SCOTTISH charities have warned of the “catastrophic” impact of UK government changes to the benefits for disabled people, as the row over welfare reforms enters the independence referendum debate today.
Capability Scotland said that the decision to replace the Disability Living Allowance (DLA) with a new Personal Independence Payment (PIP) would also pile massive extra pressure on councils as they were forced to “pick up the pieces”.
UK government ministers insisted that the system needed to be reformed to ensure that the “right benefits were going to the right people” as part of efforts to bring the public finances back into balance.
But their plans will be seized on today by the SNP government as it publishes a new paper setting out proposals for a welfare state in an independent Scotland.
The SNP has already claimed it would reverse measures such as the so-called “bedroom tax”.
Today’s report, by an expert group on welfare, is likely to set out further proposals if welfare was under control of the Scottish Government.
UK ministers pre-empted the report last night by saying that the SNP would have to explain how, after independence, it could afford to pay Scotland’s above-average benefits bill.
Richard Hamer, Capability Scotland’s director of external affairs, said: “This is predicted to have a catastrophic effect on the economy. We’re extremely concerned that working-age disabled people will lose out in this change. Not only has the Westminster government reduced those eligible for the new benefit, it’s made the application process far more complex.”
However, UK ministers last night insisted that an overhaul of the current Disability Living Allowance, introduced by the Conservative government in the 1990s, was necessary.
Disabilities minister Esther McVey said: “What we have got to ensure is that the right people are getting the right support. When the DLA was set up 50 per cent didn’t have corroborating medical evidence and 71 per cent were put on that benefit for life. We have got to ensure that they are getting the right benefit now.”
On the situation if Scotland votes Yes to independence, Scotland Office minister David Mundell said last night: “Scotland currently gets 3 per cent more in welfare and pension spending per head than the rest of the UK, worth almost half a billion pounds extra a year. Those seeking independence have not shown any evidence to back up their claims on how this is affordable for an independent Scotland in the long term.”
Working age benefits are now on track to cost it £90bn a year.