Charities call on Scottish Government to scrap 'cruel' benefits rule

Two charities have called on the Scottish Government to scrap a “cruel” disability assessment rule.

In an open letter, the MS Society Scotland and the Neurological Alliance of Scotland asked the Scottish Parliament’s public petitions committee to press the government for a change to the ‘20-metre rule’.

Under this rule applicants may be refused a higher rate of disability benefit if they are able to walk more than 20 metres.

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It is part of the assessment for the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) administered by the UK Government Department for Work and Pensions.

Maxine Thompson, a Masters student at Glasgow University with MS.

This payment will transition to Adult Disability Support (ADP), administered by the Scottish Government, from 2022.

The MS Society and Neurological Alliance of Scotland have called on the Scottish Government to remove the rule as soon as it has the power.

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“We have an opportunity to build a world-leading social security system and there are many parts of the incoming system that take us closer to that goal,” said Morna Simpkins, Scotland director of the MS Society.

“However, this new benefit will not deliver the support people with disabilities in Scotland need until it moves away from baseless and inappropriate eligibility criteria like the 20-metre-rule.

“The Scottish Government have already recognised the rule is not fit for purpose and we want to see it discussed in Parliament so that people with disabilities don’t continue to lose out on vital support.”

The rule “needlessly punishes” people with fluctuating conditions, who may be able to walk 20 metres on some days, but not others, Ms Simpkins said.

Maxine Thompson, a Masters student at Glasgow University with MS, went through the PIP assessment process and was granted support.

She wants to see the rule scrapped to give more certainty to applicants for benefits.

“It makes you feel like a fraud if you are able to walk that distance on a given day even if you wouldn’t be able to do it continuously,” she said.

"It makes me really sad because I’m not a fraud. I want to be part of society and to open life up to challenge myself without worrying that my support might be dropped.”

She added: “It’s not just about 20 metres, it’s about our whole wellbeing.”

“If the 20-metre-rule is being retained, then politicians need to realise what kind of impact it can have on you. People save energy to do one thing and then feel the effects of that later on.

“It’s not binary or black and white, so it really does matter if the 20-metre-rule remains. It’s not conducive to people living healthy and supported lives.

“It can feel like wasting breath with politicians as we have said these things time and time again and things don’t change, we just come back to the same party lines.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government’s Adult Disability Payment will replace the UK Government’s Personal Independence Payment in 2022.

“The new process will be completely different from the UK Government’s system, with a move away from intrusive assessments and a move away from the need to ‘prove’ illness or disability.

“We aim to get the decision right from the first assessment and are working with those with lived experience to ensure this is the case.”

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