Disability and Carers Benefits Expert Advisory Group minutes: April 2017
Minutes of the first meeting of the Disability and Carers Benefits Expert Advisory Group, which took place on 21 April 2017.
Attendees and apologies
- Jim McCormick (Chair) (JMcC)
- Tressa Burke (TB)
- Fiona Collie (FC)
- Chris Creegan (CC)
- Etienne d'Aboville (Ed'A)
- Lucinda Godfrey (LG)
- Sarah Hammond (SH)
- Jim McGoldrick (JMcG)
- Ewan MacDonald (EMacD)
- Angela O'Hagan (AO'H)
- Carol Tannahill (CT)
- Billy Watson (BW)
- Ian Welsh (IW)
- Sally Witcher (SW)
- Jeane Freeman MSP, Minister for Social Security (the Minister)
- Andy Park, Scottish Government (AP)
- Nikola Plunkett, Scottish Government (NP)
- Nicola Radley, Secretary (NR)
- Shaben Begum (SBe)
- Sandra Black (SBl)
- Frank Reilly (FR)
Items and actions
Jim McCormick welcomed everyone to the meeting and thanked them for joining the Group. He noted the range of skills and experiences represented. He gave an example of a demonstration project in the East End of Glasgow, where this meeting was taking place, helping people to manage their money across a range of settings, which had revealed high levels of benefits which people were entitled to not being taken up. He hoped that this Group would be able to address, through their recommendations, some of the unmet need highlighted by projects like this. He welcomed the Minister for Social Security to the meeting.
Minister for Social Security Ms Jeane Freeman MSP
The Minister personally thanked the Group members for committing to build the best possible Social Security system for Scotland. She commented on the range of backgrounds and input the members would bring. She confirmed that Dr Alan McDevitt, chair of the SGPC, would be joining the Group.
The Minister recapped some of the progress to date for the Group. Eleven benefits, that were not employment related, were being devolved, with these benefits affecting one in four of us. She highlighted issues to address around uptake of benefits, for example, the known significant amount of unclaimed carers benefit.
She set out the task ahead of unpicking fifteen per cent of the UK Government’s social security spend, and the need to determine whether we are going to make changes, while being aware that there will be people who are simultaneously in receipt of UK and Scottish benefits, and making sure that nobody falls through the gaps.
The Minister highlighted that this will not be a simple job of lifting and moving existing benefits and carrying on, as data held by DWP determines who gets benefits, and this data is held in complex systems which are the legacy of piecemeal build up over time. The Minister stated her ambition to design a system that allows us to set up different benefits over time, and emphasised that the data transfer would not be simple, giving the example of 22,000 paper based Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit records for Scotland. The Minister stated her intention that not one of the 1.4 million benefit recipients in Scotland would not receive what they were expecting.
The Minister explained how the benefits would transfer incrementally, and how the build of the IT system is being approached, with policy, digital and analytical input, in a systematic, thoughtful and objective manner, building up to a time when the Scottish Government will be making more payments in a week than it currently makes in a year.
The Minister set out the need to examine whether the policy framework for disability and carers benefits is correct for Scotland, with the thinking about this being developed in this parliamentary term, and implementation taking place in the next.
A rights based approach will be taken, founded full on principles of dignity, fairness and respect. A charter will be introduced which will hold Ministers to account, with the accountability flowing from the Agency to Ministers to the Parliament.
Development will be informed by genuine co-production, which started with the consultation, and will continue through the Experience Panels, engaging with users, deliverers and people with direct experience.
The Minister outlined the next steps, and told the Group that in the coming week she would make a statement in Parliament about the shape of the delivery model. The Social Security Bill would be introduced before the summer recess. A statement would be made to Parliament before the summer on the first wave of benefits to be delivered by 2019.
The Minister said that she would be happy to come back and speak to the Group again when the Bill is introduced.
The Minister then spoke in more detail about two areas of focus: assessments and appeals. She highlighted her views on the current system of PIP assessment and said that she wanted a system which paid attention to self-assessment and drew on already existing sources in Health and Social Care, leading to more decisions being right first time. In addition, she wanted a proper, quicker appeals process which would be transparent and fair, and follow natural justice.
The Minister concluded by saying that the Group’s job was to provide her with advice. She did not have to accept that advice, but as with the Experience Panels, if she chose not to accept that advice she would have to justify publicly and clearly why not. She felt that the Group brought together the best collection of individuals to provide her with advice.
JMcC thanked the Minister for her comprehensive and challenging opening to the meeting and invited questions or comments from members.
Question: are systems and practices in countries outside the UK being looked at? The Minister replied that work had been carried out by the European Commission for Human Rights (ECHR) with researchers from the University of Ulster, and that the results of that would be available in May. However, it was clear that there would not be a system in use elsewhere that we could simply adopt, but practice from elsewhere could help us identify where we wanted to go.
Comment: it was refreshing to hear the commitment to the right benefit to the right person at the right time, and to a rights based approach.
Question: will the Agency work with the advice / support sector?
The Minister replied that a major piece of work looking at what independent advice and support people should be able to access has mapped out what already exists and what gaps there are, both geographically and in types of service. The Minister emphasised that Social Security is a right and an entitlement, and that accessing it should be made as simple as possible.
Question: given the challenge faced due to the huge ‘hinterland’ of existing processes, systems and data, how do we remain specific and focussed on the individual?
The Minister commented that the task would be larger, but in some ways easier, if the whole social security system was transferring. With the two governments approaching from different standpoints, she highlighted two potential areas of conflict. Firstly, the removal of Housing Benefit for 18 to 21 year olds, for which Scotland has identified a ‘not perfect’ solution, but one which will ensure that 18 to 21 year olds do not lose in the meantime. Secondly, the as yet unresolved issue of the Bedroom tax, where it is feasible for DWP to not apply this to individuals in Scotland with Discretionary Housing Payments compensating households affected, but the advantage would be cancelled for households affected by the benefits cap.
Comment: the nature of Social Security is complex and ever changing, so there is a need to be mindful of unintended consequences and impacts on other policy areas.
The Minister noted this and spoke of cumulative impact. She indicated that discussions with analysts had taken place, the results of which were, to just give one example, to ensure that the legislation would take into account the specific needs of the islands and rural areas.
The Minister concluded by acknowledging the independent nature of the Group, but said that the Group could ask her to attend at any stage and give her view.
JMcC thanked the Minister on behalf of the Group.
The Devolution of Disability and Carers Social Security Benefits in Scotland
Nikola Plunkett, Head of Ill Health and Disability Benefits Unit, Scottish Government gave a presentation based on Paper 1 which had been circulated to the Group. She also agreed that her slides could be circulated.
This was the largest programme of work the Scottish Government had ever undertaken. The overriding priority was the safe and secure transition of benefits.
It was noted that although only 15% of the overall benefit budget was transferring this was still a very significant sum involving a large number of Scottish households.
There was a discussion about the transfer of the budget. Four to six per cent of the budget is for administration and running of the system. A comment was made that if the system was squeezed and just thought of as ‘administration’, this made it harder to apply the principles of dignity and respect. It was agreed that practice and delivery within the Agency would be important and it was confirmed that advice on this was within the remit of the Group. It was noted that this Group’s recommendations may have cost implications attached and that the Group should be mindful of this when formulating advice.
NP set out the Social Security vision and principles, and explained how the Experience Panels would work.
Group members asked if they could help close the gaps in the recruitment to the Experience Panels. Segmentation work was being carried out, but detailed information on demographics etc was not being captured during the sign up process, to make this as easy as possible and not off-putting for people. However, more detail would be obtained and analysed after recruitment had taken place and the gaps would be closed if necessary. Recruitment was officially closing on 12 May.
Group members asked about how the expectations of the Experience Panel members would be managed, for example if they wanted the level of benefits to be raised, and how people would be supported through the Experience Panels. In addition, a Group member had commented by e-mail about the ability of people with mental health difficulties to engage with Experience Panels, and how people with fluctuating needs may fear sanctions if they are perceived as being well enough to engage.
The aim was to develop long term relationships with panel members and it would be made clear to them how their input would be used. Although there was not a firm plan of work yet, it was recognised that support would be needed for people to engage. All the work of the Experience Panels would be published. Evidence from the consultation suggested that more people commented on the experience of claiming, rather than the level of benefits.
The Bill would be introduced to the Scottish Parliament in June 2017 and come into force in early 2018. It would contain high level principles, with the detail being contained in secondary legislation. There was a discussion about the responsibility for scrutiny of secondary legislation, and the relative speed with which it can be changed in comparison to primary legislation.
The Group were to consider whether there should be more detail on the benefits on the face of the Bill, i.e. in primary legislation. There were currently no plans to introduce a further Social Security Bill, or other primary legislation, therefore it would be important to get all considerations into this piece of primary legislation. It was suggested that the Group could offer proactive advice on scrutiny.
NP said that the Minister wanted to offer the Group a discussion session on the Bill. This would be an extraordinary meeting of the Group for those able to attend.
DACBEAG1/210417/Action 1: Discussion session for the Group on the Bill to be organised. Action for: Secretariat / officials. Action by: meeting to take place by mid June.
The Group generally expressed a preference for real time updates of information relevant to its work.
The University of Ulster and ECHR had carried out work on dignity and respect, and to what extent these are rights that are enforcable in law. The researchers carrying out that work were planning to hold a seminar to which would seek involvement of Group members.
DACBEAG1/210417/Action 2: Liaise with University of Ulster researchers / EHCR Scotland to facilitate Group’s attendance at a seminar. Action for: Chair / Secretariat. Action by: May 2017 to make contact, date of seminar tbc.
Disability and Carers Benefits Trends and Analysis
Andy Park, Senior Economist, Communities Analysis Division, Scottish Government, gave a presentation based on Paper 2, already circulated to the Group.
AP set out the current position that DWP is the data owner, and that systems are complex, often making it difficult to extract Scotland specific data. Good relationships had been established with analysts, but data sharing was sometimes challenging due to the approach to risk being taken, and because of commercial contractual relationships around data hosting and management.
Budgeting decisions had not yet fully been made, but it was clear that the transfer of £66m per year to run the Social Security system in Scotland, plus £200m for implementation would not be enough.
The budget would be allocated to Scotland as a proportion of overall UK spend, meaning there was a perceived incentive to increase uptake in Scotland in order to increase that proportion. However, increase in uptake in the other UK nations would also increase the overall budget to be distributed. There was a time lag, with DWP forecast expenditure being reconciled up to two years later.
There was a comment from the Group that the time lag was concerning, as there was predicted to be a 60 per cent increase in tribunals over the coming period.
It was agreed that the Group should have conversations with the Minister over time on the budget framework.
Analysis showed that benefits are being paid to different groups of people than previously assumed by DWP. AP said that data requests had been submitted, to enable a more granular analysis of this to be made, and that when data transfers we will ensure that systems are in place to allow data to flow better through the system (but with appropriate access to data in place).
Good quality data had been obtained for DLA, and noted how the language used to describe and report on conditions changed between DLA and PIP, particularly that around mental health conditions. There was a discussion on this, and it was noted that initial reporting would have to mirror DWP but that this could be rectified over time.
Breakdowns of benefits were shown by Local Authority area. It was noted that there could be significant variation geographically within LA areas. He was asked if it was possible to plot entitlement against actual uptake, and confirmed that it was difficult to capture this, particularly for Carers Allowance.
The Group discussed Carers Allowance, and noted the strong links needed with the Health and Social Care Integration agenda. It was also noted that while the amount that could be earned per week was set by DWP, the Group should be aware of any unintended consequences of recommending changes to this.
There was a discussion around Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit. A high proportion of recipients were male and from historically heavy industries, and many new claims came from people of pension age, i.e. due to gradual disease manifestation, rather than accidents.
It was questioned whether there was under-claiming of IIDB, with the move from old unionised industries, to predominantly female occupations, for example in health and social care, where there may not be support to claim, or secure contractual arrangements in place. AP said some claims for ‘modern’ industrial injury were being seen. There was a comment around the potential to make psychological injury within the scope of the benefit.
AP offered to return to the Group for another session on statistics, trends, analysis and budget, and that he and his team saw it as their role to provide analytical support to the Group. The Group were, however, free to seek this advice from elsewhere.
Membership, Terms of Reference and Operation of the Group
There was a short discussion around what success would look like, both for the Social Security system in Scotland, and for this Group. Comments included:
- it is this Group’s role to determine what success looks like, and that this can be done on an ongoing basis, and not once and for all
- any measure of success should include some element of the prevention of the need for benefits and on rehabilitation
- although job related benefits are not within the scope of the Group, items within the Group’s remit have an impact on ability to work. Co-morbidity of long term conditions increases with age and system change is needed to prevent unnecessary medicalisation to enable people to function
- it was clear that poverty levels and not only demographics are driving the likelihood of receiving benefits
- success should be reflected in the Group’s ability to make recommendations around dignity and respect, and that this would be achieved through staff training, culture change and service development
- it is important to understand the wider context and landscape, and to capture the key policy drivers. The National Performance Framework should be considered and the whole public sector spend should be looked at
- the Group should keep in mind the Social Security vision and principles as a way to measure success.
It was noted that the Independent Living Fund Working Group shared common processes and principles, and had set down some work on the process of co-production. They had also produced a document on ways of working.
DACBEAG1/210417/Action 3: Liaise with Independent Living Fund Working Group officials to obtain copy of relevant documents. Action for: Secretariat. Action by: To circulate in advance of next meeting.
There should be a readout for the Minister from each meeting and the Group should decide how this was to be shared.
Group members commented that they would find it useful for each document to be marked to show whether it could be shared. The Secretary noted this.
The Group then worked through the draft Terms of Reference document section by section, and some changes were made to the text. In doing so, the following comments were noted:
Section 1: Strategic Context: No changes. It was noted that the Group would not come up with uncosted options. Although the timeframe for this Group is to the end of the Parliamentary term, this should not prevent them from making longer term recommendations.
Section 2: Purpose: No substantive changes.
Section 3: Remit: Some changes were made to set out certain points more clearly and to add specific areas the Group will advise on. Members welcomed the Group being a safe space in which they can have in-depth conversations, and recognised that better quality decisions are enabled by having talking and thinking space. However, the presumption is that its work will be broadly transparent and public. Members were clear that the Group would be able to make proactive advice. It was anticipated that the chair would report periodically to the Minister.
Section 4: Timing and Review: No changes. The Group agreed that they would look at progress, get a sense of their impact, how advice and recommendations were being received, and how the Group is working together throughout.
Section 5: Accountability, Governance and Administration: ‘Administration’ changed to ‘Support’; minor changes to expenses; detail added on how decision making will work. Members were all invited as individuals. The Group needed to consider whether there should be a designated vice chair, or have an agreed process for covering the absence of the chair. The Group agreed that it would be useful to share biographies, skills and interests.
DACBEAG1/210417/Action 4: Establish format and platform for, and begin collating Group members’ biographies, skills and interests. Action for: Secretariat. Action by: complete by summer 2017.
Section 6: Communications and Information Sharing: No changes
Section 7: Collaboratives and Relationships with Other Groups: No changes. The Group discussed the Collaboratives and its relationship with the existing reference groups and Experience Panels. JMcC planned to meet the chairs of the three existing reference groups.
DACBEAG1/210417/Action 5: Set up meetings between the chair and the chairs of the Ill Health and Disability Benefits Stakeholder Reference Group, the Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefits Advisory Group and the Carers Benefit Advisory Group. Action for: Secretariat / Chair. Action by: Meetings completed by June 2017.
DACBEAG1/210417/Action 6: Revise Terms of Reference document as discussed and circulate to Group for comment. Finalise after receipt of comments. Action for: Secretariat. Action by: Circulate one week after meeting. Final by end May 2017. Seek to publish Minutes (from the next meeting onwards) within 10 working days along with our ToR.
NP gave a brief overview of the workplan papers already circulated to the Group.
There was no time to discuss the workplan at this meeting. It would, therefore, not yet be formally agreed and published. A session on the workplan would be added to the Ministerial session to be arranged on the legislation.
Thanks and close.
Summary of Actions from this Meeting
Discussion session for the Group on the Bill to be organised.
Action for: Secretariat / officials.
Action by: meeting to take place by mid June.
Liaise with University of Ulster researchers / EHCR Scotland to facilitate Group’s attendance at a seminar.
Action for: Chair / Secretariat.
Action by: May 2017 to make contact, date of seminar tbc.
Liaise with Independent Living Fund Working Group officials to obtain copy of relevant documents.
Action for: Secretariat.
Action by: To circulate in advance of next meeting.
Establish format and platform for, and begin collating Group members’ biographies, skills and interests.
Action for: Secretariat.
Action by: complete by summer 2017.
Set up meetings between the chair and the chairs of the Ill Health and Disability Benefits Stakeholder Reference Group, the Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefits Advisory Group and the Carers Benefit Advisory Group.
Action for: Secretariat / Chair.
Action by: Meetings completed by June 2017.
Revise Terms of Refernce document as discussed and circulate to Group for comment. Finalise after receipt of comments.
Action for: Secretariat.
Action by: Circulate one week after meeting. Final by end May 2017. Seek to publish Minutes (from the next meeting onwards) within 10 working days along with our ToR.
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