Scottish independence: A lifeboat for disabled people drowning in a sea of cuts


theblogopinionOn Tuesday, the Scottish government published it’s white paper on independence, Scotland’s Future. Despite being 670 pages long, not half an hour had passed before former Labour chancellor Alistair Darling appeared on our screens informing us that it contained “nothing new”.

He’s wrong.

The white paper promises to the people of an independent Scotland a benefit system that would provide: “A standard of living that ensures dignity and enables participation in society, enabling people who can work to move into employment while supporting people who can’t work to participate in society as fully as possible.”

Furthermore, it promises a written constitution that would embed our fundamental human, economic and social rights and see to it that these remain paramount in the future working of Scotland’s parliament, government and public institutions.

It states that the Scottish government’s immediate priority would be to reverse the most damaging and counter-productive of the UK welfare changes. This would include abolishing the role of Atos Healthcare. Scotland’s social security system – including health assessments – would be run and administered exclusively by the public sector. There would be an urgent review of the disability assessment regime.

The white paper notes that the Department for Work and Pensions/Atos work capability assessment (WCA) has been reviewed four times and has lost all credibility. It notes that the rollout of the new personal independence payment (PIP) – using the same totally discredited, underlying processes as the WCA – will cause even greater hardship for disabled people, with a minimum of 20 per cent set to lose their entitlement to disability living allowance, owing to the new, much harsher criteria.

The Scottish government has promised: “In designing the most appropriate future delivery arrangements, we will ensure that the people most directly affected by the system of welfare support, those in receipt of benefits, will play a central role in its design.”

The “bedroom tax” would be abolished within the first year of an independent parliament. Housing benefit would also be restored as a separate benefit, while direct payments to social landlords would be maintained – as in the present system – to protect the poorest and most vulnerable tenants.

The further roll-out of universal credit and PIP in Scotland would be halted in its tracks in the event of a “yes” vote. The Scottish government rejects these schemes in their entirety as not fit for a Scottish social security system worthy of the name.

The Scottish government also stated that there would be an urgent “review of the conditionality and sanctions regime, to establish an approach that is proportionate and ethical, and that avoids excessive or blanket measures which penalise those looking for work”.

The Labour party have promised us Tory spending plans until 2017 and have been receiving advice from the Fabian Society on cutting a further £5 billion by extending disability cuts (via re-assessments) to pensioners eligible for attendance allowance. Echoing the Tory narrative, the Scottish Labour leader, Johann Lamont, has spoken publicly of Scotland as the only “something for nothing” country in Europe. Labour remain steadfastly committed to the path of cuts and austerity, while saying precious little about how they will reform the taxation system to eliminate the rampant corporate and high net worth tax avoidance that is depriving the UK of up to £120 billion a year. They talk incessantly about making “tough choices”.

We cannot and do not purport to speak for all of our fellow disabled Scots in this matter, but for a very great mass of us, next year’s referendum presents us with no “tough choice” at all.

We want to live.

The recommendations of the Scottish government’s expert working group on independence and welfare reform will be available well in advance of the referendum in order to further inform this debate.

John McArdle is co-founder of Black Triangle