Michael McMahon: The welfare reform blame game

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ON TUESDAY of this week the welfare reform committee will be taking evidence for the second time from individuals who have been directly affected by the changes to the welfare system.

We have been appalled by the personal testimonies conveyed to us and this has led us to look not just at the financial impact on people but the way in which the system itself was contributing to their misery.

What we have established is a situation which leaves both the Westminster and Holyrood governments with questions to answer.

The Department for Work and Pensions relies on Atos to carry out its work capability assessments and Atos has become very much the villain of the piece.

It has been widely reported that many of the almost one-third of claims assessed by Atos which have been rejected have been overturned on appeal. What is not so well known is that Atos does not make the decisions and that it is “decision-makers” at the DWP who come to a conclusion based on Atos reports.

Our committee has discovered that far too many of these reports are incomplete because GPs have failed to comply with their NHS Scotland contract and have not provided crucial information. We are now looking to find out what the Scottish Government is doing to ensure that this situation is addressed.

We also know that assessments for the new personal independence payments (PIP), the replacement for disability living allowance, are to be carried out by a department of NHS Lanarkshire under its contract with Atos. As both the contract and the manner of its application have been approved by the Scottish Government, we will be monitoring how PIP is delivered.

We are also watching how the new Scottish Welfare Fund will be applied across Scotland. Evidence has flagged up concerns about the criteria for this fund, which replaces the current crisis loans system.

The Welfare Reform Act is an inherently unfair vehicle for reducing welfare costs. It is too easy, though, to just blame Westminster when areas of the system under Scottish Government control are not fit for purpose.