration process as part of their appeal.
- Employment and Support Allowance in youth provisions to be re-introduced.
- The time limiting of contribution based Employment and Support Allowance to end.
We are pleased that the committee has agreed that the assessment process should be changed, and that claimants should continue to receive their benefit whilst going through the reconsideration process prior to appeal.
We agree with the committee’s findings that the assessment process is stressful and that too many claimants find themselves with an outcome that does not reflect their health barriers to employment.
We are also pleased that they have shared our concerns that the introduction of the mandatory reconsideration process may deter claimants from appealing against decisions and that the ability to continue to receive payments of benefit whilst challenging a decision should be re-instated.
So what will the Department for Work and Pensions do in response to the Committee’s recommendations? Our Chief Executive Officer, Peter Scott, will be writing to the UK Government this week to ask that very question.
In the meantime, ENABLE Scotland intends to continue to raise the problems our members experience with Employment and Support Allowance with the Department for Work and Pensions and UK Government Ministers and will shortly be responding to the fifth independent review of the Work Capability Assessment.
Any members or supporters who wish to influence our response are welcome to contact ENABLE Direct on 0300 0200 101 or by emailing us on firstname.lastname@example.org
The full report from the Work and Pensions Committee can be viewed here.
When working in the third sector, it is impossible to escape the fact that benefit sanctions are becoming an increasing problem for benefit claimants. Sanctions lead to crisis and it is often third sector organisations to whom claimants will turn for support.
It is time that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) also moved to a system of supporting rather than sanctioning claimants.
As a front line welfare rights adviser, I took a call one Friday morning from a client with a learning disability. His Job Seekers Allowance had been sanctioned as the Job Centre felt that he had failed to comply with his job seekers agreement.
He had no money for fuel, food or any immediate expenses and unless we could come up with a solution then he would be destitute over the weekend.
All other work was put on hold and contact made with the DWP. Despite being aware of the client’s learning disability, the DWP had not only sanctioned the client but also failed to inform him that he could apply for a hardship payment.
A hardship payment application was submitted and a referral made to a local food bank to ensure that if nothing else the client would have access to food over the weekend. After an anxious wait, it was agreed that a hardship payment could be made giving the client a reduced percentage of an already low income to survive on until his next payment. With immediate crisis alleviated, an appeal was made against the original decision as we felt it was wrong. Nine months later, a legally qualified tribunal judge agreed.
This one piece of poor decision-making meant pressure on the limited resources of an advice service, a government department, a local food bank and ultimately a very expensive tribunal to decide that the client should receive the money he had lost out on.
If these limited resources had been put towards supporting the claimant into employment rather than arguing over whether or not he had done enough to seek work, is it not more likely that he would have moved into employment?.
This one example shows the increased financial and other pressures that sanctions place on us all as organisations and tax payers as well as the stress the threat or experience of destitution has on claimants.
Unfortunately, we do not really know how many sanction decisions are wrong, as so many claimants don’t appeal. Many would rather rely on friends and family or receive assistance from food banks as they are afraid to challenge the Job Centre fearing this will lead to more sanctions in the future.
The sanction culture has created a system of fear rather than support and this has to stop for the benefit of claimants, government bodies, the third sector and also tax payers
With the move from Disability Living Allowance to the Personal Independence Payment expected to result in an estimated 20% cut in expenditure, many members and supporters of ENABLE Scotland are very concerned about how this change might impact on them. And at the moment, a lot of the fear is in the unknown.
Although the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) is still a very new benefit the Department for Work and Pensions have released some figures which give us an idea of how things are going so far.
The first noticeable issue is that it would appear to be taking a very long time to reach a decision on claims.
As of December 2013 the DWP had only made decisions on 1 in 5 of the claims made. These statistics would appear to fit with the experience of advice agencies throughout the UK who are reporting concerns that decisions are not being made for significant periods of time.
The second noticeable feature of the statistics is that from June 2013 to December 2013 there appears to be a marked decrease in the percentage of successful claims where the claim does not involve a terminal illness.
Initially, 88% of claims to PIP were resulting in an award but by December 2013 this had fallen to 50%.
So what does all of this mean for claimants?
Whilst the fact that the percentage of successful claims dropped significantly is concerning, it is perhaps too early to draw concrete conclusions from this.
The figures available are for a short time period and we do not yet know how many decisions will be overturned at appeal. What is concerning, however, is the fact that there are significant delays in arriving at decisions.
Delays in decision making will not only hold up the payment of much needed benefit to the disabled person but will also delay entitlement to benefits for carers.
This is because the disabled person will not be in receipt of a "qualifying benefit" which will allow their carer to access benefits.
Those already in receipt of DLA are also at risk as delays in issuing decisions could mean that their DLA entitlement ends before a decision on their PIP claim is made.
Any gaps in entitlement could result in claimants other benefits being reduced as many recipients receive additional money in other means tested benefits which depend on their entitlement to DLA.
Carers Allowance will also stop for the carers of those transferring over where there is a gap in entitlement.
One benefit which won’t be affected if there is a gap in entitlement pending a PIP decision is Housing Benefit. Legislation has been amended to allow DLA related premiums in Housing Benefit to continue until a decision on the claimant’s PIP claim has been made.
It is important to note that this exception will only apply to those who had DLA entitlement and are being moved over to PIP and not to those who are making a brand new claim.
Should you be in the position where a delay in PIP decision making means that you have a gap in entitlement then it is strongly recommended that you advise any other departments of the DWP that make benefit payments to you.
This also the case for parents of disabled children who are in receipt of increased tax credits due to their child’s entitlement to DLA. Any parents in these circumstances should contact HMRC.
As part of ENABLE Scotland’s AGM in November 2013 our members were given a presentation on the changes to the benefits system and then given the opportunity to take part in a video diary where they were able to give their experiences and opinions on these changes.
The footage from the video diary has now been sent to the Scottish Parliament’s Welfare Reform Committee as part of the “Your Say” call for evidence from people with long term disabilities and can be viewed here http://youtu.be/RurdqtI_xaM or via the Scottish Parliament website http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/gettinginvolved/68298.aspx
The message coming out of the video diary is clear. People with a learning disability are very concerned about the process of welfare reform and some have already seen negative impacts with one member having to attend an Employment and Support Allowance tribunal and another having to move house due to the Bedroom Tax.
A particular area of concern for our members is the future of the concessionary travel scheme (or buss pass as it’s more commonly known). They worry that the scheme could end or that future benefit changes might mean that they are no longer entitled to their bus pass.
The concessionary travel scheme allows pass holders free nationwide bus travel (some can also have a carer accompany them for free) as well as discounted rail and ferry travel.
This is a particularly important point for the Welfare Reform Committee as although the vast majority of benefit changes are decided by the UK Government, the concessionary travel scheme is different with the Scottish Government having the power to stop the scheme or limit or extend its eligibility criteria.
ENABLE Scotland are aware of the huge importance of access to public transport for people with a learning disability and would like to see the Scottish Government extend the eligibility criteria to include the lower rate of the mobility component of Disability Living Allowance.
We are also campaigning for better to access to public transport through our Help Us Be Spontaneous campaign (more information on the HUBS campaign can be found here http://www.enable.org.uk/HUBS/Pages/default.aspx)
The Bedroom Tax, one of the most unpopular aspects of the welfare reform programme, was introduced to tenants in local authority and registered social landlord housing in April of this year.
The ‘Bedroom Tax’ is not strictly a tax but instead a reduction in the amount of Housing Benefit that claimants can receive if they are thought to be ‘under-occupying’ their homes. Under-occupation is decided by the allocation of a number of rooms that claimants need based on their circumstances, and then matching this to the number of bedrooms in their homes.
Those who are thought to be under-occupying by one room will have their Housing Benefit reduced by 14 per cent and those who are under-occupying by two bedrooms or more will face a reduction of 25 per cent.
There may, however, be an argument that will assist a small number of claimants that will mean that the Bedroom Tax will not apply to them.
This argument applies to current Housing Benefit claimants who became entitled to the benefit prior to 1st January 1996 and have been entitled to Housing Benefit continuously (with a limited number of exceptions) since then. Claimants must also have remained in the same property.
This argument may be successful as, prior to the 1st January 1996, the piece of legislation used to decide the amount of maximum Housing Benefit that a claimant could be entitled to, is different from the law that is used to identify maximum Housing Benefit from 1st January 1996 onwards.
The argument that the Bedroom Tax should not apply to pre-1996 claimants is that the Bedroom Tax legislation only refers to the law post 1996 and, therefore, the Bedroom Tax does not apply to those who had claimed Housing Benefit before this date.
It is important to stress that it is early days in the progress of this argument but at this stage there would appear to be merit in claimants who can use this argument to lodge applications asking the Local Authority to look at their Housing Benefit claim again.
A standard letter to request a review of Housing Benefit is available and can be requested by emailing email@example.com Emails must contain your name, full address, date of birth, national insurance number and telephone contact number.
You will need to complete the letter with details of the local office that administers your Housing Benefit claim.
Should the Local Authority reject the argument put forward in the letter you will have the right to appeal against that decision (appeals should be lodged within one month of the refusal to review your Housing Benefit).
ENABLE Direct will be able to advise you on local advice agencies that can assist with your appeal. ENABLE Direct can be contacted on 0300 0200 101.
The white paper on Scottish independence has created much debate, discussion, and disagreement since it was released. There are many important discussions and decisions to be made between now and referendum day, and one key issue for our members will be what the welfare state might look like in an independent Scotland.
It is important that our members and supporters engage in the debate to help inform how they might vote on referendum day.
Chapter 4 of the white paper outlines the vision of the welfare state in an independent Scotland and contained three ideas that may prove popular with ENABLE Scotland members and supporters.
1. Abolish the Bedroom Tax
2. Halt the roll out of Universal Credit
3. Halt the roll out of the Personal Independence Payment.
The bedroom tax has been strongly criticised by many organisations, ENABLE Scotland included, as an unfair policy that will push many of Scotland’s disabled into poverty.
The new systems of Universal Credit and the Personal Independence Payment have attracted much criticism for being impractical and unresponsive to the needs of many people who require the support of benefits.
One major change that is perhaps likely to attract less attention, however, is the proposal to ensure that benefits and Tax Credits increase in line with inflation. This is a significant departure from current UK Government policy where two recent decisions have reduced the real terms income of benefit recipients.
In 2010, the UK Government changed the method used for calculating the annual increase in the rate of benefits from the retail price index (RPI), to the consumer price index (CPI). At the time of introduction, this meant that benefits were uprated by the CPI rate of 3.1% rather than the RPI rate of 4.6%. This move was criticised at the time by the TUC who called the move “insidious”.
In 2014/2015 and 2015/2016 this change will be compounded when many benefits are subjected to a 1% uprating cap. To put this change into context, it was estimated by the Department for Work and Pensions that the 1% cap would affect 30% of all households in the UK, and that the majority of households receiving benefit would be affected.
The DWP went on to estimate, that the average loss for each household would be £3 per week, but also, that those who have the least income would not only be more likely to be affected, but would be likely to have higher than average losses.
Whilst disability benefits and disability related elements in means tested benefits have been protected from the 1% cap, it is worth remembering that these will still be uprated by the traditionally lower CPI rather than RPI.
It would seem then, on welfare reform at least, that the proposals are positive; but are there negatives?
Critics of the white paper have argued, that the proposals in the paper are unaffordable and made based on assumptions of the outcomes of negotiations that would have to take place should Scotland vote yes.
It could also be argued that the white paper is a missed opportunity. Whilst the proposals would bring some popular changes, it would still see the welfare state remain largely unchanged. The Work Capability Assessment, poor standards of DLA decision making and sanctions are just some of the issues that would remain in place.
Whilst the welfare state will be just one of the man y issues that voters will have to consider, it does raise a fundamental question about our welfare state whatever the outcome of the referendum. Do we really want to see more of the same, or do we want to see radical change to the social security system?
ENABLE will shortly be responding to a Scottish Government consultation on the future of the welfare state, and we would be keen to hear the opinions of our members and supporters on their vision of a future welfare state in both an independent Scotland, and a Scotland which remains part of the UK.
Does the welfare state need reform, and if so what should those changes be?
Any comments or opinions can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.