MSP Joan McAlpine has welcomed assurances that attendance allowance for the frail elderly will be protected in Scotland after she raised the issue in the Scottish Parliament.
Ms McAlpine raised the future of the vital pensioners’ benefit after concerns were highlighted in the media over potential cuts in England – where responsibility for the benefit is being transferred to councils. However attendance allowance will be devolved to the Scottish Parliament as part of the post referendum package of powers.
Ms McAlpine sits on the Scottish Parliament’s Welfare Reform Committee which scrutinises the impact of the UK government’s changes to social security benefits. Speaking in parliament, Ms McAlpine pointed out that in England the Independent Living Fund for disabled people has disappeared after being devolved to councils – sparking furious protests at Westminster. Now concerns have been raised that a similar fate may await attendance allowance south of the border.
Responding to Ms McAlpine, Alex Neil, the Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Communities and Pensioners’ Rights said current recipients of attendance allowance will “be protected” when the benefit is transferred to Scotland.
The response will provide reassurance to local people whose quality of life relies on financial support from the Government to help pay for help with personal care. Attendance allowance is paid to people aged over 65 who need help in looking after themselves. People in receipt of attendance allowance often use the tax free benefit to help with costs associated with their disability, for example, help around the home, hiring specialist transport or for extra care services.
Speaking after the debate Ms McAlpine said:
“I was pleased that the Cabinet Secretary gave confirmation that regardless of the finer details of the Scotland Bill, attendance allowance will be protect for those who currently receive it.
“This modest allowance is a lifeline for many vulnerable people in our communities, allowing them to purchase support and assistance or to access services that let them continue to play an active part in society.
“This is another example of the SNP Scottish Government protecting the most vulnerable from the worse of Westminster’s cuts. Scotland has already taken significant steps to mitigate some of these cuts, investing £296 million since 2013 trying to plug the gaps caused by the bedroom tax, reductions in council tax benefit and help for those in crisis. The current UK Government plan to cut a further £12 billion from social security, an onslaught that is heartless and cruel.
“The SNP Scottish Government has a strong track record in protecting services and support in the face of abolition of services for vulnerable people in England, such as the independent living fund. I’m delighted that Alex Neil confirmed that attendance allowance would be protected in a similar way to the Independent Living Fund and I’m pleased that I will be able to reassure constituents that they will continue to receive this vital benefit.”
The full transcript of the debate in the Scottish Parliament is detailed below:
9. Joan McAlpine (South Scotland) (SNP):
To ask the Scottish Government what assurances it can provide on the future of attendance allowance in Scotland in light of concerns in England regarding its proposed transfer to local authorities. (S4O-05512)
The Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Communities and Pensioners’ Rights (Alex Neil):
The United Kingdom Government has not yet published its consultation on transferring attendance allowance to local authorities down south, so I am not in a position to comment in any detail on the proposal. However, my understanding is that it will not impact on the devolution of attendance allowance to the Scottish Parliament that will be implemented through the Scotland Bill.
We are considering how we will use the new devolved social security powers, and we will publish our plans in the coming months. In the meantime, we will continue to engage with users and stakeholders as we develop the detail of our policies.
There is a lot of concern in England about devolving attendance allowance, because of what happened to the independent living fund. When the ILF was devolved to English local authorities it was cut—
The Deputy Presiding Officer:
Can we have a question?
—whereas when it was devolved to the Scottish Government it was continued. Can the cabinet secretary assure us that something similar will happen to attendance allowance?
The independent living fund is a good example of how we protect services in Scotland, compared to the axing of services south of the border. The Scottish independent living fund is a new scheme in Scotland that went live in July 2015, safeguarding the rights of 2,800 existing ILF users in Scotland, with an extra £5 million committed to open up the scheme to new users.
The successful creation of the Scottish welfare fund, after the abolition of elements of the UK Government’s social fund, is another example of where we have protected provision of a vital service and increased the funding over and above that devolved by the UK Government. The latest statistics for the welfare fund show that it has paid out £81 million and helped 178,000 households since April 2013.