South of Scotland SNP MSP Mike Russell has raised concerns over worrying reports from Citizens Advice Scotland of the failure of reforms to incapacity benefit and income support.

Citizens Advice Scotland today state that the new Employment Support Allowance (ESA) is now worse for those dependent on it than the previous incapacity benefit system, with benefits unpaid or paid incorrectly, private firms conducting health checks, increased numbers of appeals and increasing stress, pressure and financial hardship on people who are unable to work due to illness or disability.

Mike Russell MSP said:

“The truly disgraceful aspect of these changes is that the people who are affected are some of the most vulnerable in our community. If you are physically unable to work, life is hard at the best of times – particularly during this recession. The money you receive in benefits is your lifeline, and the last thing you need is someone tinkering with it. Yet, this is exactly what has been happening since the ESA was brought in.

“From the very beginning the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) have been warned that they were going about these reforms in the wrong way. It is wrong that people with genuine disability and incapacity should be subject to this kind of mental and financial pressure. The Labour UK Government has approached these reforms in an utterly irresponsible manner.

“That GPs are being overruled by private firms, subcontracted to the DWP to do medical checks utterly beggars belief.

“As the first step in Labour’s plans for benefit reform this has been a disaster with people facing increased stress, hardship and financial difficulty.”

Mr Russell added:

“Many single parents across Dumfries and Galloway will be reading today’s report with trepidation. Parents next to be targeted by the government, with benefit cuts used to force parents back into work or face benefit reductions regardless of circumstances, the next step of benefit reform looks like a disaster waiting to happen.”

“The DWP’s one size fits all approach is more about cutting its benefits bill than helping those who can work back into employment or allowing parents to support their children.

“Before any further changes are made and anyone else is left in hardship the DWP must listen to Citizens Advice and get this system right. I urge Russell Brown MP to do the job he’s well paid for and talk to the DWP and get them to see sense.”