For the sixth Scottish Parliament election, we decided to make six asks of the next Scottish Government and group of MSPs elected.
Our Interim Policy and Communications Manager, Rona Johnson, provides information on our third election ask, which is to ask new disability benefits assessors to be specifically trained to understand fluctuating conditions like epilepsy.
Disability benefits are designed to alleviate the recognised costs associated with having a disability.
Benefits like Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and Employment Support Allowance (ESA) are crucial to supporting people with disabilities to avoid slipping into poverty as a result of their condition.
Social security also enables people to better manage their condition, thus reducing their dependency on clinical services.
Finally, social security benefits are key to supporting some people to access and retain employment.
For too long, under the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), people with epilepsy have struggled to access the benefits they are entitled to.
There is a serious problem with assessors not understanding epilepsy and how it affects someone’s life.
As epilepsy is a fluctuating condition, it does not easily prescribe to the tick box points system of PIP. Many people with epilepsy are rejected when they first apply for the benefit. Of those who appeal, over 70% are successful.
To go through the process of an appeal and tribunal causes a lot of stress for clients. This can then aggravate their seizures and mental health.
Many find it too difficult to go to appeal and then lose out on the money they are entitled to. The appeals and tribunal process also cause significant expense to the taxpayer. With so many decisions being turned over, money is going to waste.
A time to restore dignity and fairness into social security
The Scotland Act 2016 transferred control of some social security powers from Westminster to Holyrood.
This means many benefits, including disability benefits, will now be administered by Social Security Scotland rather than the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
Epilepsy Scotland runs one of the only epilepsy specific welfare rights services in the UK. We directly support people with epilepsy to navigate the benefits system, all the way up to upper tier tribunals.
We have an above average success rate, and our service is always oversubscribed which indicates there is a serious problem with the system.
Epilepsy Scotland’s number three election ask
We want Social Security Scotland to right the wrongs of the DWP system and restore fairness back into the administration of disability benefits.
To ensure people are not disadvantaged in their disability application by a lack of knowledge from assessors, we are asking new disability assessors to be specifically trained to understand fluctuating conditions like epilepsy.
We are also asking new disability assessors to be taught how to apply legislation to each individual case.
Our Welfare Rights Officers find this does not routinely happen with DWP assessors and explains why so many decisions are turned over at tribunal.
We are also calling on Social Security Scotland to develop a relationship with and draw on the experience of third sector organisations to ensure the system is fair for all.
We believe Social Security Scotland has the potential to radically improve how disability benefits are administered which will change the lives of thousands of people living across Scotland.
You can read our full manifesto here which includes information on how you can get involved.