30 January 2019
Scottish Social Security Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville MSP will meet blind and partially sighted campaigners this morning [Wednesday 30 January 2019] to discuss how the welfare system being devolved to Scotland can be improved.
Campaigners say that too often the current system, as administered by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), refuses support to claimants with sight loss – decisions which they argue can be based on flawed assessments which are later overturned on appeal.
James Adams, director of sight loss charity RNIB Scotland, said: “We hear alarming stories of people who have been medically certified as having sight loss still having to undergo demeaning and pointless assessments. This can be by assessors who have little idea about the different types of sight loss conditions and how these can affect people.”
“We would urge the Social Security Secretary to ensure that assessments in the new system in the process of being devolved to Scotland treats people with dignity and respect and is informed by a much better understanding of sight loss.”
Amanda Burt from Aberdeen, who is registered blind, commented: “The forms to claim disability benefits at present are very complicated to fill in. The appeals process is not always a good experience as you can get people who have no knowledge of what your disability is like. Because of this, it is really stressful for the person who is being assessed. If you explain this to the people in charge they don’t seem to care. They just say that those are the rules and we have to put up with it. I hope the Minister will ensure that the new social security system is different.”
Social Security Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said: “I have heard directly from many disabled people about their frustrations and anger with the current DWP assessments process. A process that for some can feel like an obstacle course in which they are treated with a lack of empathy.
“I am determined to ensure that the assessment process in Scotland is very different. We have already committed to having as few face to face assessments as possible and to getting the decision right in the first place. We have ruled out private sector involvement in process and our new agency, Social Security Scotland, will deliver flexible, person-centred assessments – people will be invited at a time and to a place that suits them and to a location that suits them, and audio recordings of assessments will be standard to ensure transparency.
“From the production of materials to the delivery of assessments, Social Security Scotland will deliver an accessible service based upon the principles of dignity and respect.”
RNIB Scotland has already secured a pledge that the new system will provide documents and communications to claimants in accessible formats such as braille, large-print and audio.