THE Scottish Government has responded to Rishi Sunak’s “heartless proposals” to change the welfare system to end “sick-note culture” and “over-medicalising the everyday challenges and worries of life”.

In a speech on Friday, the Prime Minister said there will be a consultation on proposed changes to a “more objective and rigorous approach” in the benefits system.

The proposed changes include having so-called specialist work and health professionals in England charged with responsibility for issuing fit notes instead of GPs – in a bid to end “sick-note culture”.

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Sunak also suggested greater medical evidence could be required to substantiate a claim for personal independence payments (PIP), and that some people with mental health conditions may be offered talking therapies or respite care rather than cash transfers.

Responding to the announcement, the Scottish Government’s Social Justice Secretary, Shirley-Anne Somerville (below) told The National that the proposals were “heartless”, and that the Scottish Government “completely rejects” them.

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Somerville said: “The Scottish Government completely rejects these heartless proposals which will only serve to punish vulnerable people.

“The Scottish Government has not been consulted on any of these changes and I call on the UK Government to halt these plans so that they can be properly scrutinised to ensure that they are fit for purpose.

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“We are opposed to the widespread use of sanctions, as there is clear and overwhelming evidence that they simply do not work.”

Somerville added that whilst eligibility for disability assistance in Scotland is determined according to the rules set out in Holyrood legislation – which does not rely upon ‘fit notes’ – the eligibility of some people on a low income to Scottish benefits is linked to eligibility for benefits they receive under the UK system.

This means that their entitlement can be affected by changes to Universal Credit.

Somerville continued: “The changes to the welfare system for sick and disabled people announced by the Prime Minister are yet another example of the UK Government’s punitive approach to Social Security, which appears to be entirely focussed on reducing the support to those who need it the this most, regardless of the devastating consequences.”

Scottish charity Disability Equality Scotland told The National it was “very disappointed and concerned” by the announcement on Friday.

Lyn Pornaro, CEO at Disability Equality Scotland, said Sunak’s comments served to “demonise” disabled people and fed into stereotypes that disabled people are “lazy” and “not willing to work”.

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Pornaro said: “Disabled people, for many reasons, are more likely to require sick notes and visits to GPs than non-disabled people. GPs, along with their patients, are the best qualified to determine whether they are fit for work or not.

“A lot of people are signed off work just now because of the issues we are facing with our NHS due to long waiting lists and cancellations of treatments which may have reduced the time some people have remained off work.”

Pornaro highlighted the Coronavirus pandemic which left many people with long Covid, or with already existing medical conditions being exacerbated.

Pornaro continued: “Employers also need to be able to make the adjustments needed when an individual could work during a period of 'sickness' but a lot of them are not doing so. “We cannot keep feeding into the systemic rhetoric that all disabled people are 'lazy, not willing to work' and 'hooked on benefits'.

“Mental health services are in crisis and those individuals whose mental health has deteriorated cannot just be categorised as 'mental health wokeness has gone too far'.

“The words our Prime Minister and his government use, are all just feeding into societies assumption that disabled people are second class citizens.

“They need to start focusing on the solutions and not demonising disabled people any further.”