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Concerns over advocacy reforms

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The Scottish Independent Advocacy Alliance has said it has significant concerns over tendering for the new social security system

Concerns have been raised over plans to reform vital support for the vulnerable.

The Scottish Independent Advocacy Alliance (SIAA) has raised significant concerns about the Scottish Government’s tendering process for independent advocacy services to support disabled people claim entitlements from Social Security Scotland.

Independent advocacy aims to safeguard people who are vulnerable and discriminated against or whom services find difficult to serve; empower people who need a stronger voice by enabling them to express their own needs and make their own decisions: and enable people to gain access to information, explore and understand their options, and to make their views and wishes known.

The Scottish Government is undertaking a procurement exercise for the commissioning of independent advocacy for the new social security system, which is due to commence on 1 June.

SIAA has said it is concerned that the tender process will create a service with unnecessary barriers and costs, preventing some of Scotland’s most marginalised and vulnerable people from accessing the support to which they are entitled.

In a letter to the Cabinet Secretary for Social Security and Older People, Shirley-Anne Somerville, SIAA outlined a number of reasons why it believes the Scottish Government’s proposed model is poorly conceived and why this will have a detrimental impact on the quality and quantity of independent advocacy provided.

Shaben Begum MBE, director of SIAA, said: “We are particularly concerned about the Scottish Government’s decision not to allow this £5 million contract to be exempted from VAT, meaning that upwards of £750,000 is instantly lost from frontline independent advocacy services. The spot purchase design is also hugely concerning.

“Ultimately, our members decided that it placed too much risk on local providers and felt unable to pursue their bid. As a result, all their knowledge, expertise, local connections and existing relationships with service users will be lost to the new system”.

Gordon Thomson, chair of SIAA’s board, said: “Our members have been delivering independent advocacy services across Scotland for almost 30 years - that’s a huge amount of evidence about what works and what doesn’t work. Consequently, we are asking the Scottish Government to withdraw the tender and co-design a better service model alongside SIAA and other key stakeholders.

“This is the only way we can make sure that we deliver an independent advocacy system that works alongside Social Security Scotland to enhance the participation of disabled people, improve benefit take-up and maximise incomes.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We are using our new social security powers to put dignity, fairness and respect at the heart of the Scottish benefits system. This includes creating this innovative national advocacy service - unique in the UK - to help disabled people access the financial support they are entitled to.

“People have repeatedly told us that the UK Government’s disability benefits system does not work for them, which is why we are building a fair and transparent social security system that works for people, not against them.

“Comprehensive engagement with a range of organisations and a review of funding options – including a model based on grant allocations - identified a single service provider as the most efficient and best value way to deliver consistent independent advocacy to disabled people across Scotland.”



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