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Support for disabled people is essential. But can we please get it right?

by Stephanie Millar, CAS social policy manager.

This article was first published in the Herald on 1 April 2023.

A year ago, I wrote my first piece here – an opinion on the new Adult Disability Payment (ADP) which was to replace Personal Independence Payment (PIP) for disabled adults in Scotland.

While I welcomed the proposed changes, which were intended to ensure a more person-centred benefit with a simpler application process, I ended it with some cynicism, saying that improving the application process but keeping the same assessment rules would still cause distress and financial harm to many disabled people.  

My main concern was that the criteria used to assess a person’s mobility in PIP were being transferred wholesale to ADP. These criteria define a person’s ability to get around, either through the act of walking or the ability to plan and carry out a journey. The test for the act of walking has long been a contentious one for us as it is a simple measurement of distance, a mere 20 metres.  

We would like to see a disability benefit that is needs-led, one that is more reflective of a social and human rights model. This will require adopting a quite different approach to assessing mobility. At the moment the mobility criteria for walking are based on a purely functional assessment: it measures a person’s ability to walk a very short distance. It fails to recognise that walking has a purpose. We walk to the shops, to work, to visit family. It fails to recognise that there are barriers to someone’s ability to walk that are external to their impairment. We walk over a range of terrain, gradients, indoors and outdoors, in varying conditions – e.g. weather, crowds etc.  

ADP is an extra-costs benefit and should cover the additional costs disabled people face. The charity Scope has published research that shows the cost of living for a disabled person is on average almost £600 a month more than for a non-disabled person and can be as high as £1000 a month. And this research was back in 2019, so the current cost of living crisis is likely to have made that extra cost higher still. The bottom line is that disability benefits are not going far enough in cushioning the additional costs faced by disabled people.  

The good news is that the Scottish Government will be reviewing ADP, beginning with a look at the mobility criteria, then extending it to consider ADP more broadly. This is an opportunity to develop ADP into a benefit that meets the additional needs disabled people have. 

And another bit of good news: CAS was one of a group of organisations that wrote to the candidates for First Minister last month with our concerns over the 20 metre rule. Encouragingly, our new First Minister, Humza Yousaf, said in his response that the Scottish Social Security system is one founded on dignity, fairness and respect, and that he wanted the Scottish Government to go further to remove any barriers to social security that exist. Most hearteningly of all, he stated his opposition in principle to the 20 metre rule.  

A year on, we could be in the early stages of some important changes to ADP. Hopefully this time next year I’ll be writing a column here celebrating the fact that we finally got it right.