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Work and Pensions Committee

Oral evidence: Health assessments for benefits, HC 128

Wednesday 29 June 2022

Ordered by the House of Commons to be published on 29 June 2022.

Watch the meeting

Members present: Sir Stephen Timms (Chair); Debbie Abrahams; Shaun Bailey; Neil Coyle; Steve McCabe; Nigel Mills; Selaine Saxby; Dr Ben Spencer; Chris Stephens; Sir Desmond Swayne.

Questions 425 - 444

Witnesses

I: Ben Macpherson MSP, Minister for Social Security and Local Government, Scottish Government; Matthew Duff, Disability Benefits Policy Manager, Scottish Government; Professor Paul Knight OBE, Chief Officer Health and Social Care Operations, Social Security Scotland.

 

Examination of witnesses

Witnesses: Ben Macpherson, Matthew Duff and Professor Paul Knight.

Q425       Chair: We are grateful to you all for being with us. I wanted to start by just making the point of how appreciative we were of the excellent briefing that we had at Social Security Scotland on Monday morning. Paul was part of that, and thank you very much for that opportunity.

I wonder, Ben, whether I could ask each of you to very briefly introduce yourselves, so that those who are watching know who everybody is.

Ben Macpherson: Thank you, Chair, and good morning, all. It is a pleasure to be with you. I am sorry that I cannot be with you in person. My name is Ben Macpherson MSP, and I am the Minister for Social Security and Local Government in the Scottish Government.

Professor Knight: Good morning, everybody. My name is Paul Knight. I am the chief officer for the health and social care division of Social Security Scotland. I am seconded into that position to set up our practitioners and the structure around that from the NHS.

Matthew Duff: I am Matthew Duff. I am a disability policy manager at the Scottish Government[Inaudible.]

Q426       Chair: Thank you very much. One or two of those Zoom links sound a little bit rough, so let us see how we get on.

I will start with a question for you, Minister. It was explained to us at the briefing on Monday that the eligibility criteria and the rates for adult disability payment are the same as for PIP. Do you expect that to be the case in the long term or do you think that, after an initial period, you may well want to look at some changes to those?

Ben Macpherson: There was some feedback, but I got most of that question that you were interested in the fact that, as things stand, once we introduced adult disability payment, the eligibility criteria are mostly the same as the rates of payment. If that is incorrect, please interrupt me.

Chair: That is quite right.

Ben Macpherson: Just for context for the Committee, the reason we are in this position, as members will no doubt be aware, is because we are currently in the process of launching adult disability payment. We are in phase II, with national rollout commencing on 29 August. There is then a significant process of case transfer from the DWP of all those who are on personal independence payment and disability living allowance for working-age adults in Scotland, and transferring them to the social security system here in Scotland. As we undertake that process, it is very important that we do not create a two-tier system in Scotland, where individuals on a devolved benefit could be in a preferable position than those on a reserved benefit.

However, the safe and secure transfer of people into our system, and the delivery of ADP, is not the limit of our ambitions, which is why my predecessor, Shirley-Anne Somerville, when she was Cabinet Secretary for social security, and both I and Shona Robison, the current Cabinet Secretary, have committed to an independent review of adult disability payment one year after its commencement, with an examination of the mobility aspects of adult disability payment starting this year. The first part will begin this year, looking at mobility criteria, and then there will be a full, independent review in 2023-24 into adult disability payment as a whole.

We will then receive that review and anything that it wants to state to Government, and there will be a process for both Government and Parliament to consider any future changes to adult disability payment thereafter.

Q427       Chair: That is very clear and helpful. So there is the possibility of changes to the rates or criteria, or anything else that might get raised.

Ben Macpherson: Indeed, Chair, there is. Of course, that will need to be considered in a robust and thoughtful way, and also with consideration to the financial position.

Q428       Chair: Understood. I have one other, smaller point. Some people who are refused adult disability payment will appeal, as was explained to us on Monday, to a tribunal. As you know, around two-thirds of PIP tribunal appeals are upheld. What proportion of adult disability payment tribunal appeals would you expect, ballpark, to be upheld under the very different arrangements that you have made for assessing people’s eligibility for the benefit?

Ben Macpherson: I will bring in Professor Knight in a moment, but by way of a first answer to that question before he provides the context from Social Security Scotland internally, it is important to remember that we have put a lot of thought and effort into interaction with and listening to those with lived experience of the current UK Government benefit, and particularly personal independence payment.

We have considered how to, first, make sure that we design a system that is easy for them to access and to relay the information that relates to their disability or health condition, and, secondly, make sure that we have a process where we aim to get the decision right first time. Some of the significant changes that we have made are around, for example, the fact that Social Security Scotland will be responsible for acquiring the formal information to help make a decision on somebody’s application, rather than the client having to be responsible for providing that information, and the fact that we will require formal information from only one source with regard to the whole application, rather than the current position with personal independence payment, where different formal information is required for different parts of an applicant’s submission.

That is quite significant, so we are taking on the onus in terms of making sure that we get that information and, secondly, considering other information provided by the client, whether from carers, friends or family, to assess the application as a whole. In terms of how we will undertake consultations, we are not going to be doing face-to-face DWP-style assessments.

Face-to-face consultations will be available if people want them, but, in the majority so far, consultations have taken place over the phone with an internal health and social care practitioner from Social Security Scotland. It is a compassionate conversation to make sure that we acquire the information that we need to make a decision on somebody’s submission. All of that, we strongly believe, will lead to accurate decisions in the first instance.

In terms of answering your question directly, at this stage, and given the fact that this human rights approach that we are taking is a new and different one, being able to make assumptions about how many cases will then go to tribunal is just something that we cannot do in the current position with the data that we have and at the stage that we are at. However, of course, these are questions that people will quite rightly ask of us and that we will be monitoring ourselves as the rollout of adult disability payment continues and, indeed, as more numbers come into our system through the case transfer process.

Chair: Understood. Let us leave that. That is a helpful answer. Thank you very much.

Q429       Nigel Mills: Again, thanks for the chance to visit on Monday. All of us who were there were very impressed, especially by the new form and the interactive way. I suppose we all genuinely hope that you make this work and have found the Holy Grail of a benefits system that gets the right answer without being too stressful for the claimant.

Can I just ask about the different approach to assessments that you have? One of the many complaints we get is that the assessments are inconsistent, and that the reports contain errors and a load of stuff that is not really relevant to the decision that should be taken. How do you plan to fix that and get a better position? How do you get the right evidence from the right person on a timely basis, so that you can make a decision speedily and accurately?

Ben Macpherson: I am pleased that you liked the way that we have designed our application form, which, of course, can be done on paper, like personal independence payment, but, uniquely to Social Security Scotland, can now be done online, which is a real step forward that we hope will be of advantage for others to consider in terms of potentially improving the UK system going forward. I am very glad to get that feedback.

In terms of the question around assessment—I will bring in Professor Knight this time, and I should have brought him in at the end of my last answer—I talked about how we have designed our system with the input of those with lived experience and how we have listened to people. Something that has been important in that is changing some of the terminology. Some may say that that is semantics, but to people who have had experience of the current system, these things are important.

Our system is designed to try to make sure that we do not have to have consultations in most circumstances, and that these will take place only where required and where more information is needed. They will not be like a DWP-style assessment, but a very different conversation with an in-house health and social care practitioner from Social Security Scotland. Where a consultation takes place, practitioners working for Social Security Scotland are not trained to assess clients. Instead, they are being trained to gather information from clients by speaking with them, starting from a position of trust, as well as then advising the case managers of the information that is acquired. I will bring Professor Knight in at this point to add anything that he believes would be helpful.

Professor Knight: Essentially, we have a system that should be more efficient, effective, robust and client-friendly, for a number of reasons. I will touch a bit on the quality assurance element of your question in a second or two.

The first thing is that, if we need to clarify or expand any information from the original application form, we can go through a process of discussion—when I say “we”, I mean the practitioners—between the case manager and a relevant practitioner. If the primary issue is around physical health, it would be somebody who had a background in that; if it was around mental health, equally it would be somebody with that background. My understanding of the current system is that that is not always the case.

Case managers and practitioners are working in a collaborative process as opposed to being apart, if you like. There is that discussion to see where the drop is and where the element is that is not there. We can raise questions to health or social care providers to see if we can tease that information out, and also go back to the client to see if we can clarify their story to make sure that it is being brought out appropriately and that we have understood it.

The flip side of that is that that is all very well, but is the advice that the practitioner is giving the appropriate and correct advice? In essence, we are working our way through a quality assurance process at the moment, whereby we look at what the practitioner advice will be. There will be peer review. That will come up for a global review for the individual practitioner and across the board. In that way, we want to feed back into the system and learn lessons. This is very similar to the clinical governance processes that many of you might be familiar with from visiting hospital and secondary and primary care settings.

Q430       Dr Spencer: I would just like to put on record my thanks for hosting us at Social Security Scotland on Monday and for the really informative discussions that we had on Monday morning.

As part of the health transformation programme, DWP has been looking at parts of the PIP and ESA/UC application and assessment process, integrating it or streamlining it together. If you could do this in Scotland, would you?

Ben Macpherson: I am pleased that you found your visit informative as well. I appreciate that the question that you have asked is, of course, pertinent, given the Green Paper and the considerations from UK Ministers. As you would expect, this is something that I and relevant ministerial colleagues have discussed with UK Ministers, not just because of the wider question of interest of how we improve the social security system for those with disabilities, but because any changes could well affect the position of what is devolved and what is reserved in the Scotland Act 2016.

The first question is, if the change that you have queried me about was to take place at a UK level, would that require a re-examination of what is devolved in terms of social security under the Scotland Act 2016? It would be very disruptive, because disability benefits are currently devolved.

The question of how the system can be streamlined in the way that is most beneficial for people who are applying is something that we should always ask ourselves, making sure that the IT systems and interfaces work for people and are easy for people to access. That is something that we have put a lot of thought and effort into in terms of delivering devolved disability benefits. We also need to make sure that any change is not disadvantaging people and is moving the system forward in a way that supports people in order for them to flourish and be supported in the way that we should all want to.

Q431       Dr Spencer: I am going to press you a bit. Is there a danger, by bringing in the ADP system, if there is a streamlining in England, for example, that divergence in Scotland would mean that applicants face a more onerous system? How would you try to mitigate that risk if it happened?

Ben Macpherson: I talked earlier about our independent review of adult disability. The remit of that will, of course, be partly determined by those who are undertaking the review, because we want it to have that independence. As we set the scope as Ministers, how people access adult disability payment will always be a question that we will consider and one that has been through the process since the passing of the Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018.

How we make sure that we meet our commitments in the law to accessibility is very significant to us, and part of what we have engaged our experience panels on, which is over 2,000 individuals with lived experience who have told us about their issues and concerns with the current system and their ideas for how to improve it. Accessibility is always a key issue and will continue to be.

The form that we have created, in terms of it being available online, if people wish to apply in that way, but also the way that it has been considered to make sure that we get the information that is required in the least onerous way from people, is a step forward.

In terms of hypotheticals on whether the position with ESA changes at a UK level, these are, of course, issues that we would have to continue to consider with regard to ADP. I should say that having a constructive and open dialogue with UK Ministers is very important in this process, where, at the moment, we are in a joint programme of the devolution of social security in Scotland. Once case transfer is complete, we will also be in a position where we will need to be constructive and collaborative where there are overlaps between the devolved system and the reserved system, and both sets of Ministers are, I can say with good faith, considerate of that. I hope that that remains the case.

Q432       Chris Stephens: Can I join colleagues in thanking Social Security Scotland for hosting us in the centre of the universe, Glasgow?

Minister, can you tell me what your working relationship has been with the Department for Work and Pensions and what that has been like during the development of adult disability payment? How do you envisage it continuing in the future?

Ben Macpherson: As I have just outlined, it is an important relationship between both Governments and one where intergovernmental dialogue and consideration of each other’s positions is really important. I have been in post since May 2021 and I have to say that my working relationship with Minister Chloe Smith is very good. I am very grateful for that and I hope that we can continue in that collaborative manner, and indeed with Scotland Office Ministers as well.

As I said, it is a joint programme. We are all responsible for it and for making it work under the Scotland Act 2016. I am also grateful for some of the input and engagement from the Secretary of State. As Scottish Ministers, we have not met the Secretary of State yet, but I hope that that is something that can change. We certainly have open dialogue and it is in our interests to have a collaborative approach.

Q433       Chris Stephens: The UK Government published a plan this week to override Welsh legislation and lift a Senedd ban on the use of agency workers in the Welsh public sector. Are there any concerns about similar action being taken in the future that would impact on Scotland’s social security system?

Ben Macpherson: We have not raised that with UK Ministers up to this point. We are grateful for the input that agency workers have made and continue to make to the delivery of devolved social security benefits. I should say that, as we are recruiting and continuing to scale up our staffing numbers ahead of ADP national rollout at the end of August, and also as we continue to roll out the remaining devolved benefits and to grow the headcount and the ability to deliver what we need to do in Social Security Scotland, agency workers have played an important part in that. We are moving towards more and more full-time and part-time secure positions employed directly by the agency, but where agency workers continue to play a part in devolved social security benefit delivery, we are grateful to them for that and respect the work that they do.

Q434       Chris Stephens: Tell us about how you engaged with disabled people in developing adult disability payment.

Ben Macpherson: That is such an important question, because how we have come to deliver what we are delivering in terms of disability benefits generally, including child disability payment and others, has all derived from the fact that, in the 2018 Act, when I sat on the equivalent of your Committee as a backbencher in the Scottish Parliament and took that Act through with colleagues from all parties—and it was unanimously passed by the Parliament in 2018—there were and are very strong commitments in that Act to our principle of delivering with dignity, fairness and respect, delivering with a human rights approach, and viewing social security as an investment in Scotland for the benefit of all of us. Any of us, and people who we might know, might need it someday.

All of that also flows into the fact that we are so determined, because the Bill was so well informed by those with lived experience and their stakeholders, to make sure that that engagement continues as we deliver the benefits. We set up our experience panels, which is around 2,400 individuals with lived experience, to make sure that they were part of our listening process for designing the benefits, but also so that we can continue to engage with them on the way that the benefits are being delivered and with the feedback from their experience so far.

We also engage with a range of stakeholders, in terms of those who come together to provide a collective way and also individually—for example, on one specific condition. I have met the MS Society in Scotland, for example, several times about its considerations on adult disability payment. There has been significant engagement, listening to those with lived experience, and there will continue to be that as we move forward, because it is such an important part of getting this right.

Q435       Chris Stephens: You will be aware, Minister, that the UK national disability strategy was ruled unlawful in the High Court in January, due to inadequate consultation with disabled people, although we should note that leave to appeal has been sought. What plans do you have for ongoing engagement with disabled people in Scotland, and how are you ensuring that they meet legal requirements?

Ben Macpherson: I will bring in Mr Duff in a moment, if the technical issues have been resolved. As I have outlined, Mr Stephens, the engagement that we have with our experience panels is extremely important in terms of our ongoing considerations around the design and delivery of our benefits. Also, any regulations that we are laying in the Scottish Parliament need to go through SCoSS, which was set up under the 2018 Act in order to provide expert analysis on our regulations in order to make sure that we are getting that input. We receive recommendations from it in our draft regulations, which are extremely helpful, and we are extremely grateful for that, because it does allow us to have that input for improving the regulations and making sure that they are as beneficial as they can be for disabled people and those who are accessing our services.

Matthew, do you want to come in and say a little bit more about that, if there is anything that you would like to add?

Matthew Duff: I do not have too much to add to that. I would just say that, with every stage of policy development, we have had extensive engagement with stakeholders, with people with lived experience and with people who have experience of working in the PIP system. That will continue going forward. We have an expert advisory group as well, who we work very closely with. We have accepted the vast majority of its recommendations throughout policy development.

As we continue to develop policy going forward, that relationship will continue, and we will continue to get that. It is also informed by people with lived experience. I would just really emphasise the point that, with everything that we have done, we have had that extensive engagement, as well as user research in terms of testing all our systems with people who have experience of the social security system and with our stakeholder organisations and welfare rights advisers. That range of engagement has been really important alongside those formal public consultations as well.

Q436       Chris Stephens: Minister, moving on to spending and financial implications, what are the fiscal implications for the Scottish Government from adult disability payment? Have you seen or do you expect to see an increase in costs?

Ben Macpherson: The questions that Mr Stephens raises are very important with regard to the fiscal framework. As colleagues will know, what the Scottish Government receive for payment of disability benefits is related to the fiscal framework and what would have been spent in Scotland by the DWP on PIP and disability living allowance. Any changes that we make have a fiscal implication on the Scottish Government, and we have to seek those resources from elsewhere in our constrained budget, with limited taxation powers and very limited borrowing powers.

The Scottish Fiscal Commission, which makes projections on behalf of the Scottish Government and its policy decisions for the Cabinet Secretary for finance, has, as you may be aware, indicated that, by 2026-27, around £500 million more will be required to be spent on disability benefits in Scotland, because of some of the changes that we have made. That demonstrates the changes that we have made, in that we are being proactive about encouraging people to claim benefits if they are entitled, helping them to do so by making sure that our system is accessible, and providing our local delivery teams in our 32 local authority areas across the country to support people with their applications.

Our benefit take-up strategy involves widespread engagement with statutory organisations and third-sector partners to promote our benefits in as many ways as we can in order to make sure that people access the support. That whole approach to seeing social security as an investment and encouraging people to access it will create more applications.

Also, we have made changes to adult disability payment, because we are taking this person-centred approach, where we take applications on the basis of trustthat people are applying in good faith, because they need support. Our processes are robust and some people will not be successful in applications, but where people do have a disability or health condition, we want them to get the support that they are entitled to.

The fact that our processes are about how we get the information to make an accurate decision on whether they meet the eligibility criteria will encourage people to apply but also, as the Scottish Fiscal Commission has envisaged, lead to successful applications. Our determination to get decisions right first time will, we hope, avoid the amount of appeals and redeterminations that there are in the UK system, of which, as has already been alluded to, two-thirds end up being successful.

Q437       Chris Stephens: Are there any concerns or anxiety about the current level of inflation and what that might mean in terms of funding?

Ben Macpherson: This is a concern for us all, of course, and something that, as you would expect, we have had engagement on with UK DWP Ministers and Finance Ministers. Where we have had flexibility in our system, I made a decision in the spring to increase eight of our devolved benefits by 6% rather than the 3.1% CPI of September last year, so that has made a difference.

When it comes to the disability benefitsbecause, as I talked about earlier, we must not create a two-tier system in Scotlandwe would increase our adult disability and child disability payment only when there is increase in personal independence payment and disability living allowance at a UK level. I was pleased to see UK Government commit to that increase from next year, and the additional payments that they are making. UK Government may still need to make more additional payments as the pressures of the winter and the high cost of living issues continue to exacerbate. I welcome the action that they have taken so far, but would encourage them to look to do more. Of course, that will have an effect on the fiscal framework, within which we will then also deliver any corresponding increases to adult disability payment and child disability payment.

Q438       Chris Stephens: As a final question, given that assessments have been done in-house, how much does social security expect to spend on running costs?

Ben Macpherson: At the moment, we are in a key stage of developing Social Security Scotland, which, of course, has been established pretty much from scratch since 2018 and is on a trajectory to deliver significantly more in the years ahead. That has involved appropriate investment to make sure that we have the headcount, the systems and the proper real estate—all the different elements that you need in order to deliver the service that we want. That is investment that we are making not just for the here and now but to make sure that we have an institution that is strong and agile for decades to come.

The trajectory is that we will spend around 5% to 6% of the allocation of funding for social security on internal costs, which is equivalent, in general terms, to the DWP, so we are looking at the same trajectory for cost for the delivery of the service that the DWP has.

Paul, I do not know if you want to add anything on the fact that we are delivering, in house, health and social care practitioners, and not paying the private sector to undertake health assessments. That was a key commitment in the process of the Bill passing in 2018, and something that has been warmly welcomed.

Chair: Very briefly, if you would, given that the clock is ticking.

Professor Knight: I would only add to the Minister’s comments that our experience so far is that our system allows a more flexible approach to speaking to clients. In other words, if we have a consultation, it takes as long as it takes, which is not the appointment process in the current type of environment of the DWP. We feel that we get far better information and, therefore, a more accurate decision-making process. Time will tell.

Q439       Debbie Abrahams: I just want to ask you about your evaluation plans in relation to the rollout of adult disability payment this summer. Could you tell us a little in terms of what you are intending to do, who will be involved, the methods that you will use and so on?

Ben Macpherson: How we continue to evaluate ourselves and our performance has, of course, been a constant point of emphasis for Ministers and the agency since we began delivering devolved benefits here in Scotland. I will bring in Matthew shortly to talk about evaluation and some of the processes in that regard.

I got the impression that there was a slight allusion there to the independent review. Am I correct in interpreting that or were you not asking about that?

Q440       Debbie Abrahams: I am a former academic and very interested in how you are going to measure your success. In your response, I wonder if you would be able to say if you are going to look, for example, at departmental benefits that will not necessarily be Social Security Scotland. Will you be looking, for example, at the potential change in demand of health and social care services?

Ben Macpherson: The preventative spend agenda has been at the heart of Scottish Government policy delivery since the Christie report of 2010, and how we align policy to have a preventative effect is something that we are always mindful of. As an academic, you will be aware that it is something that is quite difficult to measure in the round, but what we are focused on is, absolutely, evaluating how the system that we are designing and delivering has a wider effect on people’s ability to flourish in their own lives and to contribute to communities and society.

One distinctive change that we have made, and which is a specific but important one, is that, a number of months ago, I made the decision that, when we start to undertake reviews of adult disability payment—so once case transfer has happened and people in our system, and we begin a review, which we intend to be more light-touch than they are in the DWP system as well as accurate—if somebody has a condition of high need and a disability that is unlikely to change, we will be seeking to provide them with indefinite awards, whereby they will not need to be reviewed again in the future.

If they believe that their condition has changed and want us to reconsider their position, they can come to us and ask for that. If they do not, we will continue to pay their award. That was really welcomed by the disability community in Scotland and is something on which we were glad to make that decision.

Q441       Debbie Abrahams: I am conscious of time, but can I very quickly ask the other panel members for their comments, specifically on what you are going to do, what your evaluation criteria are, when you are going to do it and who is going to be involved?

Matthew Duff: Evaluation is really important. We are collecting data on decisions and determinations that are made on entitlement, the time it takes to make that determination and the number of consultations. All that data is being collected and will be key to looking at this service again when it comes to the review and we publish those high-level statistics. In terms of qualitative data through client surveys across social security and specific to adult disability payment, we collect some of that feedback for those who have gone through the process specifically. It is very important and a lot of energy is being expended on getting that.

Professor Knight: If I may just give you a very specific example, the outcome of our special rules for terminal illness clients is being looked at in a project led by some of our public health colleagues to see whether the uptake, the change and the criteria have been of specific benefit. The more people taking it up, the better the outcomes for them. That is a very specific academic project that is currently kicking off.

Debbie Abrahams: There are special health economics methods that I am sure you will be able to make use of.

Q442       Chair: Finally, can I just go back to the question that I started with about appeals? I completely accept the point that you made to us that it is very early days to know how many people are going to appeal, but specifically on the point about how many or what proportion of appeals you might expect to be upheld, we got the impression in our discussion on Monday that Social Security Scotland is expecting it to be a great deal less than the two-thirds that are upheld at the moment. I wonder whether any of you have any thoughts about what you hope the level would be or where we might be heading on that.

Ben Macpherson: Our determination would be for as few appeals as possible, and making accurate decisions in the first instance. I will bring in Professor Knight in a moment to add anything that he wishes to, but I would just put on record that one of the things that we are doing differently is that, if people are in a situation where their case has been reviewed and the outcome is to either reduce or end their award, we are providing something called short-term assistance—and this was a big point of emphasis during the process of our 2018 Act—so that people continue to receive their benefit and have that security as they challenge a decision. That is an important additional support in a time of vulnerability, while making sure that people feel empowered to challenge our decision if they wish to.

Professor Knight, I do not know if you want to add anything specifically on the Chair’s question.

Professor Knight: It is a difficult one, Sir Stephen.

Chair: If you are not able to, that is fine. I just wondered whether you might have an ambition there.

Q443       Dr Spencer: With regard to the short-term assistance payment that people can apply for when going for appeals, is there a danger that, essentially, this means that everyone will appeal because it incentivises the appeal process? The two options are, “I have a reduction in money or I appeal. I may win or lose, but I get support while that process goes on”. Effectively, the default option would be to appeal.

Ben Macpherson: I appreciate the question, Dr Spencer. It comes down to some of the core philosophical discussions and points of debate that we had during the process of the 2018 Act. Essentially, this aspect is about making sure that, if somebody is in a review situation, we put ourselves in their shoes. They have relied on the support for some time and, suddenly, through an accurate and robust review process on the eligibility, their support is either reduced or ended, which they feel is unfair.

We should all believe that a social security system is important to help people in times of difficulty and vulnerability, providing short-term assistance in order to both enable and support people through a process of challenging Government. While there may be instances where people react in a way that you have stipulated, it is the right thing to do overall in order to make sure that people feel both empowered and supported at any time.

Q444       Dr Spencer: I am sorry, but that does not make sense. If the award has said that the money should be reduced, you are just implying that the short-term assistance is the right thing to do in terms of supporting them going forward. Why would the reward be reduced in the first place if that is the problem?

Ben Macpherson: The short-term assistance would be available as the appeal was undertaken. Once it was concluded, and if it was concluded that Social Security Scotland’s decision was correct and that the award should be reduced or ended, then short-term assistance would cease at the end of that period of appeal.

Through that process of an individual challenging a decision and being in a period where their support may be ending, the view of the Parliament—and remember that this was not the view of the Government but of the Parliament undertaken in the process of the 2018 Act—was that it was the right thing to do to support people through a process in which their situation might be changing and to empower them to be supported through an appeal process.

It is also part of our wider support for people to access and engage with the system. We are investing £20 million in an independent advocacy service, which I know is something that the UK Government are also looking at. These things are important in order to empower people to take on the system.

Chair: Thank you very much indeed. Thank you, all three of you, for your answers to our questions. As I am sure you will have gathered, the Committee will be very interested to follow your experience with adult disability payment over the next one, two or three years. Thank you very much again for the briefing that we had on Monday and for the information that you have all given us today, which has been very helpful.