Below is the submission to the Smith Commission on behalf of Disabled People for Yes.
N.B. If you wish to use any of the below ideas, facts and figures for your own submission, please feel free to do so – but please DO NOT just copy and paste the whole thing and send it off – if submissions don’t look original it will reduce the value both of your own submission and and the one for Disabled People for Yes as a group.
Disabled People for Yes represents around 3000 people, many of whom are disabled, who have been particularly hard hit by the austerity policies imposed by Westminster.
What are the principles underpinning your proposals?
- Our proposals are based on principles of social justice, inclusion, human rights and cost effectiveness.
- During the referendum campaign, we saw a very strong current of support across society for providing better social justice to vulnerable people rather than victimising them for national debts they are not responsible for. The current austerity measures within disability benefits are in fact counter productive and costly, and focus official energy and funds on the wrong places in attempts to cut the deficit.
- Although the NHS is already devolved, we would like to see protection against health privatisation and a guarantee of a continuing universal health system free at the point of delivery strengthened and enshrined in constitutional laws which cannot be undone by future Westminster governments. This would ensure that the poorest and most needy do not find themselves at the end of the queue for treatment they need more than most.
What is your assessment of the current situation?
- The policies being forced on disabled people in Scotland emanate from the Conservative party, who in Scotland are a marginal party, and who have announced that if they win the next election, they will go even further in implementing cuts to the benefits system20. These will inevitably hurt disabled people disproportionately.41 The Labour party has not promised any significant deviation from that plan24, which means that without devolution of welfare, disabled people will continue to suffer, regardless of who the Scottish people vote for in the general election.
- The desperate situation of many disabled people is also becoming a human rights issue, as growing numbers of people are left without any means of looking after themselves or are forced to work in ways damaging to their physical or mental health. There have been clear breaches of some internationally recognised human rights 34 such as :
- The right to work (ICESCR Article 6 and UNCRPD Article 27)
- The right to independent living (UNCRPD Article 19)
- The right to fair and just conditions of employment (ICESCR Article 7 and UNCRPD Article 27)
- The right to social security (ICESCR Article 9)
- The right to social protection (UNCRPD Article 28)
- The right to an adequate standard of living (ICESCR Article 11 and UNCRPD Article 28)
- Currently, as costs are “saved” from the welfare budget, other costs burgeon which fall on hard pressed local authorities, NHS services and other community organisations. This means that the decentralisation of human and financial costs is currently footed locally at the devolved level, while the cost savings, such as they are, are enjoyed at a UK level. Additionally, as many of these costs are of a short term “emergency” nature, often resulting from severe mistakes by the DWP, they are not able to be properly budgeted for at a local level. The huuman cost is detailed below, but purely from a financial perspective, the current system is substituting long term strategic fiscal planning and risk management for short term cuts which are then resulting in already hard pushed local services coming under ever more pressure.3
- Some details about the current situation faced by disabled people:
- many disabled and vulnerable people are being sanctioned, i.e. losing some or all benefits (a 350% increase in the past year)1, which has lead to a large number of documented deaths2 and increases strains on other support functions such as food banks, hospitals, crisis loans, charities, CAB3
- Around 58% of people who are sanctioned and appeal are successful in having the decision overturned4 – this is expensive to the tax payer and very damaging for the individual during the period when they are receiving no money while having to fight “the system”. Court cases successfully appealing sanctions had cost the DWP at least £150 million by early 201426
- People who are already struggling with physical and/or mental health issues are increasingly reporting depression, anxiety, stress etc. due to being overburdened with the increased bureaucracy, degrading assessments etc.5 The medical profession has called for the current form of Work Capability Assessments to be scrapped.6
- 70% of people with degenerative illnesses such as Parkinson’s and MS are being forced to go through multiple assessments under the premise that they may be potentially fit to work in the future. This means they receive less money, are forced to regularly attend interviews and do “work related activity”. If they are not able to do these, they are being sanctioned. 42
- As a result of these increased pressures, disabled people are actually less likely to feel able to work – self confidence and mental strength is essential for disabled people to cope with not only the demands of working life, but the extra effort involved in day to day living due to their disabilities14
- The Westminster government has admitted it cannot say how much the new Personal Independence Payments (PIP) assessments are actually costing to implement7, however ATOS have already exited their contract early8, and many in progress projects such as Universal Credit are either overrunning or over budget9. The National Audit Office estimated approximately £241 million overspend on DWP IT systems in 2013. 27
- It is acknowledged that across the UK, the actual amount of benefits which are paid out fradulently amount to approximately 0.7% of overall welfare spending10. As the Conservatives aim to cut 20% from the disability budget using PIP, this must clearly affect those who are not fraudulently claiming benefits13 Despite the extent to which disabled and vulnerable people are being bullied off benefits, the welfare spend has in fact increased by over £24 billion since the Conservative government came to power.25
- Around 140,000 disabled people across the UK have been forced to work for free to guarantee continuing to keep their benefits. 16 If they are unable to attend these Workfare schemes, they are also being sanctioned. People who are not physically or mentally fit enough to work into these schemes are risking, and experiencing, severe health setbacks,17 and only around 1.5% are actually progressing to “real” paid employment as a result.18
- The Scottish government has already demonstrated that they have more compassion for people struggling to survive by for instance taking steps to shield vulnerable people from the bedroom tax.11 This austerity measure has disproportionately affected disabled people 12 and the Scottish Government’s actions showed that welfare matters devolved to Scotland would result in a fairer distribution of resources. With full devolution of welfare matters, the government could properly budget for and distribute resources to the most needed areas of society instead of having to siphon money away from other areas. The current Scottish Government have committed many times to doing more to look after disabled and vulnerable people.43
What would be the potential advantages to Scotland and the UK as a whole (and/or its constituent nations) of devolving the power in question to the Scottish Parliament?
- Devolving powers over the entire welfare system to Scotland would allow a broader, strategic approach to benefits and welfare; the current Scottish Government plan to freeze or reverse many of the changes which have hit disabled people particularly hard as far as possible.43 The Scottish government has a sound track record of controlling costs while providing robust front line services, for instance by providing free prescriptions, free personal care and protecting people from the bedroom tax.33 The current system allows certain areas to be controlled by the Scottish government but the majority of meaningful powers are still not under Scotland’s control, leading to a piecemeal and unsatisfactory situation for disabled people desperate for some stability. In order to ensure that the people of Scotland have the ability to vote for policies which will protect disabled and other vulnerable citizens, it is essential that the entire welfare system is devolved. The Universal Credit system being implemented across the UK mean that a partial devolvement is not workable.21
- Despite the fact that PIP and Universal Credit are being hailed by Westminster politicians as the solution to the confusing welfare system, many disabled people feel better served by Disability Living Allowance. This is being scrapped by the Westminster government.22 The DLA gives people, whether in or out of work, appropriate levels of support to pay for costs they incur as a result of their disability. It also enables them to receive other benefits such as mobility cars, blue badges etc. In addition, the funding for the Independent Living Fund (ILF) is being cut in 2015 by the Westminster government, again impacting peoples’ ability to live independently. 40 With PIP, many people are losing the ability to pay their day to day costs as the help they receive is downgraded. This again threatens peoples’ ability to live independently and contribute to society by working and contributing to the best of their ability.
- With devolved powers over welfare, the Scottish parties could offer their visions of how life for disabled people would look, and the people of Scotland could vote on these. The SNP has already commited to retaining DLA, and halting the roll out of Universal Credit, which would prevent over 100,000 disabled people from losing benefits including mobility cars, which enable them to live independently.23
- Westminster currently gains an advantage by robbing Peter to pay Paul: by pushing costs to mitigate the human impact of austerity downstream to local authorities. With a devolved welfare remit, the Scottish government could instead work on synergies to provide a better mix of financial and social support which is properly budgeted and planned for. There would be no overall advantage in pushing costs from one institution to another, such as currently exists within the Westminster controlled welfare system.
What would be the potential disadvantages to Scotland and the UK as a whole (and/or its constituent nations) of devolving the power in question to the Scottish Parliament?
- It is questionable, based on the data provided above, as to whether the current Westminster government’s policies on disabled and vulnerable people are actually saving money. It seems unlikely that continuing to provide disabled people with a decent standard of living and the ability to live independently would prove negative for society, whereas increasing homelessness, sickness, malnutrition, mental illness, pressure on social services and the accompanying impact on carers definitely would.
- The only risk that might exist would be, if the other regions of the UK continue to exclude and punish disabled people, that Scotland could see an influx of disabled people migrating to take advantage of the shelter being offered. This could potentially prove costly and difficult to manage.
- Other areas of the UK might feel that Scotland was receiving an unfair proportion of the UK budget, hence it is essential that Scotland have sufficient fiscal autonomy to make decisions based on the full extent of revenues raised locally.
To what extent do the advantages outweigh the disadvantages (or vice versa)?
- The advantages to society of having fairness and protection for the most vulnerable at its heart appear to be obvious. The people of Scotland have expressed a strong rejection of the current harsh climate towards the poor and disabled, shown through both the support for independence which had a very strong left wing, community driven component and through subsequent help for food banks and other charities. 39
- If Scotland were able to control her finances completely, rather than depending on political decisions made by Westminster, a modest redistribution to help the most needy in society would be affordable and could make a massive difference to the lives of many across the country. 28
What are the interdependencies between your proposal and other key issues?
- Control over all revenues, including oil and gas at the point of production, is an essential part of securing the proper redistribution of income and benefits, as that will enable the Scottish Government to make the right decisions to enhance and protect the services most important to the people of Scotland, without being forced to make cuts due to budgetary constrainsts imposed by Westminster. The budget we receive generally bears no relation to the actual amount of money Scotland is contributing to the UK economy.29 Having control over Scottish budgets in future is absolutely essential to ensure that we continue to have sufficient resources to pay for our NHS. If Scotland continues to pay more into the UK than it gets out, and the amount granted to Scotland by Westminster continues to fall, then the NHS will be threatened, and that is not acceptable when we do have the resources to protect it.
- We also want to ensure that the Scottish NHS is protected against the threat of privatisation via private courts, which TTIP could accomplish within the UK regulatory apparatus. Having better protection enshrined in law will enable us to fight against legal assaults on the integrity of the NHS in Scotland. 30
- If welfare policy is not devolved to the Scottish Government, we could see a strange hybrid future state where further abuses of disabled peoples’ human rights would be illegal in Scotland, but legal in the UK as a whole as the UK removes itself from the European Charter on Human Rights. By ensuring that the Scottish Government has the powers to protect disabled peoples’ human rights in the face of these abuses, Scotland will not only ensure disabled people a decent standard of living. Scotland will also be able to show that it is a progressive country in the European context rather than a developing country from a human rights perspective. 38
Are there any practical or legal barriers or difficulties to implementing the proposal? How might these be overcome?
- The welfare and social care system is currently fragmented in the UK due to the history of its growth and a mix of legacy and partially reformed systems. Some, but not the majority of welfare areas are devolved to the Scottish government. However, the current system, as detailed above, has severe problems at present, so the future is challenging whether or not welfare is devolved to Scotland.
- Lengthy research by the Scottish Government Working Group on Welfare has been carried out and details how the welfare system in an independent Scotland would look. Their findings would also be relevant to a devolved welfare system. 31
- We already have much of the infrastructure needed to deliver the current welfare system 32:
- Scotland delivers almost all parts of the current UK benefits system to people living in Scotland from locations within Scotland.
- Delivery of benefits to people in Scotland is carried out mainly by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), with HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) responsible for the administration of Child Benefit and Tax Credits.
- Currently all claims for Jobseekers Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance, Income Support and Incapacity Benefit made by people living in Scotland are processed in Scotland.
- All claims for State Pensions and Pension Credit in Scotland are also processed in Scotland, as are all applications to the Child Maintenance Service from Scotland.
- There are four HMRC Contact Centres in Scotland and 28 Enquiry Centres that deal with all revenue matters, including claims for Child Benefit, Working Tax Credit, and Child Tax Credit, which are administered by HMRC.
- Local authority staff in Scotland provided combined Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit services
- Other areas of administration are partially shared such as helpline call centres, however where a continuation of joint services made fiscal sense, they should remain shared, as long as policy was decided in Scotland.
What would be the financial advantages or costs involved in implementing the proposal, and who would bear or benefit from these?
- In the detailed references above, it is clear that despite the Westminster government’s claim that they would reduce welfare spending, that in fact spending has gone up in the last few years.
- Additionally, the costs to the tax payer of running the DWP have shot up, as overrunning IT projects, temporary staff and consultants and other departmental administration costs have spiralled out of control 35
- The Scottish government’s current spending on welfare is actually slightly lower than the rest of the UK as a percentage of GDP 36
- It therefore seems that, provided Scotland also has full fiscal autonomy and full control over all revenues, that the costs of devolving welfare would be manageable and would have little or no impact on the rest of the UK
- The knock on costs of the current brutal social security cuts are already being borne by devolved departments and/or local community resources, such as social services, local authorities, health service, churches, food banks, homeless shelters, charities, NGOs, police and security services, local shops etc.37 By dealing with the root cause of many of these issues, people will be able to live with dignity rather than constant fear for the future, but also, over the medium term will probably save significant costs to the local community.
- http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/may/23/universal-credit-reset-iain-duncan-smith http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/oct/22/universal-credit-timetable-slips-again
- http://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/news/north-east-news/hidden-costs-welfare-reforms-revealed-6478554 http://www.theguardian.com/society/patrick-butler-cuts-blog/2013/oct/17/flagship-tory-council-welfare-reforms-causing-homelessness