Two charities have called on the Scottish Government to scrap a “cruel” disability assessment rule
Scottish health charities are pushing for the government to change direction in their plans over social security.
A petition with over 3,000 signatures is calling for the end of a "cruel" benefits criteria in Scotland is being considered by a parliamentary committee.
MS Society Scotland and the Neurological Alliance of Scotland have co-signed an open letter asking the Citizen Participation and Public Petition Committee of the Scottish Parliament to press the Government to scrap the 20m rule, which the organisations say is unpopular and unfair.
As it stands the new Scottish social security system, Adult Disability Payment (ADP), will retain the 20-metre-rule, which states that people with disabilities who can walk one step over that distance do not qualify for the higher rate of mobility support. As a result of this rule, thousands have lost access to cars, been unable to work, seen their health deteriorate and been forced to face stressful and lengthy appeals to get their benefits reinstated.
In draft regulations published late last year the Scottish Government recognised the current assessment criteria are unfair and promised to review them in 2023 once they have been administering ADP for a year. The Government says this is to ensure that the transition of powers is made safely and securely.
The petition, created by MS Society Scotland and signed by thousands, highlights the strength of feeling against this rule for people affected by long term conditions like MS.
ADP is due to begin taking over from Personal Independence Payment (PIP) in 2022 with roll-out planned to be completed in 2025.
Morna Simpkins, MS Society Scotland director, said: “For years the 20-metre-rule has needlessly punished people living with fluctuating and long-term conditions. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
“We have an opportunity to build a world-leading social security system and there are many parts of the incoming system that take us closer to that goal.
“However this new benefit will not deliver the support people with disabilities in Scotland need until it moves away from baseless and inappropriate eligibility criteria like the 20-metre-rule.
“The Scottish Government has already recognised the rule is not fit for purpose and we want to see it discussed in parliament so that people with disabilities don’t continue to lose out on vital support.
“There is still time to ensure that people with disabilities don’t need to face a system that places unnecessary barriers between them and the support they need.”
David Trotter (pictured above) from Dalkeith was diagnosed with MS in 2004 following a relapse where he lost power in his right arm and leg, and has used a crutch to aid his mobility since.
He said: “The 20-metre-rule first appeared for me when I had to apply for PIP because I was on DLA before and that was 50 metres. I’d never given it any thought because I knew I definitely couldn’t get that far.
“That was in 2015 and when I showed up to the assessment they said that I’d walked through the car park and then from the reception area to the meeting room. But there was no question of whether I could do that again straight away which I couldn’t have – that’s why I sat down in the reception area – or about how much pain I was in.
“I find I can usually walk about 10 steps. My body is in constant pain but there’s extra pain I can attribute to walking – taking steps and having my full weight go through my legs even with the use of the crutch.
“As a result I lost the higher rate mobility payment and I was without a car for five or six months in the end.
“I couldn’t go to work at that point as I had no way of getting to the bus stop. It ruled out anything I might have done. I was essentially housebound for those months.
“I worked with a local welfare rights group who helped me appeal and, once I’d spoken to a panel which included a doctor, they considered for five minutes and changed the decision.
“So it was five months of no work, no socialising, no ability to get to the shop and just five minutes to turn around and say they’d made the wrong decision.
“Putting a number like 20 metres on it doesn’t really mean much, it all depends on where you live.
“But obviously there aren’t going to be many people who are equidistant from all the amenities they need.
“Walking any distance will cause problems for me. If you push yourself and you start to get tired it’s already too late. There are knock-on effects and that extends to other symptoms as well.
“Having access to a car makes all the difference.
“If I lost the support that enables me to have a car I would instantly be back where I was before – relying on friends and family. That has a mental impact for me as I like to limit the effect MS has on me and relying on others is something I don’t like to do.
“The 20-metre-rule has been around for a number of years now and we’ve been pointing out the problems since the very start but nothing has changed.
“This rule exists to weed out people who don’t need support but what it actually does is punish the overwhelmingly vast majority who need it.
“I know people who need the support who’ve simply given up because they couldn’t fight anymore. I hope that retaining this criteria in the new system doesn’t lead to a similar situation.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government’s Adult Disability Payment will replace the UK Government’s Personal Independence Payment in 2022.
“The new process will be completely different from the UK Government’s system, with a move away from intrusive assessments and a move away from the need to ‘prove’ illness or disability.
“We aim to get the decision right from the first assessment and are working with those with lived experience to ensure this is the case.”