Organisations across the third sector have welcomed the Scottish Government’s aspirations to take a rights based approach to social security and are now calling for MSPs to support an amendment to the Social Security (Scotland) Bill, on the subject of independent advocacy.
A coalition of organisations, led by the Scottish Independent Advocacy Alliance (SIAA), say that a new Section 8A of the Bill would help to ensure that individuals requiring assistance under this act have a right to practical and affordable support from independent advocacy services.
Independent advocates are professionals who provide a vital resource for many people who find it difficult to access services for a variety of reasons. They safeguard people who are vulnerable, discriminated against, or whom services find difficult to serve by providing a few crucial hours’ support to people to help navigate the social security system. For example an advocate may help an individual to prepare for assessment and then support them to take part in the assessment.
Those supporting the amendment believe that advocacy is a key element of the right to social security, and that anyone claiming social security should have the choice to access an independent advocate, if they feel they want one.
The group also highlight that supporting the provision of independent advocacy services is affordable as it will help save public money by reducing the number of appeals, and anticipate that demand will be lower in the future as the Scottish Government has already committed to reduce face-to-face assessments.
Shaben Begum, Director of the SIAA, said: “The amendment agreed at Stage 2 of the Social Security Committee’s proceedings provides for access to independent advocacy services by people with a ‘mental disorder’ including mental illness, dementia or a learning disability. We welcome this progress but believe there are many people who would benefit from independent advocacy support who will not be covered – and we are concerned that offering this service to some groups and not others is discriminatory.
“We believe that the Social Security (Scotland) Bill must be strengthened by the inclusion of provisions recognising the universal right to independent advocacy and providing access to independent advocacy services. Anyone claiming social security should have the choice to access an independent advocate, when they feel they need one, at any point in the social security process. We believe that this amendment reflects the Scottish Government’s aspirations to take a rights based approach to social security.”
Jeremy Balfour MSP will move the amendment on advocacy at Stage 3. The Social Security (Scotland) Bill will enter Stage 3 at the end of April 2018 and is expected to achieve royal assent in May 2018.
- Amendment to ensure people requiring assistance under the Act can access independent advocacy services
After Section 8, Page 3, line 33, at end insert new section- (“(8A) Independent advocacy support and representation (1) Where an individual applies for assistance of a type described in Chapter 2, the individual shall have a right to support from independent advocacy services at all stages of the determination of their entitlement to assistance where the individual requests the support of independent advocacy services.(2) The Scottish Ministers have a duty to advise the individual of any independent advocacy services which are available to assist individuals to apply for assistance under this Act, and at all stages of the determination of their entitlement to assistance. (3) The Scottish Ministers may by order or by regulations make provision for, or in connection with- (a) the provision of independent advocacy services for individuals applying for assistance under this Act, and at all stages of the determination of their entitlement to assistance; and (b) the requirements that must be met for organisations providing independent advocacy services to be independent for the purposes of subsection (1) above (4) A power of the Scottish Ministers to make an order or regulations under this section shall be exercisable by statutory instrument. (5) A statutory instrument introduced under this section containing an order or regulations may not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, the Scottish Parliament. “)