Nicola Sturgeon pledges to end medical assessment link to disability benefits

First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon. Picture; John Devlin
First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon. Picture; John Devlin
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Nicola Sturgeon has pledged to end the “revolving door” of medical assessments linked to disability benefits when Holyrood takes control over some welfare powers.

The First Minister made the commitment as she claimed Westminster views the social security system as a “source of easy cuts” instead of a “vital safety net” for the most vulnerable.

The Scotland Act 2016 will see MSPs handed responsibility for part of the welfare system for the first time, with the Scottish Government also being given the power to create new benefits and top up existing payments.

Ahead of a debate on the future of social security in Scotland, Ms Sturgeon said that when powers over the Disability Living Allowance and Personal Independence Payments are transferred north, ministers are “fully committed to creating a new social security system for disabled people based around the principles of dignity and respect”.

She told the Daily Record newspaper: “These two clear principles have been sorely lacking from the Tory Government’s whole approach to welfare.

“We want to reduce the need for assessments - ending the revolving door which has caused stress and anxiety to so many. And, of course, there are many people who have a long-term illness or condition that will not change, it isn’t right that they are repeatedly subject to assessments. That is why we are committed to introducing long-term awards that will support people.

“For too long, governments at Westminster have seen the social security system as a source of easy cuts, rather than a vital safety net which should be cherished as the hallmark of any civilised society.

“I’m absolutely determined that for those benefits that are transferred to the Scottish Parliament, we’ll build a system which we can all be proud of.”

Meanwhile, Labour has called on the Scottish Government to bring in new measures to ensure people receive the cash they are due, as figures showed up to 53,000 carers are missing out on benefits worth £170 million a year they are entitled to.

The party’s social security spokesman Mark Griffin said: “Carers are often the unsung heroes of our country. Thousands of people dedicate their lives to caring for others and save the Government, particularly our NHS and social care system, billions of pounds because of their selfless care and attention.

“Yet these new figures published today by Labour reveal that 53,000 people entitled to Carer’s Allowance aren’t receiving it. That’s £170 million of Carer’s Allowance in Scotland currently going unpaid. When this power is devolved the SNP must ensure everybody who is entitled to Carer’s Allowance receives it.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Carers make an immense contribution to our society. It is unfair that the support they receive in the form of Carer’s Allowance, which is currently reserved to the UK Government, is the lowest of all working age benefits.

“That is why we have committed to increase Carer’s Allowance to the same level as Jobseeker’s Allowance and that is why we have designed a package of provisions in the Carers (Scotland) Act 2016 to support carers’ health and wellbeing and to support them to continue to care, if they so wish, and have a life alongside caring.

“Our aim has always been to have a Scottish agency delivering devolved benefits by the end of this parliamentary term, and we are committed to encouraging the take-up of all benefits to ensure that people who are eligible, but who are not currently making claims, receive the benefits to which they are entitled.”