Yesterday, in the Scottish Parliament, I ruled out the use of private companies in assessing people for the benefits that will be delivered under Scotland’s new social security system.
This was a proud moment. Profit should never ever be a motive in these important assessments and I wanted to let the people who will be relying on benefits know that I had listened to them and was making a clear decision on this issue.
In the past 11 months, I have learned a great deal about how the Tories have administered the Personal Independence Payments (PIP) assessment system. Over and over again, I heard personal experiences of so very many who have found this to be one of the most difficult, distressing and demeaning aspects of their whole experience. It is clear the Tories system, like so many of their policies, is failing the people of Scotland.
This clear statement of policy was backed by a range of important organisations including Child Poverty Action Group Scotland, Poverty Alliance, Inclusion Scotland, and SCVO who stated “Quite apart from delivering terrible value for money, private companies currently involved in DWP assessments have breached human rights and, frankly, made life hell for many of Scotland’s most vulnerable people”.
I couldn’t agree more. What’s worse is that companies are earning massive profits from doing these assessments – something we could not condone in our own social security system. The Tories spent £700 million on the five year UK contract for PIP assessments alone. That is not just unacceptable it’s a shocking waste of public funds.
When it comes to decisions for assessing people’s health and eligibility, two principles will always be held dear – firstly that our system is based on fairness, dignity and respect – and secondly that it will not have any profit motive.
Working closely with our Experience Panels and Expert Advisory Group and with the health and social care sector, we will design a better system. One that from application to assessment ensures we get our first and subsequent decisions right from the start.
The SNP government will build a social security system that will stand both the test of time and the test of trust from the people of Scotland.
Jeane Freeman is the Social Security Minister. This article originally appeared in the National.