Labour demand legal ban on private firms assessing devolved benefits

LABOUR has demanded the SNP government stand by its pledge to ban private companies from benefit assessments after it emerged ministers did not plan to enshrine it in law.

Social security minister Jeane Freeman said in April that firms such as Atos and Maximus would play no part in assessing newly devolved benefits.

She told MSPs: “Profit should never be a motive or play any part in making decisions or assessing people’s health and eligibility. I have seen and heard enough evidence to know that the private sector should not be involved in assessments for Scotland’s benefits.

“In our assessment model there will be no contracting with the private sector.”

However it now emerged that the government will not legislate to that effect.

Instead, its new Social Security Bill will be silent on the issue.

Scottish Labour deputy Alex Rowley has now written to Ms Freeman demanding the ban by given legal force, describing the current state of affairs as “deeply concerning”.

He said: “Once again, the SNP has shown it is only interested in sound bites, not sound politics. SNP Ministers should be using the new powers of the Scottish Parliament to protect the most vulnerable in society – not grab headlines.”

Gail Tierney, who runs North Ayrshire Carers Forum, said enshrining the ban on private firms carrying out assessments was “essential”, and its omission a “fatal flaw” in the Bill.

She said: “While our members are placing a lot of hope in the new system, there is no guarantee that the Scottish Government will deliver on a promise that it went to great pains to publicise among the disabled and carer communities.

“Without that guarantee, it leaves disabled people and their carers unsure and very uncertain as to how the new social security system will work in practice. It’s a worry.”

The Scottish Government said there was a “lack of understanding” about the Bill.

A spokesperson said: “We have made clear our commitment to ending the private sector’s role in the UK government’s discredited disability assessment process, and do not require powers in the bill to enable this.”

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