As a serving MSP on the Scottish Social Security Committee, I was horrified to hear Cabinet Secretary Shirley Ann Somerville’s statement to the Scottish Parliament last week, announcing a lengthy delay to the promised devolution of 11 Disability Benefits. These benefits include Disability Living Allowance (DLA), Personal Independent Payment (PIP) and Attendance Allowance (AA).
The transfer of these benefits to Scottish control was announced as far back as 2016 as part of the Scotland Act, but the Cabinet Secretary is now saying that the full transfer of payments may now not be complete until 2024. This leaves the DWP to pick up the pieces and continue to support the disabled population of Scotland while the Scottish Government tries to come to terms with the enormity of the task they agreed to undertake, with their promise of having these benefits up and running in Scotland by the end of this parliamentary term in tatters.
If I were a member of the DWP staff working tirelessly in job centres across Scotland, I would be asking the Scottish Government for an apology for the highly charged language and criticisms they have been bombarded with, as the Scottish Government now hold up their hands and say they aren’t ready – or able – to take on the job themselves as promised.
As someone in receipt of PIP (Personal Independent Payments), I know first-hand the uncertainty, confusion and upset this delay is causing disabled people. The Scottish Government assured us these benefits would be in Scottish control by the end of this parliamentary term, but this has turned out to be a false promise. They are also proposing to make radical changes to the way in which DLA, PIP and AA are measured and assessed under their new system, yet no information is forthcoming, most likely because they have not yet worked out a coherent strategy.
A recent Scottish Government consultation document, published in March 2019 on Disability Assistance contains a foreward from Shirley-Ann Somerville stating, “we now need your views to inform our thinking further ….before we progress to developing regulations.” If these regulations, which will lay out how the disability benefits will be assessed and administered are not even in progress yet, how did they ever expect to reach their target of completing the transfer of benefits into Scottish control by 2021? Surely these consultations and discussion should have been taking place with third sector organisations and other interested parties well before this point in proceedings?
I’m disappointed, given how honoured we were as a Social Security Committee to pass the Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018 last year on time, laying the groundwork for the disability regulations to be established, that the Scottish Government are now dragging their heels and already calling for a delay to the transition. Introducing the draft Charter to the Committee in January, Shirley Ann Somerville said that they were looking to “build a Scottish system based on the on the principles of dignity, fairness and respect.” Surely they are failing in this objective at the first hurdle?
When given the chance to take control, the Scottish Government have been left wanting.