by Sandra Webster • Time travel back to the Smith Commission. After the campaign for independence, Scotland was promised more devolved powers. When Maggie Chapman talked about “collaborating,” we should have realised that very little had changed and that the new powers offered would cause great difficulty for any Scottish Government to administer. Perhaps the most difficult is the responsibility for disability benefits.
As Ken Loach said recently, it seems the benefit system is becoming a means to punish those who find themselves in Tory Britain. This is no more evident than for those who are sick or disabled and those who care for them.
Despite Cameron’s promise to protect the most vulnerable, it is us who bear the brunt of the cuts. The move from DLA to PIP has seen thousands of people lose their entitlement to a benefit designed to give support for the additional costs of living with a disability.
There have been many stories of those who have died after being told they are no longer entitled to support, and the sad stories of many vulnerable people who have committed suicide as a result of the treatment they have received.
Private firms such as ATOS and Capita have made millions for administering the Work Capability tests so hated and feared by many. “When the brown envelope appears through my door, I panic,” says James. “It takes me all day to open it and look at it.”
The majority of refused claims are won on appeal but it can leave people without their lifeline of support for weeks or even months. ‘Jane’ from Dundee was refused her claim despite having her leg amputated and suffering other serious health problems. She had to attend a tribunal but waited six months for PIP to be paid to her.
Many carers too have been affected. If the person they care for loses entitlement to PIP or DLA, they lose the right to Carers Allowance. In Carers Week, it should be noted this is a miniscule amount of £62 a week.
In their manifesto pledge, the SNP promised to increase this to £75 in line with JobSeekers Allowance. Many carers have challenged Anas Sarwar for what we see as a patronising video offering discounts to carers for haircuts and massages this week—the yearly pat on the back.
So the Scottish Government will have to administer these benefits and systems. Never mind benefit sanctions and universal credit, which they can claim is a Westminster matter.
They need to be challenged to create a fairer system. It is in their power to do this regarding disability benefits. As socialists, it is our role to hold them to account and also challenge the existing system.
It is time for action and to support those who need us. This will mean being seen in communities, getting back to the grass roots work of helping people challenge the system. We need to educate ourselves what the system means and help people cut their way through the maze it is.
This will mean helping people complete paper work and accompanying them to job centres and Work Capability Assessments. It will take time but folk outside the political bubble will realise that actions are louder than words.
This is how we grow a movement. Pressure has to be placed on the Scottish Government too about how they will use the new powers.
So far, the emphasis has been on education with little mention of how they intend to use the devolved powers that have been granted to them.
The right to administer disability benefits have been given to them. They will complain of course that it is not enough but it is their responsibility. We need to campaign, as another Scotland is necessary.
The Scottish Greens in one of their key manifesto pledges—as was RISE’s—was to pay carers a living wage. Proud to say this was SSP policy at the last elections. I hope they continue to highlight this in this parliament and show themselves to be the socialists some of them claim to be.
Another Scotland is necessary, and it is up to all of us and as individuals to reach out to others because we are all human.
The system should become a safety net, and only political will and a mass movement will return it to the people.