Angela Constance should respect the providers of benefits

Angela Constance should respect the providers of benefits

by Eben Wilson
article from Wednesday 12, October, 2016

IT IS REPORTED that Angela Constance believes the Personal Independence Payment system – which replaces Disability Benefit – needs “radical reform”. The basis for this appears to be that two-thirds of claimants challenging awards are successful; something which the minister believes is not helping to treat them with dignity and respect. 

There’s an element of double-think in this. 

PIPs were brought into being because there was a high-handed top-down approach being used by the Department of Work and Pensions on the provision of benefits for the disabled and incapacitated. The PIP was to give more control over special support money to individuals, so that they could tailor best value from it. That, to me, was treating them with respect

The change was introduced following a clamp down on a huge rise in incapacity benefits being paid as job seeker’s allowance was made less easy to obtain. That is, while PIPs were on offer, they were not going to be offered too easily. That, to me, treats taxpayers with respect. 

Few people remember that when assessment of welfare for work began, thousands of benefits claimants simply did not turn up for their interviews. Shortly afterwards, unemployment figures began falling. There has to be a strong suspicion that many on welfare were not treating those who paid the taxes that supported them with respect.

In our land of free money trees, the battle over free lunches is always going to be noisy. It is made doubly so when politicians are able to use vague terms like dignity and respect in way that reflects a priority for vote purchasing over policy practicalities.

It's almost certain that what the Scottish Government means by offering dignity and respect is that they take back complete control over all welfare payments and design a system which serves their political interests with little respect for taxpayers. 

The problem with PIPs is not that they are assessed carefully, but that they are not linked in any way to a system of contributions – where self-reliant individuals are allowed to judge the dignity and respect they are offering to those in need against the costs of their decency in giving. Instead, all welfare is offered through a vast monolithic tax pot replete with adverse and contradictory incentives for recipients, taxpayers and administrators alike. In short it is a mess. 

The way to sort out PIPs is to expand them to become a guaranteed income entitlement for every individual, but held within a contributory system where the cost of accepting welfare is linked to the cost of thrift to support personal benefits. 

It is worth mentioning that most European Union countries use some form of social insurance that follows this principle. Should the “single market” develop into a proper single market for services and Scotland somehow become a member on its own it is very likely that, in time, it will be obligated to allow an opt out from our monolithic system for individuals preferring to adopt the more sustainable social insurance model.

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