I am pleased to introduce our second report on the impact of UK welfare policies on the people of Scotland. This report follows on from our annual report on the impact of welfare reform which we published in June, and looks specifically at the impact of UK Government reforms on disabled people.
As the Scottish Government our over-riding aim is to secure full equality and human rights for disabled people in Scotland. We have published an ambitious delivery plan, A Fairer Scotland for Disabled People, to help us achieve this. As part of that work, we recognise the important role that social security can play not only in providing financial support to individuals, but also in the vital signal the right approach to social security can send in recognising the value of all citizens and not either stigmatizing or placing additional barriers to their full participation in society.
So it is both deeply disappointing and distressing to see in this report, the impact on disabled people of the UK Government's unrelenting commitment to austerity as an approach to budget deficit reduction. A number of policies have been implemented by successive UK Governments since 2010 that directly affect disabled people, perhaps most notably the replacement of Disability Living Allowance ( DLA) for working age people, with Personal Independence Payment ( PIP). PIP has more restrictive criteria than DLA and was introduced by the UK Government with an expectation on their part that it would reduce spending on disability benefits. PIP is currently expected to reduce spending by £65m per year in Scotland by 2020/21. This represents a direct cut by the UK Government in social security investment for disabled people. For some individuals, this represents a loss in income of up to £7,000 a year – a cut that will result in real hardship for many.
Disabled people claiming Employment and Support Allowance and placed in the Work Related Activity Group have also been affected by both cuts and sanctions. The Scottish Government has called on the UK Government to reverse the £29 per week cut in support for new claimants which was introduced in April this year, but our call, based on evidence and listening to disabled people and their organisations, has fallen on deaf ears.
Disabled people will also be affected by changes and cuts elsewhere, although I am both pleased and proud that the Scottish Government continues to mitigate in full the bedroom tax, which would otherwise affect over 70,000 households, 40,000 (60%) of which contained a disabled adult claiming Employment and Support Allowance.
The UK Government has quite rightly been criticised by the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, who have recommended that the UK Government:
- Repeal the latest PIP Regulations and that PIP, ESA and Universal Credit ( UC) are in line with the human rights model of disability
- Ensure that legislative frameworks provide social protection to secure income levels for disabled people and their families
- Produce an impact assessment of the welfare reforms on disabled people and address retrogression in standards of living
- Review conditionality and sanction regimes for ESA and tackle the negative consequences on mental health.
I have written to UK Ministers highlighting these UN recommendations and asking how they will be addressed. It is essential that disabled people are protected from further damaging cuts and that the UK Government takes serious steps to address the harm already done.
I will continue to do all I can to press the UK Government to halt their programme of austerity, which sees our UK welfare system as an easy target for cuts and consequently, those with the least suffer the most.
Whilst over this Scottish Parliamentary term we will take responsibility for 11 benefits and we will deliver a rights based social security system for the delivery of these, our limited powers over social security mean that we cannot fix all of the wrongs inflicted by the UK Government. But I will continue to oppose the rollout of PIP in Scotland, and do all in my power to ensure that when the disability related benefits are devolved to Scotland, they are designed based on the needs of disabled people and provided in a way that treats disabled people with the dignity and respect that they, and all our citizens, deserve.
Minister for Social Security