Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MSP Alasdair Allan raised the issue of social security assessments in island communities duringWednesday’s [26 September] sitting of the Scottish Parliament.

The islands MSP was questioning the new Cabinet Secretary for Social Security, Shirley-Anne Somerville about how assessments will be delivered in island and other rural areas to meet their distinctive needs. 

Certain powers on social security are now devolved to the Scottish Parliament, with legislation being passed earlier this year to set out how 11 benefits, such as Winter Fuel Payments and Personal Independence Payments, will be delivered.

Alasdair Allan MSP said: “It is vitally important that Scotland’s new social security agency avoids the mistakes of the UK Government and recognises the challenges that face people in island communities.

“The UK Government’s approach to welfare has been truly horrific. It is unfortunate that 85% of social security payments will still be controlled by Westminster, but I hope Scotland is able to put dignity and respect at the heart of delivering the limited welfare benefits we now have control of.

“I was grateful for the Cabinet Secretary’s reassurance that, no matter where people live, Scotland’s social security system will deliver and give people access to the same quality of service.

"It is also helpful that the requirement for face-to-face assessments will be reduced, and where they are necessary, distance and a person’s ability to travel will be taken into account.”

Fred Silver, editor of welovestornoway.com, gives an example of the challenges of the UK Government 'face-to-face' assessments policy. "In 2009, long before the days of Brext and so on, a French citizen seeking to have a National Insurance number to begin work for EVENTS newspaper in Stornoway, gave a Stornoway address - but the interview offered was in Castlebay!"