The devolution of welfare benefits to Scotland, especially those relating to disabled people and carers, provides an opportunity to transform the way Scotland approaches welfare and care policy says Kirstein Rummery.
Scotland has long maintained that a sense of social justice and fairness is woven deep into the nation’s political DNA. The forthcoming devolution of many welfare benefits for disabled people and carers offers an opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to those principles. If Scots are prepared to learn from the best practice in the world, there is an opportunity to develop an approach to welfare and support for disabled people and carers that is fair, universal, simple and sustainable.
Based on extensive international research, this is what we know about effective benefits that support disabled people and carers:
• They are holistic and joined up from the perspective of the user;
• They are designed and run according to a social model of disability, personalised, flexible, and administered by service users themselves;
• They see long-term and social care services as an investment, not a spend;
• They are simple, universal, fair – and with transparent criteria and the right to challenge access decisions, and well-supported advocacy services.
The current system of welfare benefits and social care support for disabled people is not fit for purpose. It is extremely complex because welfare benefits have been developed on an ad hoc basis rather than designed to support disabled people to live independently. For example, benefits are meant to meet the additional costs of impairment, not compensate for lost work earnings: So why separate out benefits for the over and under 65s, and industrial injuries from other kinds of impairment? The costs to disabled people are the same regardless of age or reason for injury. Similarly why should the criteria for accessing services differ between each local authority, giving Scotland 32 different social care systems? This is obviously unfair.
Scotland has two main sources of funding for welfare and care. It already has devolved powers over health and social care and it does not have to follow established patterns of spending in either of these areas. With the Scotland Bill it also will receive new powers over welfare benefits: Attendance Allowance; Disability Living Allowance/Personal Independence Payments; Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit; Severe Disablement Allowance; and the Regulated Social Fund. If you’re thinking that there must be a simpler, fairer way of doing things, you’d be absolutely right.