One of the main reasons I stood for election as your MP was to tackle poverty, inequality and challenge the Tory welfare reform agenda and to make sure it did not push more sick and disabled people into poverty.I have spoken many times about these issues in Parliament and pushed for Personal Independence Payments (PIP), Employment Support Allowance (ESA) and Universal Credit (UC) assessments to be made fairer for applicants. In his March 2023 Spring Budget, the Chancellor Jeremy Hunt released plans to abolish the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) for claimants of UC and ESA. While these plans have not yet been laid out in full, it is incumbent on MPs to make sure that whatever replaces the existing system is fairer and more equitable and does not allow people who need support to be left behind. On the face of it, removing the WCA sounds like a good step forward. The difficulties people face in accessing benefits through this system is well documented. These assessments have been carried out by contractors who all too often have no understanding of the physical or mental conditions they are judging, leading to a one-size-fits-all, tick-box approach.Asking difficult and inappropriate questions has a negative impact on the mental health and wellbeing of claimants and puts a barrier between them and the support to which they are legally entitled. In fact, the only winners have been the private companies allowed to profiteer off delivering assessments. Earlier this year the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) awarded £170m of taxpayer money to Atos and Capita to continue carrying out PIP assessments. This came as a surprise after their years of shoddy substandard work that sees 68% of claims overturned at tribunal – with further costs to the taxpayer to cover government legal bills. Ultimately, welfare reform has been an expensive failure used to prevent people from accessing the support to which they are entitled. In designing a new system, the UK Government would do well to follow the lead of the Scottish Government. PIP claimants across Lanark and Hamilton East are now being transferred to Social Security Scotland’s Adult Disability Payment (ADP). The Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018 sets out requirements for Scottish Ministers and officials to take a very different approach to their UK Government counterparts. The dignity of claimants sits at the heart of Social Security Scotland and explicitly excludes private companies from carrying out assessments. It includes common sense provisions like requiring assessors to be suitably qualified to make health assessments, and that if assessments are clearly not needed, Social Security Scotland will not waste their time and resources, nor those of the applicant. The current approach is so broken and is in need of a radical rethink is needed. Their proposals are not fleshed out yet and won’t be introduced for several years so there is still time to get this right. The UK Government needs to take a bold approach, and ensure the abolition of the WCA makes way for a service that delivers for the needs of its people and places dignity at the heart for claimants.Over the last few years that has meant helping constituents with benefits assessments which are all too often difficult, traumatic, and discriminatory.
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