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23 April 2018, 07:42
A last-ditch attempt is being made to change Scotland's new social security laws to ban any "unnecessary" assessments for those claiming disability benefits.
MSPs are expected to grant final approval to the Scottish Government's Social Security Bill when it comes before Holyrood on Wednesday.
The legislation paves the way for the creation of a new benefit regime in Scotland, which will run alongside the UK welfare state.
Green MSP Alison Johnstone said the new system must ensure that "much hated" assessments are only carried out when there is not enough pre-existing medical evidence to support an applicant's claim.
The Lothian MSP argued the medical checks can cause "serious disruption and stress" to those trying to claim benefits.
She said: "I am bringing an amendment that seeks to ban assessments from being undertaken unless the Scottish Government can demonstrate that already existing evidence from GPs, social workers and other professionals is not sufficient to corroborate a claim.
"This will have the effect of significantly reducing the much-hated assessments, a move described by Citizens Advice Scotland as 'the highest priority for the Scottish social security system'."
Her amendments will also require those undertaking the assessments to inform claimants of the consideration they have given to any preference they might have about how and where the assessments should be carried out.
The Lothian MSP said: "This will help people to understand why and how decisions are being made about their application and should hopefully remove some of the confusion and concern surrounding the process.
"The aim of my amendments is to ensure that respect for the dignity of individuals is at the heart of the Scottish social security system.
"That is why we need to end the practice of unnecessary assessments, which only serve to duplicate the existing evidence and cause serious disruption and stress to applicants' lives."
Social Security Minister Jeane Freeman said: "I welcome this amendment from Alison Johnstone and can confirm it is one the Scottish Government wholeheartedly support.
"We are committed to significantly reducing the number of assessments carried out under our new social security system as we have seen the distress and anxiety the current DWP system causes to so many people.
"In addition, the Social Security (Scotland) Bill which reaches its final stage next Wednesday, includes the commitment that no-one will ever be obligated to have an assessment through a private sector company.
"I look forward to the debate on Wednesday and the passage of our Bill which will establish Scotland's first social security system."