This week has seen Tory MSP Jeremy Balfour withdraw an amendment he had tabled to the Social Security Bill within which he called for terminally ill patients to have their benefit entitlement reassessed if they survived for over three years. The Lothian MSP has faced significant criticism by politicians across the spectrum including Labour, SNP, Greens and Liberal Democrats who question his judgment in laying the amendment in the first place.
Balfour’s amendment sought to force Scottish ministers to revisit benefit entitlement for those patients who were diagnosed with a condition or disease which doctors believe will claim their lives within a short period of time. The amendment read: “At the end of a period of three years beginning with the day on which the individual applied for such assistance, the individual is still living, the Scottish ministers must review the individual’s entitlement to assistance.” (Page 24, Point 69 on 1st Marshalled List of Amendments for Stage 2 – https://rebrand.ly/8c25)
Kezia Dugdale the former leader of Scottish Labour branded Balfour’s amendment ‘disgusting’ in a piece she wrote for the Daily Record and called on Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson to state if she backs Jeremy Balfour. In the article, Kezia said: “Terminally-ill people deserve support and care – not cruel assessments to check if they are still dying.”
It’ll come as no shock or surprise to anyone that many disabled and chronically ill people (and those who support them) feel worn down and are in a state of perpetual fear and alarm over the many years of unrelenting cruel, degrading and punishing benefit applications, medicals, reassessments and appeals all to secure financial assistance in order to meet the additional expenditure resulting from their condition(s). This is but the latest chapter in the Tory playbook aimed at steadily chipping away at the moral fabric of our communities.
A recent story in the Independent highlighted that the public has made over 300,000 benefit fraud tip-offs over the past two years and over 87% were closed after little or no evidence of fraud was found. In 2016 it was reported by the Guardian that out of a million fraud tips made by the public, over 890,000 (that’s over 85%) were closed by the DWP due to no fraud has taken place. It is clear that the ‘benefit scrounger’ and ‘workshy malingerer’ narratives regurgitated by the Tories are having a negative impact on society. The Tories are pitching communities against each other and empowering and encouraging neighbours to ‘do their bit’ by spying on each other and reporting any anomalies to HQ.
In Scotland, we have a unique opportunity with the planned transfer of powers to Holyrood over PIP, carers allowance and a number of other social security benefits and programmes. We have an opportunity to design a new social security system within a rights-based framework which will put the recipient and their needs at its core. The Social Security Minister Jeane Freeman has been working from the off to include as many agencies, carers and welfare recipients in the design of the new regime as possible. We have all been encouraged to feed-in to the research and work being carried out and I myself have joined one of the experience panels which is concerned with designing this new system to be fit for purpose, fair and transparent and a system which delivers real and measured support to chronically ill and disabled people and those who care for or look after us. You can read more about the work of the experience panels at http://allequal.xyz/socpanels.
Ruth Davidson the leader of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party (to give it its full name) goes to great lengths to try to convince the Scottish electorate that the party she leads is a unique and distinct party which responds to the needs and wants of Scottish society. Despite claims that she is a proud conservative on a mission to reignite conservative values in Scotland, during elections in Scotland her own party campaign materials were markedly light on the use of the words ‘conservative party’. We were told that the new contingent of Scottish Tory MP’s would stand up for Scotland but to date, we’ve seen the exact opposite.
I can say with a great degree of certainty that majority of us would welcome the fact that our terminally ill loved one was able to spend longer with us than initially expected and this type of move by the Tories to strip benefits from people at the very time they are in most need is cruel and dehumanising and has absolutely no place in a modern and vibrant Scotland. I am glad that Balfour has withdrawn his amendment but feel incredibly concerned that he felt it was appropriate to table it in the first place!
What do you think about this amendment and the fact that the Tory spokesperson on Social Security and Disability tabled it in the first place? Share your thoughts below.