Policies for devolved disability benefits

The Scottish Government has decided not to ask for the transfer of responsibility for Severe Disablement Allowance, which will continue to be managed by the DWP. I was asked by a journalist for a reaction, and what follows is my answer.

The decision is  understandable, because SDA was closed to new claimants many years ago, and the government does not want to create disruption for the small numbers of people who are currently entitled to Severe Disablement Allowance. Having said that, the power to deliver a benefit similar to SDA could be important for the future. SDA was always a relatively small, residual benefit designed to fill in the gaps when other benefits were not available. The distinctive feature of SDA was that it was the only benefit paid to people simply because they were severely disabled. Other benefits like Attendance Allowance, DLA and PIP have tied the conditions to people’s care needs, which usually means, for example, that people in residential care may not get them. I think it’s valuable to have a mechanism of the sort, and hope that the Scottish social security system will be able in the future to recognise needs that the current UK system doesn’t.

More generally, I’d also like to see benefits for people with disabilities to be made more accessible. The proposed reforms will make it possible for older people to continue to receive Personal Independence Payments without repeated assessments, and that’s a good thing. But the basic reason why older people are continuing to claim DLA or PIP, instead of moving on to Attendance Allowance, is that Attendance Allowance doesn’t cover mobility needs. This means, for example, that someone aged 63 can get long-term mobility support after a stroke, but someone aged 67 can’t, even if the restrictions the older person faces are more severe. It would make more more sense, and it would be fairer, to have a separate Mobility Allowance without the age restrictions that currently apply.

3 thoughts on “Policies for devolved disability benefits”

  1. I agree about SDA. Industrial Injuries Benefit is also problematic for the devolution process as the Scot Gov papers point out. Your comments re the eligibility ages for PIP/DLA are appropriate. However, having skimmed all of the published consultation material I have more general observations. 1. Clearly a tremendous amount of hard work and consideration has gone into all of this from politicians, civil servants, advisory groups and so forth and that should be recognised. 2. However, my second point is: is it (i.e. all the work that has been done and is to be done) actually worth it? 3. Whilst there are a few welcome changes in entitlements etc the major changes are more subtle one in terms of the ways (and mind-set/culture) in which claims will be assessed and maybe that in itself is enough to justify this upheaval.? 4. However, anybody (including myself) who was expecting Scot Gov to adopt “blue sky thinking” to this welfare devolution will be bemused. 5. For lots of good reasons (to fit in with rest of DWP system, to avoid programme failure, to avoid fiscal difficulties etc) Scot Gov has adopted an incremental approach taking most of the existing structural features of the benefits and re-titling them. 6. Any consideration of more “radical” changes (such as taking account of mobility needs after 65); reducing the hours required to qualify for Carers Allowance etc are just not on the agenda. 7. It may be another decade before we see more “radical” changes to some of these benefits and this will depend on the state of the Scottish budget? 8. I have already highlighted to Scot Gov that whilst it makes sense to allow new claims from 2020 before taking on existing DLA/PIP cases etc what if existing claimants want to “apply for” the new benefit from 2020 on the basis that they think they may get a better award than they currently have from DWP? (under existing DWP rules if you apply for a “change of circumstances review”; eg because you think you should have a higher rate of one or both elements, your whole award is subject to review and you could lose the lot!). Related to this is the fact that only 50% of the DLA to PIP “conversion” has taken place so what if, in 2020, existing DLA claimants want to go straight to Scottish benefits and “skip” the PIP process?
    Summary: As I am regularly reminded by friends, spiritual “gurus” and others, much of life is about our personal expectations versus our actual experience! So, I am genuinely finding it difficult, at this early stage, to come to clear and objective view as to the whole process of SS devolution. It almost certainly will bring about a better and fairer system (or sub-system) in Scotland, but over a long period of time and with considerable administrative and fiscal risks. 85% of the SS system will remain with Westminster. Is it worth it? How can one make an objective assessment on that question without first analysing what the “expectations” were and whether they were objectively justifiable or just, as may be “my problem” almost “welfare rights fantasies”?!

  2. Update: Unfortunately but perhaps inevitably the whole topic has today become very political in a manner which is unhelpful. The herald is running the SDA story under a “cover up” headline and the Scotsman features Amber Rudd directly attacking Scot Gov on last week’s announcements. Most commentators do not seem to regard lack of knowledge on the subject as a basis for not commenting – the usual “unionist versus nationalist” slagging match which will not help us one iota to develop an effective partial SS system or sub system in Scotland!

  3. It’s a very complicated set of conditions and rules…..

    The impression one gets is that the in recent years the DWP has adopted a very aggressive stance based on an assumption that everybody is trying to cheat the system and must be regarded as socially undesirable. An attitude reinforced by very selective media reporting whenever there is the slightest hint of somebody abusing the system.

    I’ve often thought that if DWP staff ethos were transferred to HMRC we’d be living in abetter world 🙂

    Any indication of distance from this mindset by Scottish Government is very welcome. There will be some pitfalls in the process, but if the intentions are good that alone will be a step in the right direction and in time we may get where we would like to be ….in a more caring society.

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