Plaid Cymru have called in their election manifesto for the Welsh government to be given responsibility for running the social security system in Wales, which would allow it to ban private companies from carrying out disability benefit assessments.
The policy mirrors what has happened with some benefits in Scotland, with the Scottish government announcing last month that it was banning private firms from carrying out assessments after having some social security powers devolved by Westminster.
Plaid Cymru told Disability News Service (DNS) that such a policy would allow a Welsh government – which is currently Labour-run – to create a not-for-profit arm’s length body that would conduct assessments “with dignity and efficiency”.
This would allow it to ban the “unscrupulous companies” that currently carry out assessments, a reference to the much-criticised outsourcing giants Maximus, Capita and Atos.
A Plaid Cymru spokesman said: “Far too many disabled people have been losing their benefits on the basis of poorly carried out assessments where what they have told assessors, and clear medical evidence, has been totally ignored.
“We would want the future assessment process both fairer and simpler.”
A DNS investigation has found widespread evidence that healthcare professionals employed by private companies on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions were guilty of widespread dishonesty in the reports they compiled after carrying out face-to-face assessments for personal independence payment.
Plaid Cymru also says in its manifesto that it would “support and encourage disabled people into employment without facing threats of sanctions”.
This does not appear to mean scrapping all benefit sanctions, but the introduction of a less punitive regime.
A spokesman said: “With our new social security agency, people with disabilities would not face unjustified sanctions because there would not be set targets or profit motives.
“We would support and encourage disabled people into employment with more comprehensive support plans for potential employment or further training opportunities dependent on benefits claimed.”
Plaid Cymru also pledges in its manifesto to scrap the bedroom tax.
Last year, the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities found that the bedroom tax was one of the policies that had “curtailed the right” of disabled people to choose a place to live independently and to be included in the community, under article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).
But the Plaid Cymru manifesto contains few other policies directly targeted at disabled people.
In the party’s 51-page manifesto, which focuses on the “threats” and “opportunities” of Brexit for Wales, there is just one mention of the words “disabled”, “disability” or “disabilities”, which comes in the social security section.
But the manifesto does include a pledge to address the “social care crisis”, which it says is “due to underinvestment and a perverse historic divide between health and social care”.
It promises a “social care rescue plan which will help people to live independently” and says it will “ensure that health and social care services are seamlessly provided”.
The rescue plan appears to focus strongly on the NHS and the needs of carers.
The party spokesman said it included measures such as “full recognition of the role of Community Hospitals” and increased support for carers, including child carers.
He said it would also mean “working with local health boards to maximise the investment available in local health and social care services, providing services that fit the needs of the individual regardless of whether those services involve social care workers, allied health professionals such as occupational therapists, or doctors and nurses”.
The manifesto also warns that “fundamental human rights are at risk, exposing the weakest, most vulnerable members of our communities”.
It promises to publish a “human rights charter for Wales to defend Welsh people against the backdrop of a Tory government intent on undermining the Human Rights Act”, although it does not say what rights would be included in the charter.
Picture: Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood