by Susan Smith
SCOTTISH disability charities this week attacked the UK Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) and boycotted a meeting in Edinburgh that was supposed to involve disability minister Maria Miller.
Miller called off from attending the meeting at Capability Scotland headquarters on Tuesday to discuss the UK government’s disability consultation, Fulfilling Your Potential.
However, three Scottish organisations – Inclusion, the Lothian Centre for Inclusive Living and Independent Living in Scotland – had already decided to boycott the meeting.
The organisations were angry that the minister said in an interview with a national newspaper that she had personally met with 60 disability organisations to discuss reform of the benefits system for disabled people.
When campaign group Disabled People Against Cuts asked the DWP for a list of the organisations Miller was referring to, it included a number of Scottish groups who are campaigning against the changes and have never met Miller.
Many disability charities have campaigned against the reforms, which will see disabled people go through reassessment regularly.
They say with 20 per cent less cash available for PIP, many disabled people will be set to lose benefits.
Bill Scott from Inclusion told TFN: “We did meet with DWP officials for consultation events on the PIP assessment criteria, but we did not express our support in any shape or form for the welfare reforms that are taking place.
“With the PIP assessment criteria, they were given a flea in their ear and told to go away and think again.
“Maria Miller was not personally present, certainly not at the meetings in Scotland. So we think we’re being misrepresented – the impression that’s being created is that we approve of welfare reforms and this is far from the case.”
Florence Garabedian, chief executive for Lothian Inclusive Living Centre, also said she was not comfortable attending the meeting, which went ahead with a DWP official.
“We’ve previously attended meetings, and it was implied by the minister that we agreed with these reforms and that is not the case,” she explained. “We were not confident therefore that if we attended this meeting, the same thing would happen again.”
Disability charities also rounded on the DWP this week over concerns that it is about to launch a mandatory work-place volunteering programme from some people claiming Employment Support Allowance, which has replaced Incapacity Benefit.
The programme would be similar to the work experience programme for people on Jobseekers Allowance, which has come under fire this week after a protest outside a Tesco store in London.
Inclusion Scotland’s Bill Scott, said: “I thought that slavery had ended over 200 years ago but forcing anyone to work for nothing is just that.
“We also have real fears that this could damage some people’s health – particularly those with mental health issues and variable conditions like Multiple Sclerosis”.
A Department for Work and Pensions spokeswoman confirmed that the government is looking at introducing a work experience programme for people on ESA who have been placed in the work related activity group.
The scheme is likely to be voluntary, but sanctions – such as the loss of benefits – will probably be used to ensure participants remain engaged for a period of time.
|Thousands of disabled Scots forced into poverty|
|THOUSANDS of disabled or sick Scots are likely to be pushed further into poverty as a result of losing benefits, Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) has said this week.A report from the advice body predicts that £390m will be lost from the Scottish economy as a result of disabled people losing out on benefit income.65,000 Scots currently getting disability benefit will get no benefits at all under the new rules, according to CAS, while 36,000 will be moved onto Jobseekers Allowance.
In total, 115,000 Scots will lose entitlements, which may also include reductions to housing benefits, within the next three years.
“The 65,000 people pushed out of the benefits system in Scotland will lose nearly £6.5m in income replacement benefits each week – a huge impact on the individuals, their families and the country itself,” said Susan McPhee, CAS head of policy.
“The 36,000 taking up JSA will lose £1m each week. This makes a total of over £390m a year in lost payments to individuals and the economy. The potential final cost to the country and the economy – without significant increases in employment level – is much higher.”
The changes come after Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) was introduced to replace Incapacity Benefit as the benefit entitlement for disabled or ill people.
A lack of skills and experience amongst people who have been claiming Incapacity Benefit mean they are also less likely to find work in areas of high unemployment if they are moved onto Jobseekers Allowance, the CAS report claims.
The charity said that the government is not currently providing enough support to people on ESA to get a job, despite the fact that those who are assessed as able to take on some work will only be eligible for contribution-based ESA for 12 months.
“The principal behind ESA is a good one,” said McPhee. “It is right that those who are willing and able to work are supported to find employment.
“However, there is a significant risk that the migration could lead to worse health and lower incomes for many claimants. In fact, some may face destitution. Any flaws in the migration will impact heavily on many of the most vulnerable people in society.”