This week I have been thinking about the proposals to devolve some welfare benefits to the Scottish Parliament. You can find the detailed proposals in Scotland in the United Kingdom: An enduring settlement here. One of the proposals that has been puzzling me is the plan to devolve powers for ‘Benefits for carers, disabled people and those who are ill’ (page 51). This proposes to devolve Attendance Allowance, Disability Living Allowance, Carers Benefit, Personal Independence Payment and Industrial Injuries Benefits. These are benefits for ‘carers and disabled people’. But who are they thinking about when they say they are going to devolve benefits for ‘people who are ill’? Most of us would imagine that this meant people who are short term sick (who might currently be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay or an employer’s sick pay scheme) or perhaps people who might be currently entitled to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). But the Report is quite clear that ESA and the new Universal Credit will remain reserved to Westminster. The only benefit to be devolved which appears to be for ‘people who are ill’ is Severe Disablement Allowance (SDA). Now this is a strange thing. Severe Disablement Allowance was stopped in 2001 and the only people who qualify for it are people who were eligible at that point and who have a continuing entitlement. There is a program to transfer all of those claimants to ESA eventually. This clause looks as if it is proposing to give the Scottish Parliament powers to decide what to do with the people who are currently claiming SDA in Scotland, but that is all. According to government statistics there were around 25,000 people claiming SDA in Scotland in 2011. I can’t immediately find up-to-date figures but the number will be less now that some of those will have been transferred to ESA. What puzzles me is why this benefit has been included in the plans to devolve disability benefits while all the other ‘earnings replacement’ benefits for disabled people will remain reserved to Westminster.
Severe Disablement Allowance and history
So what does this have to do with my research on the history of incapacity benefits? Severe Disablement Allowance has an interesting history because it was first introduced in 1983 to replace the discredited and sexist Non-contributory Invalidity Pension and Housewives Non-Contributory Invalidity Pension. It was designed to make sure that roughly the same number of people who had qualified for NCIP and HNCIP would qualify. It was always an unusual benefit because it was non-means-tested and non-contributory and paid at a lower rate than most other contributory benefits. This meant that the people who qualified for it either had to depend on means-tested benefits as well or had other income, for example from a working partner or a pension or private income from another source. The main people who really benefitted from it were married women with working partners – the very people that HNCIP had attempted to exclude. When it was abolished in 2001 these married or cohabiting women were the people most likely to lose out again (Wikely 2000).
Was there a mistake?
So why has it been included in the proposals to devolve benefits to Scotland? I suspect it is not because of its convoluted history. Having a whole new separate set of rules for the remaining 25,000 or so claimants in Scotland seems quite bizarre and it is very strange that this is the only earnings replacement disability benefit to be devolved. The Scotland in the United Kingdom report makes a snide comment about the Smith Commission when it comments on its failure to get its terms right in relation to industrial injuries benefits ‘This is not at term used by the UK Government’ (p51, footnote 5). There is a form of industrial injuries benefit called Exceptionally Severe Disablement Allowance. This is paid to people with impairments as a result of an industrial injury or disease which means they need constant care and attention and are likely to need this on a permanent basis. Is it possible that this is what the Smith Commission meant to recommend devolving and that neither report understood what it meant when it proposed to devolve Severe Disablement Allowance?
Maybe I’ve missed something but these proposals only add to the strange and confused history of Severe Disablement Allowance and its predecessors.
Wikely, N (2000) ‘Social Security and Disability ‘ in Harris, N. (Ed.), Social Security Law in Context. Oxford University Press, Oxford.