'Real fear' of welfare reform amongst disabled

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Organisations representing disabled people have told MSPs there "is a real fear" of the forthcoming change from Disability Living Allowance (DLA) to Personal Independence Payment (PIP) as a result of UK government welfare reform.

The Welfare Reform Committee was taking evidence on the regulations the Scottish government wants to introduce to allow passported benefits like the Blue Badge and concessionary travel to continue with the move from DLA to PIP.

The regulations are found in the The Welfare Reform (Consequential Amendments) (Scotland) Regulations 2013 (SSI 2013/65) and only pertain to people from the pilot area around Manchester moving to Scotland, but they will be the basis of the Scotland-wide regulations to come later.

According to Capability Scotland those who claim DLA at the moment are not likely to be reassessed for PIP until October 2015 at the earliest.

However, there are likely to be some exceptions.

Bill Scott from Inclusion Scotland said his organisation had estimated, using Department of Work and Pensions projections, that over 80,000 working age disabled people in Scotland would lose either some or all of the mobility allowance that they would otherwise have been entitled to.

The witnesses broadly welcomed or were happy with the Scottish government's regulations to protect the passported benefits, but also expressed some concerns.

Mr Scott said changes to PIP Assessment criteria could breach their human rights and called for a reinstatement of the 50m safe walking distance eligibility criteria which the DWP reduced to 20m last December.

He also called for the Scottish government to extend future automatic entitlement to the National Concessionary Travel Scheme to all those who have successfully qualified for the new Blue Badge Scheme.

Lynn Williams from the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations said losing automatic entitlement to mobility payments, the Blue Badge or concessionary travel could threaten a disabled person's ability to contribute to society and the cumulative impact of welfare reforms on families "will pretty much bring them to breaking point".

Ms Williams said she welcomed the Scottish government effort to try to mitigate what "is frankly a horrendous situation" but called for the regulations to be reviewed and for more consultation with the Welfare Reform Scrutiny Group on the measures taken.

Jan Savage from ENABLE Scotland expressed concerns about the complexity of the regulations, saying people were getting "bombarded with such a lot of change, even skilled staff members were overwhelmed" and called for efforts to raise awareness of the changes.

Richard Gass from Rights Advice Scotland said the reforms had been "overambitious" and the timetable for the changes was "too tight".

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