Last week I joined my Scottish Labour colleagues in condemning the Tory Government’s roll out of Personal Independence Payments (PIP) as we renewed our calls for the cruel assessments at the heart of the system to be scrapped.
The new benefit is gradually replacing the Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and is supposed to provide support for those aged 16-64 who need extra help because of an illness, disability, or mental health condition. But those being moved from DLA to PIP face having their condition reassessed by private companies who often get the decision wrong, meaning people are being stripped of vital support. Many of my constituents have told me they find these assessments humiliating and say they not fit for purpose, and this is backed up by the data. Up to October 2017, 16,940 people across Scotland, including 420 in Rutherglen and Hamilton West who were in receipt of DLA have been refused PIP following reassessment, but over 60% of claims that reach appeal stage are overturned. A system that puts that many people through brutal and unnecessary stress and hardship is clearly a broken system. PIP is just the latest in a catalogue of failures of this Tory Government hellbent on balancing the books on the backs of those who can afford it least.
I see so many people who come to my surgery deeply distressed, in tears because they have nothing left and often nowhere to turn. Some will have borrowed money that they can’t afford to pay back. Others will be relying on foodbanks and the kindness of family and friends. The Conservatives have no idea what it is like to live these lives. They talk only of the millions and billions the Government has spent, while people I represent are forced to scrape together pennies to put food on the table and keep the lights on. They boast about the number of people in work but give no thought to those being paid the minimum wage on zero hours contracts, sitting at home waiting for the phone to ring. That is not a job, it is exploitation.
With the devolution of new welfare powers in Scotland, we have the opportunity to do things differently and I have been encouraged by some of the new ideas I have heard, such as banning private firms from carrying out benefits assessments. But, the reality is, the Scottish Government have the legislative competence over the welfare powers they need to make these changes now, but decided to leave them in the hands of the Tories because they were not ready to take them on.
This is the same SNP administration that promised Scotland would have all the necessary plans in place to become fully independent in the space of 2 years. Once again the Scottish Government’s rhetoric has not survived contact with reality. It must act to fully adopt these powers urgently, failure to do so guarantees thousands of people in Scotland will be needlessly subjected to a cruel Tory system.