Social Security in Scotland is changing

19th December 2017

Blog by Craig Smith, SAMH Public Affairs Officer 

Today the Scottish Parliament will debate the Social Security (Scotland) Bill for the first time. 

The Bill aims to create a Scottish Social Security system which will deliver around 15% of all social security in Scotland. This will include Disability Assistance – currently Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and Personal Independence Payment (PIP). 

People with mental health problems make up the largest group of people receiving PIP and DLA so it’s important we get this right.  Other benefits including Jobseekers Allowance (JSA), Universal Credit (UC) and Employment Support Allowance (ESA) will remain at the UK level.    

So why is this so important? 

We know that the UK social security system – often called the welfare system – is not working for people with mental health problems. People who are supported by SAMH services have told us how assessments for PIP and ESA have damaged their mental health and recovery. Problems include: a lack of understanding of the impact of mental health by assessors; face to face assessments’ inability to accurately assess the impact of fluctuating conditions; and stigmatising attitudes and behaviours by some assessors. 

We have the opportunity to do things differently. 

So how is the Bill looking? It’s positive, but also mixed bag. The Bill sets a strikingly different tone to the UK system. It includes a number of welcome principles which will govern the new system, including recognising social security as a human right and calls for a system based on dignity and respect. 

There will also be a charter, designed in partnership with people using the system, to make these principles a reality. 

We also welcome the Government response to the Social Security Committee’s Stage 1 report, agreeing to change the Bill to include a right to advocacy for those using the system.

But the Bill is not perfect. A large amount of detail has been left to secondary legislation. This includes rules about eligibility and assessment for the devolved benefits including disability assistance. We are concerned that this will mean important rules could be changed without adequate scrutiny by parliament and the public. 

So what are the key things SAMH want to see? We have identified five key areas where the Bill could be improved:

  • Applications for Disability Assistance from people whose primary condition relates to mental health to be conducted by assessors who are experienced in mental health 
  • The reversal of recent UK Government changes to PIP regulations which make it harder for people with mental health problems to qualify for the higher rate of PIP
  • An additional principle setting out the social security system’s role in promoting mental health and wellbeing 
  • Consultation on the development of the charter, and wider development of the social security system, to include a proportionate number of people accessing benefits due to their mental health
  • Tribunals to include a panel member with lived experience of the social security system

A full explanation for these changes can be found in our briefing we sent to MSPs ahead of today’s debate. 

These changes can make a real difference to how the social security system works for people with mental health problems. We hope that MSPs pass the Bill at stage 1 today and amend the Bill to include our changes as it proceeds through parliament in the spring.