A New Future for Social Security – Age Scotland submission

Age Scotland has put forward an wide-ranging submission to the Scottish Government’s consultation on the future for social security in Scotland.

The charity endorses the basic principle that social security should be seen as an investment in the people of Scotland and in strengthening our social fabric.  We propose models which should exhibit trust in people and respect for their dignity.

We advocate an end to rules which are probably discriminatory based on age – such as the lack of a mobility component for attendance allowance, unlike other disability benefits – and we support the principle that universal winter fuel payments are the most effective means of reaching those most in need of support.

The submission is extensive, comprising some 56 pages, although the consultation paper was over 140 pages long and posed over 170 questions.  It is the most detailed policy submission which the charity or its predecessors have ever compiled.

The submission gives the charity’s perspective on a wide range of specific benefits affecting older people which are being devolved (including disability and carer’s benefits, funeral payments, and winter fuel payments).

It also deals with a series of administrative matters on how eligibility should be worked out, how benefits should be paid, and the overarching principles and intended outcomes which should be a focus for the new system.

Another important aspect is ensuring that the new devolved system works well with the other benefits which will remain reserved to the UK Parliament and Government, and administered by the DWP, JobCentres and the Pension Service.  Clearly it is important for there to be no disruption to payments on which vulnerable people depend, either as the responsibility is transferred or as changes the Scottish Government intends to make are implemented.

The response was informed by the views and experiences of older people themselves, which we gathered at eight distinct consultation events around the country, and also the expertise of our policy staff and helpline advisors, who regularly support older people with benefits concerns and queries.  We aim to use this invaluable information in our further discussions with Government Ministers and officials as the policies take shape and legislation is prepared to give effect to them.

Download our submission


Please feel free to share any views you have by emailing policycomms@agescotland.org.uk

Scottish Government consultation about new benefit powers

The Scottish Government is consulting about how best to use its new benefit powers, the consultation is open until 28th October 2016. You can find full information here.

The new benefit powers most likely to affect older people relate to

  • Disability related benefits including Personal Independence Payment, Disability Living Allowance and Attendance Allowance
  • Cold Weather Payments
  • Winter Fuel Payments
  • Funeral Payments

The Scottish Government is interested in your opinions on a wide range of issues including:

  • Are there any particular words or phrases that should not be used when delivering social security in Scotland?
  • Should social security in Scotland make some provision for face to face contact?
  • What are your views on what is right and wrong with current disability benefits?
  • Are there changes that could be made to disability benefits that would significantly improve equality?
  • What do you think should be paid for by a Funeral Payment?

How to get involved

1. You can respond to the full consultation on the Scottish Government’s website here

2. Alternatively we have summarised the questions most likely to affect older people which you can respond to these here. Your comments will inform Age Scotland’s response to the Scottish Government.

3. We are also running a series of consultation events in partnership with Age Scotland member groups across Scotland – see details below.

  • Orkney – Age Concern Orkney, Kirkwall – Monday 3rd October (Exact time TBC)
  • Bellshill – Orbiston Neighbourhood Centre – Tuesday 4th October 10:00am – 12:15pm
  • New Cumnock – Lochside House Hotel – Tuesday 4th October 1pm – 3pm
  • Inverness – Merkinch Community Centre – Thursday 6th October 2pm – 3pm (EVENT FULL)
  • Glasgow – The Senior Centre, Castlemilk – Thursday 6th Octoiber 10:30am – 12:30pm (EVENT FULL)
  • Elgin – Elgin Youth Cafe – Friday 7th October 10am – 2pm
  • Grangemouth – Venue TBC – Thursday 13th October – 11:00am – 1:30pm
  • Edinburgh – Pilmeny Resource Centre – Thursday 20th October 1:30pm – 3:30pm (EVENT FULL)
  • Dundee – Full details TBC

If you would like to attend an event, please contact Helen Simpson at helen.simpson@agescotland.org.uk or call 0333 32 32 400.

Remember, if you are unable to attend these events, you can still submit direct to the Scottish Government or through our online consultation. We can also mail out a response form to those people who do not have internet access.

EU Referendum: one week to go

As we approach the European Referendum, Age Scotland’s Chief Executive Brian Sloan encourages everyone to use their vote.


With only a week until the European Referendum, it is vital that Scotland’s older people have their say on this historic decision for the future of our country. Age Scotland is very conscious that there is a diverse range of views on our future in Europe among older people in Scotland.  That is why we feel it is very important we as a Charity take a neutral position on the referendum.  However while we will not support either of the campaigns in the referendum or encourage older people to vote for a specific position, we certainly do encourage older people to use their vote.

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Brian Sloan – Age Scotland’s Chief Executive

There can be no doubt that big issues affecting older people have been placed at the heart of the referendum debate by both campaigns – the future of our pensions, our public services and our NHS.  It is also true that many people who are weighing up how they will vote on the 23rd feel they would still like more information from the two campaigns to help them come to a decision.

As Scotland’s charity for older people, we are keen that Age Scotland does what we can to help encourage debate on these important issues and ensure people have they information they need to come to an informed view.  That is why we invited leading figures from both campaigns to write articles for our Advantage magazine to explain how they have come to their view.  Professor Sir Harry Burns, a former Chief Medical Officer for Scotland, writes on behalf of Scotland Stronger in Europe, and Tom Harris, a former MP, is now Director of Scottish Vote Leave and has outlined that campaign’s position.

You can view the articles here on pages 14-15 and I am sure you will find them interesting and informative. How you will vote in the referendum is up to you, but given this is a big decision for Scotland’s older people I do encourage you to use your vote.

Living well with Dementia: diagnosis is key

Today kicks off Dementia Awareness Week in Scotland. Richard Baker, Team Leader of our Early Stage Dementia Project, talks tackling the stigma and how early diagnosis is key to living well with dementia.


This week Age Scotland will be joining Alzheimer Scotland and other organisations working for better support for people with dementia to promote the need for better support and early diagnosis.

This is a key concern for Age Scotland through the work of our Early Stage Dementia Project, supported by the Life Changes Trust. Early diagnosis for someone with dementia can make a huge difference to their ability to live well with the condition. The Scottish Government has made dementia a national priority, and as part of this has introduced a commitment to provide one year’s support for everybody who has been diagnosed with dementia for a year after their diagnosis. This support is provided by link workers who help people with dementia understand the illness, manage symptoms, maintain their connections with their local community and help them make plans for their future.

However, while there is a huge amount of work going on to raise dementia awareness and tackle stigma around the illness, there is still a huge amount to do. Depending on the measure used, either a third or a half of people who have dementia in Scotland have not yet received a diagnosis. A UK survey by the Alzheimer Society found that more than half of people seeking a diagnosis for dementia have delayed going to their GP by at least a year and nearly two-thirds of people fear a diagnosis would mean that their life is over.

But people can and do live well with dementia, and support in the early stages is crucial to ensuring this can happen. That is why it is so important to tackle myths and stigma around dementia and make more people aware of the benefits of early diagnosis. At Age Scotland we meet people with dementia who are still contributing to their communities and are the leading voices campaigning for improved dementia services. Their example shows that if people take early action if they are worried about their memory or struggling with other activities, they can still have a rewarding life even if they do receive a dementia diagnosis. Dementia Awareness Week is a great opportunity to highlight this message, and it is vital the work to make all our communities dementia friendly and dementia aware continues all year round.

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Age Scotland’s Early Stage Dementia Team

To find out more about Age Scotland’s work around Early Stage Dementia visit our website or contact Richard Baker at Richard.Baker@agescotland.org.uk

 

Scotland’s National Dementia Strategy – what the proposed priorities could mean

This week the Scottish Government published its proposals for key priorities for the new National Dementia Strategy, which will be published at the end of the year.  Richard Baker, Team Leader of Age Scotland’s Early Stage Dementia Project, reflects on what is being proposed and what it could mean for those living with Dementia.


 

The new strategy will be important for the future delivery of services for people with dementia. Age Scotland has taken a keen interest in its development through the work of its Early Stage Dementia Project, funded by the Life Changes Trust.

The report on the engagement process around the new strategy highlights support for continuing work on providing improved post diagnostic support for people with dementia, and Age Scotland agrees that this is vital. The Scottish Government has made a commitment to provide all those who are diagnosed with dementia with one year of post diagnostic support.  This has the potential to be of huge importance to thousands of people with dementia. Future planning in the early stages of the condition can have a huge bearing on how well people are able to live with dementia in the longer term.  However the challenge is ensuring that people with dementia across Scotland can benefit from this support without having to wait too long to access it. This will require further work, and this is reflected in the commitment in the key priorities to do more to improve the consistency of post-diagnostic services.

One area which is not currently reflected in the key priorities is what can be done to promote healthy active ageing to reduce people’s risk of developing dementia, or delaying its progression for those with a diagnosis. Healthy active ageing has long been a key aspect of Age Scotland’s campaigns, but through the work of the Early Stage Dementia Project we want to raise awareness of its importance with regard to dementia. There is growing evidence that diet, smoking and exercise can have an impact on someone’s risk of developing dementia. We believe raising awareness of this and early stage dementia more widely is important, particularly given that we know  that, on one measure, as many as half of those people with dementia have not yet been diagnosed.  The third dementia strategy will be able to reflect on real progress made in supporting people with dementia in Scotland, but will also reflect there is a great deal more still to do.

For more information about the Age Scotland Early Stage Dementia Project, please email us on ESDTeam@agescotland.org.uk.632x305_dementia_aware

Are you ready for winter?

Ready Scotland is a campaign by the Scottish Government to help people across Scotland to think ahead and get prepared for winter. Recent research suggested that after a couple of milder winters, many people were not taking any steps to prepare for emergencies or severe weather. The Ready Scotland site brings together simple steps you can take that can make a big difference – with the help of their trademark dog!


 

For many it has been a good few years since daily life has been disrupted by waking up to find a few feet of snow has been dumped at their front door by Mother Nature or plans have had to change thanks to the impact of strong winds and rain.

Research undertaken by the British Red Cross and the Scottish Government found that the longer the time period since an individual has had to deal with the effects of severe weather the less likely they are to take steps to prepare. As the memories of the severe weather experienced in 2010 and 2011 fade so does the intention to be ready.

Unfortunately, severe weather doesn’t stick to a rota. Past performance by the weather is not necessarily an indicator of what to expect this winter.

Scottish Government Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure, Investment & Cities Keith Brown said:

“If there is anything recent winters have shown us it is that Scottish weather is unpredictable. The unpredictability of weather patterns means we cannot simply hope that we will miss the worst of it. While we can’t stop the weather causing disruption, we can be well prepared to cope with it.”

There are 3 elements to think about when it comes to being ready for winter.

Firstly, there is staying informed. Whether through local news, radio, social media or by signing up to the Met Office alert service, it is important that you stay in the know about imminent weather conditions.

The second element is about being prepared. Whether in the home, at work or travelling out and about there are a simple actions that will ensure you are better prepared in the event they have to deal with severe weather.

It is also important to consider whether you are prepared enough. For example, having an ice scraper and de-icer might be fine if you are only driving a mile from your home. However, for longer journeys you will want to make sure you have a blanket and a hot drink in the car in case you and your car become stranded.

ready

Thirdly, think about others. Are there individuals in your local community who might not be as able as you to deal with the effects of severe weather? Consider what you can do to help them be ready.

David Miller, Director of the British Red Cross in Scotland, said:

“Making sure you are prepared now for winter can make a huge difference when extreme weather hits. At the Red Cross we know that severe weather, including snow and floods, can have serious consequences. However, with a few simple steps you can make yourself and others ready for the disruption it can bring.”

For more information on how to get ready for winter visit www.readyscotland.org.

Are we faltering in the battle against fuel poverty?

The future of energy efficiency programmes in Scotland has never been less certain, says Greg McCracken.

Woman_with_hot_water_ bottle

Spiralling energy costs and surging public anger have culminated in the UK Government’s recent announcement to cut energy bills by an average of £50 per year through reductions on the levies placed upon energy companies.

The Energy Company Obligation (ECO) required suppliers to deliver efficiency measures to domestic users.  While suppliers claimed it was these levies which directly caused high energy bills, ECO was, in fact, intended to support households – including pensioners – most at risk of fuel poverty.    By calling the suppliers’ bluff, David Cameron has on the one hand cleverly appealed to voters with a negligible annual reduction in their energy bills whilst, on the other hand, seriously damaging the already faltering efforts to tackle fuel poverty – a problem affecting nearly half of all single pensioner households and more than a third of pensioner couple households in Scotland.

While consumers may welcome some respite from rising energy bills, a look across the North Sea reveals the flaw in the UK Government’s approach.  During winters typically colder than ours, Swedish households usually pay higher prices for each energy unit than the UK – yet their ‘excess winter death’ rate is 23 per cent lower than ours.  The difference is that British homes lose around three times more heat than Swedish homes.

At a time when we should be intensifying efforts to super-insulate our cold homes, the Coalition Government has effectively called time on UK-wide energy efficiency activities over the next three to four years.  Legislation enacting these changes still needs to be debated and the delay until that comes into force will likely sap the little existing momentum around these programmes, potentially seeing them wind down in anticipation of the changes.

While, in theory, companies will continue to face targets around ECO, in reality, few incentives remain to install measures in the run up to 2015.  Furthermore, with suppliers able to off-set shortfalls in their installation targets against post-2017 outcomes, the impact of the Government’s reduction on household energy efficiency measures is likely to prove far bigger in practice.

The UK Government’s removal of funding for ECO means less money will now be available for more complex measures such as solid wall insulation.  The Scottish Government has been well ahead of the UK Government in respect of ‘easy’ wins on energy efficiency, such as cavity wall and loft insulation.  Achieving further carbon reduction will be increasingly difficult, as these will mostly involve more complex measures (or installing ‘basic’ measures in more challenging properties like multi-stories or tenements).  While energy companies will still be bound by less demanding carbon reduction targets, their reduced funding will likely tempt them to concentrate on areas where these simple measures will provide better returns.  We can expect to see them shift their focus more to England, where far more homes lack cavity wall or loft insulation.

So where does this leave Scotland?  With the Scottish Government committed to ending fuel poverty by 2016, pressure to uplift investment in energy efficiency will increase.  With funding beyond tight, it may be time to admit the 2016 target will be missed and, instead, call on the Scottish Government to rethink its strategy and introduce a new programme to deliver the best returns based on the more limited funding now available.

Even a less ambitious strategy will present significant challenges. Those properties most amenable to energy efficiency treatment tend to be in or near urban areas, so focusing on them in a bid to cut fuel poverty rates more rapidly could mean insulation measures in rural Scotland peter out.  The levers available for transforming the energy efficiency of Scotland’s housing stock are also inadequate, with local authorities having underspent their allocations of the Scottish Government’s Home Energy Efficiency Programme to the tune of £5 million.  Not to mention the difficulty of rolling out a nationwide installation programme without enough suitably qualified tradespeople across the country to meet demand.

The UK Government could utilise the £4 billion raised from carbon taxes on business to make homes super-energy efficient – something which could bring 90 per cent of homes out of fuel poverty and save lives.  However, with the UK Government seemingly committed to regressive measures like penalising those most at risk of fuel poverty, the big question is whether we should seek to realise change through the existing constitutional framework, or through devolving energy policy to Holyrood. With this in mind we can at least hope the wider debate on independence pushes the issue up all party’s agendas.

Greg McCracken is an Age Scotland Policy Officer and represents the Charity on the Scottish Fuel Poverty Forum.  This article first appeared in the Scotsman.