The Corporate Plan published by the new agency, Social Security Scotland, is brimming with good intentions. Under the agency’s name is the motto: dignity, fairness and respect. The key to this rests in how the agency deals with mistakes, and there will be mistakes: introducing complex systems for people with complex problems to resolve makes that inevitable. There are some good signs: a commitment to resolving issues “resolved quickly and at the point of contact”, listening, and ‘continuous improvement’, using feedback to improve the quality of services. The problem, however, rests in a bitter legacy of conflictual, adversarial approaches to managing agency mistakes. Several elements of the new system create hurdles to overcome: mandatory ‘re-determination’ (the decision should have been checked anyway on first complaint), referral out to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (another hurdle), and heavy reliance on the appeals structure. This may all work work against speedy and effective resolution.
6 thoughts on “Social Security Scotland lays out its stall”
One of the “occupational hazards” of having, until quite recently, worked/volunteered* in welfare rights advice is that I have developed a considerable element of cynicism regarding futuristic statements of “a different approach”. Consequently it is difficult to be “objective” about how the Scottish Social Security System (SSSS) may work in practice; for in Social Security perhaps more than any other public policy field, it is actual implementation and outcomes that matter more than stated policy intent. In that cynical frame of mind, I am a little concerned at the continued self-applause emanating from Scottish Govt (SG) and Scottish Parliament (SP) re: the new scheme. Some of the pitfalls:
1. As per your article, the incorporation of existing mandatory reconsideration, appeals and complaint processes and timescales may or may not prove to be helpful; anyone who has used wither existing DWP processes or used existing local authority complaints & ombudsman processes (eg to challenge social care decisions by local authorities) will know how tortuous this can be
2. The whole process of transferring responsibilities benefit by benefit from DWP to SSSA is going to take several years during which time the DWP will be rolling out Universal Credit (UC) and continuing to force claimants to move from DLA on to PIP (with potential loss of benefit etc). So, by the time the SSSA actually takes on PIP (2020 or later), Scotland will have lost a further tranche of SS benefit income. As well as being a personal tragedy for the individual claimants, this will represent a loss of income to the Scottish economy and will presumably reduce the potential value of the “live case-load” budget transferred from DWP to SSSA whenever that actually happens? What we will then have to see is whether the “human rights” approach of the SSSA actually results in a significant increase in PIP awards once Scottish claimants (whether “new” claimants or those who have lost out under DLA/PIP transfer) apply? Of course, none of this will compensate for the irretrievable loss of extra premiums (SDP etc) as a consequence of UC. One of my personal frustrations is that the SG failed to launch any kind of “take up” campaign prior to UC roll out to encourage more DLA/PIP claims and resultant increases in income-related premiums.
3. As now, much will depend on how easily claimants can access independent advice.*One of the reasons why I personally quit the advice sector is that, after nearly 30 years, I simply cannot “hack” the prospect of advising on UC and leave that to a younger generation of advisers! Without naming specific organisations, it is clear that the actual quality of advice claimants can access is also variable across Scotland. Few people realise that in Glasgow, it is the “third sector” which deals with public benefits advice queries as the (well skilled) local authority welfare rights officers etc are not generally accessible by the public except via the GCC appeals representation system. Having worked in a variety of settings, both paid and unpaid, there is clearly a wide variation in the quality of advice that a claimant may actually get. The advice sector is poorly funded & there is too much reliance on unpaid volunteers trying to understand a complex benefits system.
4. Governments can change. This is the reality whether under devolution or independence. It is not impossible that under difficult economic circumstances, the SSSA may have to “tighten up” on benefit decisions, whether explicitly or implicitly. We already see how restricted decision making can be in limited budgets such as the Scottish Welfare Fund, Discretionary Housing Payments etc with accountability confused between DWP, SG & local authorities interpreting “discretion” in significantly different ways. The SWF has been “frozen” for the past three years!
Anyway, I hope my cynicism is mis-placed and that the SSSA proves my fears unfounded!
You can still not hide the fact the the Scottish Governments handing back of the powers without changing the rules and even keeping PIP is disgraceful , and regardless of taking over the powers will Scot’s still be subject to same rules and regulations for PIP , in which case no matter who does the assessments they will still be based on effect rather than illness, so mother Theresa could do an assessment and still fail you using those rules.
As part of the consultation process and speaking to many people, the conclusion for the majority seems to be that handing back the powers suits the SNP politically , keep the grievance and blame for Whitehall whilst hoping they cut the welfare bill when they do takeover the powers , as it’s the big bad Westminster who are kicking claimants off left right and centre, yet CPAG Scotland and others still tell us there was nothing to stop them changing the rules and instruct DWP to do so, either back when they handed the powers back and even now when they could instruct DWP that all PIP assessments must be recorded or DLA lifetime awards are same when going to PIP or stop PIP roll out altogether. Lets be honest how many politicians complained that PIP assessments were killing folk but yet they never chose to stop PIP roll out and keep DLA , as said still nothing stopping them from doing it. We should all ask why, except only one concern matters to the Scottish executive and it certainly aint welfare!
Even now with F.O.I. requests from Scottish executive proving it section 24 of the Scotland act and above allows us to give extra funding to help WASPi woman’s pensions or third child mothers, all could be funded for years, at less than the cost of what the failed illegal named person cost, again why the silence from Holyrood on this and why the denial from so many in the SNP.
No matter the political party, politics and an ideologue mentality is far more important than welfare and the well-being of the sick no matter what the nice sound bites try to claim otherwise.
This is another important issue. There’s some pressure to ‘drag and drop’ existing benefits, partly because that’s seens as the way to minimise disruption for claimants, partly because the finance from Westminster is based on that assumption. The problem with that approach is that the existing benefits are a mess – the division between PIP, DLA and Attendance Allowance is illustrative. The SG has the opportunity to make changes now; it will be much more difficult to make the changes after the system is introduced, because of administration, finance and the difficultities that will come about when p0eople gain an interest in a paritular benefit. We have the chance to make changes in the new system – such as integrating the system across age groups, reintroducing Mobility Allowance, seaprating out support for extra costs – which will be much more difficult later.
It has the opportunity now , but won’t take it , it does not suit the SNP political agenda and the exasperation among the majority in the consultation process is there fall all to see.
Meanwhile sick and disabled Scot’s are suffering .
All of this is set out in hard figures in today’s SG “Welfare Reform Report” which updates the effects in Scotland of UK welfare reform (£3.7b by 2020) & SG “mitigation” spending (currently £125m per annum).
Much of that mitigation is partly funded by the UK , despite Scottish executive claims e,g, discretionary housing payments used to mitigate extra bedroom are funded by both executives 90% in 2013 was funded by UK about 40 – 45% in each year after. This is what consequential s does for Scotland the SNP fail to declare the UK funds and we know why , but there is a UK research briefing paper which details the payments and which the current FM contributed to.
So for clarity the Scottish part of welfare costs will be likely down by time powers are transferred , unlikely by next parliament given Scottish executives record of incompetence on IT systems, and mitigation is jointly funded via barnet.