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Health / Vast majority of claimants who challenge negative welfare decisions succeed

Maree Todd MSP. Photo: Shetland News

THREE quarters of Shetland claimants who have been denied benefits under a new system have gone on to win their appeals, freedom of information figures reveal.

According to Highlands and Islands MSP Maree Todd that picture holds throughout the region, with even more – 83 per cent (60) – of Orkney claimants who were turned down winning their appeals.

According to Todd, the figures are the latest proof of the UK Government’s “disastrous” record on welfare and evidence of a systematic approach to wrongly denying claimants their money, which only unfolds under challenge.

Todd said: “The evidence suggests that is the case, indeed the UN said that the (Conservative/Lib Dem) coalition government was responsible for the systematic violation of rights of disabled people.”

The figures for Shetland are that 76 per cent (50) of 60 challenged welfare decisions were granted under review. The figure is only slightly less across the Highlands and Islands with 74 per cent of 1,300 appeals being successful.

The figures track back to 2013 when Personal Independence Payments (PIP) began to replace Living Allowance as a benefit for people with illness, disability or a mental condition.

Todd said: “There are people who do not appeal and there are also people who, because of the hostile environment they have created in the benefit system do not want to apply in the first place.”

Todd said that a new system is gradually being introduced in Scotland following the Smith Commission in 2014. This puts stronger emphasis on medical assessment and included a great deal of input from disabled people. It aims to take a more considered and long term view of mental health issues and fluctuating illnesses like multiple sclerosis.

“It is a more nuanced system and assessments do not need to be re-done unless things change,” she added.

Todd’s views were influenced by her 20 years working as a mental health pharmacist and seeing how some of the most vulnerable bipolar or schizophrenic patients were treated “really appallingly” and stressed to breaking point by the system, ending up in hospital.

The reality, she said, runs counter to the cosy belief that there is a safety net in place to catch the most vulnerable in society.

“It’s something I feel very strongly about,” she said.

According to Todd, the welfare reforms and a host of other negative social impacts, including pension reforms, can be laid squarely at the door of the Cameron-Clegg coalition that held office from 2010 to 2015.

The Scottish measures, she believes, will be much more successful, but only affect 15 per cent of the whole welfare package, with power over the rest retained by Westminster.

There has been controversy about PIP throughout the UK, owing in part to the use of private companies to undertake fitness assessments of claimants.