Reflections: Personal report on ALLIANCE focus group – social security assessment
Thank you to Ailene one of our Champions for this report from attending the ALLIANCE’s social security assessment process focus group in Inverness on the 16th Of February.
Background – Parts of the social security system are being devolved to Scotland, including disability and carers’ benefits. The ALLIANCE has been commissioned by the Scottish Government to gather the views of people from ‘seldom heard’ groups on what a new social security assessment process should look like when these powers are devolved. We want to enable people to tell the Scottish Government what would work in the future – based on their first-hand knowledge and experiences of the current social security system.
The focus of the meeting was to present views on what a new Social Security Assessment process should look like as the Scottish Government has asked to speak with people in relation to disability benefit, and the structure of how these benefits are obtained.
The meeting was opened by Sue Lyons from HUG Action For Mental Health who introduced Benjamin from Alliance, he explained the layout of what was expected along with the questions that would be asked. This was classified as confidential and notes were taken, along with there will be a transcript of what transpired. The Group consisted of 12 persons, 5 from HUG and 4 from another organisation and 3 others.
A healthy discussion of what is not wanted by people is the way that the structure of requesting PIP is presented;
- Firstly, a telephone call, where questions are asked and calls can last from anything from 10 minutes to 25 minutes.
- When the PIP application eventually arrives, the time frame is lacking in that it can take two weeks to arrive and has then to be returned on a certain date.
- Next is the assessment. This stage is with ATOS, they advise where you must travel or if you live in rural areas they can come to your home. They do not seem to be qualified to access symptoms of people, i.e. a physiotherapist cannot assess a person with mental health issues such as bi-polar, as a physiotherapist does not deal with the neuroscience of the brain.
There were also discussions on how the benefits should be paid, like a universal payment paid by the Scottish Government for all disabled persons with mental health issues or patients with mental health issues where it would be a basic payment and depending on the degree of disability or terminal illness extra benefits should be paid. Other issues consisted of why people are treated differently, discriminated against and for want of a better word manipulated by the system of assessors who don’t see what’s in front of them, who are working as sub-contractors for the “extra payments” and not the person they are assessing.
The other issues that were raised were about young adults who, when they reach 16 in Scotland, transfer from being a child to a young adult and given a sum of money in their hand. There is no one to assist this young adult who if disabled or mentally ill to know what to do, and there is no plan in place to allow this young adult to be monitored or someone to assist in daily running of their lives. So, the law needs to change to have something in place for young people to be encouraged not to go out and blow the lot without the understanding of what is supposed to be done with the money. One parent stated that its difficult to teach your child/young adult about things like this when they have special needs.
After lunch the discussion was about what needs to happen next. It was in depth as well.
What is being planned: The Experience Panels will be set up from Spring 2017 and will build on the feedback that is already being gathered through the Scottish Government Social society consultation.
As I said it was very informative and there were issues that I had no idea about, including that the CAB can give you a list of what you are entitled too. Also covered – people who claim when there is nothing physically or mentally wrong with them. Though it was said that the percentage of this was 0.6% but the actual act of being able to catch these persons is higher and takes up time. The majority of people who receive a benefit thought that having been on DLA it was for life and there would be no more assessments for things like whether you can lift a bag of potatoes or peel one. The justice of these assessments put fear and anxiety into people which in turn makes them ill. I have been there, and I worried so much that I ended up in
The justice of these assessments puts fear and anxiety into people which in turn makes them ill. I have been there, and I worried so much that I ended up in hospital and could not attend the assessment which was put off for another 16 weeks and I had to go through the process all over again. This was in 2010. I was denied living allowance.
My reflection is that if the status quo remains we will never be in a position where we would feel like independent people who could volunteer or have a job even if it is only 2 hours a week. The fear that people feel because of these assessments, and the impact of denying them benefits to help them live, is shocking.
The concept that some people would like to work but can’t for fear of loss of benefits when they have permanent illness and issues is frightening, It’s a vicious circle.