Fairness and dignity must drive Scotland’s new welfare system

The Scottish Government has announced that Scotland will have its own welfare agency.

The new body will manage social security payments when powers to administer benefits are devolved under the Scotland Bill.

This offers Scotland a real opportunity to create a people-centred, fair and dignified system. One that’s in touch with the needs of the people it’s there to support.

There are many lessons to be learned from the issues which have beset the Dept of Work and Pensions over the years. And from the lived experiences of the hundreds of thousands of people from Scotland who have dealt with the UK agency.

At Leuchie House we hear regularly from our guests and their carers of the trials and tribulations involved in dealing with the current system.

For many people living with a long term medical condition, bouts of extreme fatigue can be a major issue. To find the space and the energy to deal with complex, long-winded assessments is a real challenge. Add to this the cognitive impairment which can be another symptom of conditions like MS and Parkinson’s, and dealing with a complicated bureaucratic process becomes even more daunting.

The financial burden of living with a degenerative illness can also be a source of considerable stress. Loss of income, the need for personal care support – either by a paid carer or a loved one who may have to give up their job as a result - having to adapt your home for the equipment you need and so on, all comes at a significant cost.

Scotland’s social justice secretary has already pledged his commitment to increasing Carer’s Allowance to the same rate as Jobseeker’s Allowance. A welcome first step but, as I’ve said in this column before, if the forthcoming Carers’ Bill is to realise its potential, the new personalised support plans it will bring for carers and those they care for, need to be adequately resourced too. This includes ensuring access to respite breaks for all who can benefit from them.

So we look forward to hearing more about plans for the new welfare agency. It’s definitely time for a fresh approach that assesses and allocates support in a fair and dignified way. 

Mairi O'Keefe, Chief Executive, Leuchie House. Published in The East Lothian Courier, 17 March 2016.