Disability and Carers Benefits Expert Advisory Group minutes: April 2018
- Social Security Directorate
Minutes of the meeting of the Disability and Carers Benefits Expert Advisory Group, which took place on 26 April 2018.
Attendees and apologies
- Jim McCormick (chair) (JMcC)
- Sally Witcher (deputy chair) (SW)
- Shaben Begum (SBe)
- Tressa Burke (TB)
- Fiona Collie (FC)
- Chris Creegan (CC) (am only)
- Etienne d’Aboville (Ed’A)
- Sarah Hammond (SH)
- Jatin Haria (JH)
- Ewan MacDonald (EMacD) (pm only)
- Angela O’Hagan (AO’H)
- Judith Paterson (JP)
- Frank Reilly (FR)
- Carol Tannahill (CT)
- Sandra Black (SBl)
- Lucinda Godfrey (LG)
- Alan McDevitt (AMcD)
- Jim McGoldrick (JMcG)
- Billy Watson (BW)
- Ian Welsh (IW)
In attendance/guest speakers
- Leila Akhoundova (Scottish Government) (LA)
- Julie Guy (Scottish Government) (JG)
- Nicola Radley (NR)
- Katherine Ross (KR)
Items and actions
JMcC welcomed everyone to the meeting. He briefly mentioned the newly-passed Social Security Bill and the potential implications it has for the Group’s future agenda. He also formally thanked previous acting secretariat member David Taggart for his hard work and welcomed KR as his permanent replacement.
Actions from last meeting
DACBEAG6/260418/Paper 1: Action Tracker
There were no corrections to the minute of the last meeting.
JMcC highlighted outstanding actions.
He asked members who had been working on agency recruitment and operations to summarise their activity. Ed’A confirmed that although there had not been a formal workstream meeting, correspondence with officials on the first wave of agency job adverts had been carried out via email. There had been a positive response to material sent regarding advert language and structure, accessible advert formatting and the wider scope of job applications. He suggested this could become a much more substantial issue for the Group, including potentially setting up a workstream, but had concerns about keeping within the remit of the Group. JH highlighted the need for a strategic discussion on equality and recruitment around agency operations, going much wider than wording of adverts. It was suggested that a meeting with officials was set up to scope this. JMcC suggested this could also be picked up for further discussion at the Group’s away day.
Meeting to be set up between officials for agency recruitment and operations and group members.
Action for: NR.
Action by: meeting to take place before end June.
JMcC referred to older items on the Action Tracker relating to risk and biographies, and suggested again that the away day be an opportunity to discuss.
Analysis and evaluation (Leila Akhoundova/Julie Guy)
The chair and deputy chair had a first meeting with officials on 20 April.
LA gave a presentation to the Group highlighting the importance of analysis and evaluation, specifically in terms of policy-making and delivery.
JG presented on delivery evaluation. Her presentation highlighted survey evidence from Experience Panel members and the role of delivery analysis in development of the Charter.
The Group expressed an interest in:
- equality issues regarding the policy evaluation process
- the way in which data is collected having an effect on the presence / quality of equality data, which may further affect analysis and evaluation and policy decisions;
- group members stressed that where people with certain characteristics are underrepresented in the evaluation process, identifying them later and filling in the gaps may be too late for overall policy and service development decisions
- complexities arising for people receiving both reserved and devolved benefits
- the policy evaluation procedure, particularly in relation to approaching with a nuanced understanding of the diverse range of clients’ circumstances
- some members emphasised the need for urgency in dealing with these issues given the Carer’s Allowance Supplement timescale
- the Group appreciated the importance of evidence, openness and transparency and welcomed the focus on evaluation LA ad JG noted the issues raised, addressed where possible, and indicated they were happy to be involved in ongoing dialogue with the Group as their own work develops.
Develop ongoing dialogue with officials to establish Group’s involvement / influence in development of future evaluation work. Group to write to the Minister and officials setting out advice on embedding equalities across analysis, research and evaluation roles.
Action for: Secretariat, chair, deputy chair.
Action by: Draft letter by end May.
DACBEAG6/260418/Paper 2: Summary Charter Development Plan The Group had received a summary charter development plan from officials and JG gave some further background.
Several issues were raised by the Group:
- Members were keen to add value to the proposed process and had previously been minded to establish a workstream on this issue. They needed to determine whether that was still the most appropriate way to contribute.
- Members questioned how, from a human rights perspective the charter would be operationalised. Other members questioned the type of feedback required from the Group, for example regarding proposed processes, the risks involved and whether the charter will capture all necessary elements.
- Some members were concerned about how people with lived experience would be supported, referencing required capacity building. They indicated that a sharp analysis of wider areas was needed.
- Members mentioned the need to recruit core group participants beyond the Experience Panels, suggesting it would also need to reach out to people/organisations working with seldom heard groups. It was also suggested that over-recruitment would counteract the high potential for drop-out even over a relatively short period of time.
- Other members raised issues about how staff dealing with these matters would be trained. It was suggested that the process needs to work for staff as well as users and they stressed the importance of deliverability.
- Members again mentioned timing generally as a challenge, with the need for an interim solution due to the charter not being ready in time for the Carer’s Allowance Supplement starting. The importance of claimants having the right to proper redress yet, at the same time, the need for further deliberation to sufficiently future-proof the charter was noted. Members therefore suggested the need for an interim solution/document, highlighting, in addition, the need for clarity regarding stakeholder cooperation and interaction.
- Members suggested relationships with diverse organisations could be an advantageous starting point.
JG replied to these issues, acknowledging timing as the biggest challenge. She agreed attrition of core group membership would also be a challenge and would seek further advice. She was open to suggestions regarding keeping staff appropriately trained and informed. In addressing the three ‘building blocks’ of rights, responsibilities and redress, she would seek further advice. She emphasised the difficulties that occur when stakeholder priorities differ and noted that plans for facilitating stakeholder engagement were in hand.
Members discussed what the Group can contribute as a whole and what can be contributed by individuals in their own organisational roles. They noted that unnecessary complexity should not be added into already complicated structures. An ad hoc basis of Group contribution rather than a workstream was suggested when reflecting on time constraints. It was suggested that the Group might, given its independent nature, be best placed to bring together stakeholders to assist in this process, rather than the Scottish Government hosting/undertaking this task.
With SW taking the lead, individual group members identified themselves as potential contributors to the Group’s work around the charter, subject to timings and capacity. SH, TB, SB, Ed’A and FC indicated interest in participating, with JP also noting that input could be required later in the process around independent scrutiny.
It was noted that when the Group met the Minister in March, they agreed to write to her setting out their proposed involvement in the charter.
Letter to be drafted to Minister outlining both Group’s proposed involvement in the charter development and issues raised during the meeting.
Action for: NR initial draft, chair / group clearance.
Action by: end May
Assessment Workstream update (Tressa Burke)
TB updated the Group on meetings and activity since the last meeting. A workshop on types and sources of evidence had been proposed, highlighting the need for different perspectives in this matter. She outlined the workstream’s discussions so far on automatic entitlement.
Clarity was needed that the term assessment should not only refer to face-to-face assessments but the full process from deciding how to proceed with an application. There was now a definition within primary legislation, that appears to conflate assessment with face-to-face assessment.
It was commented that it would be useful to analyse any data available on types of written evidence that are most likely to reduce the need for a face to face assessment. However, there were known difficulties in obtaining DWP data of this nature.
The Group deliberated on necessary changes to complicated rules surrounding a person’s condition and exactly how this is translated into eligibility. An area for concern was the premise of demonstrating people’s lack of ability which all members agreed did not constitute an assessment system based on dignity and respect. Furthermore, it demonstrates a lack of understanding of the people undergoing assessments given that many understate their functional needs and have difficulty articulating their abilities. Members noted resource being spent on unnecessary face-to-face assessments.
Members also highlighted the need to have a functioning system simultaneously focused on developing people’s capacity as well as securing their benefit entitlements. This is also to avoid wasting resources disproving the need for benefit claims. Members stressed assessment should not be based solely on inabilities or restrictions but as an opportunity to assess an individual’s needs – for example, by reframing the assessment to explore what kind of support would enable people to overcome the barriers they encounter. The new system should signal very clearly that claiming core disability benefits will be no bar to participating in education and work. The aim should be to transform assessments, as far as possible, into a positive experience where it is decided what can be done to help.
The Group highlighted the difficulties facing people with learning disabilities and considered the potential distress caused by current experiences of assessment. Members also noted the importance of advocacy rights. It was agreed that a system that is too generic to address particular needs might miss a crucial opportunity to help. Group members discussed the need to re-frame the assessment process to focus on the support needed to overcome barriers rather than only limitations. Members were keen to emphasise locality-based barriers and, to avoid confusion regarding abilities, the need for context-specific questions.
Members discussed the Group’s primary role of providing advice and highlighting issues. They considered their potential for providing longer term advice on changes to the system, following the initial period of safe and secure transition in this parliamentary term.
TB invited comment from Group members on an early draft of advice to Ministers on auto-entitlement and award duration, which would also encompass initial thoughts on sources of evidence.
Action for: TB, secretariat, all.
Action by: May 7th 2018 for initial comment. Advice to be finalised following this.
Social Security (Scotland) Bill
JP presented a summary of the outcomes of the Stage 3 debate and votes which had taken place the previous day. Members took time to reflect upon the impact that the newly-passed Social Security Bill will have on the work of the Group, including items that may necessitate future Ministerial advice and/or a new agenda for the Group. Items discussed included the influence the Group had in shaping scrutiny (reflected in the Scottish Commission on Social Security) and noted our interest in removal of the eligibility timescales for people with terminal illness, take up, the charter and accountability and the aim to end unnecessary face-to-face assessments. Members also discussed the Group’s role in considering wider public opinion. It was noted that the next step of formulating regulations would be complex and significant because of the ‘bare bones’ nature of the primary legislation.
The Group were keen to welcome the strengths that had been demonstrated throughout the Bill development process, i.e. working with people who will use the system, the level of cross party support and the constructive amendments put forward.
Carer’s Allowance Supplement
DACBEAG6/260418/Paper 3: Carer’s Allowance Supplement (CAS) update FC outlined the work done by a small workstream of Group members, which had given a better understanding of the process / structure of the first benefit within the Group’s remit to go live. She noted that the uprating amendment had been passed on the previous day.
Members discussed outstanding issues in need of resolution:
- Data sharing - FC was concerned whether or not the DWP can share information regarding the people who will be eligible for the supplement on the qualifying date. Further clarification should be sought by the Scottish Government regarding the requirement of individual consent to enable DWP data-sharing with the Agency.
- Communication - An additional concern was the lack of control over the DWP- issued letter that these claimants will receive. It was suggested that an advisory letter also be sent in advance to give clarification on overlapping benefits. Guidance should also be given regarding tax credits and tax treatment of the CAS. Other communication concerns included the uprating of CA and the consequential variation of the supplement which could be a source of confusion. Other areas for consideration included claimants ‘falling through the cracks’.
- Complaints Procedure - Members considered the timescale to completion of the charter and the existence of gaps in the system should claimants seek redress.
- Potential for residency-based complications linked to cross-border living/caring arrangements.
- Members discussed the spotlight that will be placed upon this as the first ‘live’ benefit within the carers / disability remit and expressed a desire that the process that should be as positive and trust-building as possible. They felt that they as a Group, through the workstream’s advice, could help to highlight the risks around this constructively.
JMcC suggested a face-to-face session with officials with the aim of establishing whether the workstream should have longer-term input regarding these issues.
Draft advice note to Ministers highlighting the Group’s views on Carer’s Allowance Supplement implementation.
Action for: NR initial draft, workstream / group clearance
Action by: end May
Set up meeting between officials and Carer’s Allowance Supplement workstream members to establish whether the workstream should have longer-term input.
Action for: Secretariat, workstream members.
Action by: Meeting to take place by end of June.
Universal Credit Split Payments
The Group discussed their involvement regarding an issue which, whilst not in their remit, could have a significant impact on disabled people and carers. This is particularly relevant given the commitment to payment splitting now set out in the Social Security Bill. The Group considered the way in which they could provide advice in this exceptional case without setting a precedent for items outside their remit. Several members agreed with the proposed split, citing evidence from stakeholder engagement e.g. Engender which reported a significantly high percentage of women welcoming the new arrangement.
Some members also viewed the split as an important and necessary choice alongside existing Scottish flexibilities in Universal Credit. The general consensus was that the current UC proposal could be tested and evaluated. It was agreed that input should be clear but concise.
Other members agreed with the split in principle but had concerns over how it would be put into operation and how effective it would be to combat financial imbalances in abusive relationships, as well as emphasising the need for people in vulnerable circumstances to be given the right to advocacy. They considered disabled women in particular.
A few members thought payment splitting was unnecessary and could contribute to potential problems. However, while Universal Credit is not within the scope of the Group, the majority of members consider the split to be beneficial.
JMcC suggested a brief response detailing the importance of the split, as well as organisations the Scottish Government could consult with on future UC matters. Groups members were asked to reflect on who might be more suitable for this challenge. Specific questions for consideration by these organisations could then be identified.
NR to draft short response to Ministers to the Universal Credit Split Payment letter received from officials. Group members to comment on draft and suggest organisations who were better placed to be approached for detailed advice.
Action for: NR, chair, all
Action by: advice to Ministers by mid May
Members discussed the objectives for the forthcoming away day in June [post meeting update: confirmed as 19th June, Edinburgh]. A number of issues could potentially be put on the agenda, subject to timing on the day. For example:
- membership / participation from different sectors e.g. local government
- ways of working, e.g. creating more time for deliberation and decision making within meetings
- equalities / human rights issues
- further exploration of Agency recruitment
- group biographies
- invitation to Stephen Kerr (who was unable to attend this meeting due to a Programme Board meeting)
Chair, deputy chair and secretariat to develop an agenda for the away day.
Action for: Chair, deputy chair, secretariat
Action by: early June
SH raised that veterans was an outstanding issue in the Group’s issue log, in the context of a veterans’ project she is currently undertaking in East Ayrshire Citizens Advice Bureau. It was proposed that this work be shared with the Minister.
The next meeting of the Group will take place on Thursday 30th August in Edinburgh (venue tbc). The Minister for Social Security would attend part of the next meeting.
Thanks and close
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