ITV Border were covering a statement on social security at Holyrood and were interested in the local picture from Dumfries & Galloway.

Dumfries & Galloway Citizens Advice Service covers all areas of advice but the highest percentage of enquiries is in respect of benefits and in particular disability benefits.  Last year 47% of our new enquiries were related to benefits.

Christine was asked the following questions:

Q: the Scottish Government is getting powers to deliver 11 devolved benefits. What do you think it needs to do differently to make things fairer? 

Q: Nicola Sturgeon says she wants a social security system for Scotland based on dignity and respect. Do you think those things are missing under the current system?

Q: Over the last five years, two foodbanks have set up in Dumfries, what should we take from that? Why has that happened?  

Q: Scotland's new social security agency will have sites in Glasgow and Dundee, do you think people in Dumfries and Galloway risk being excluded from extra support?

The new system needs to be more straightforward, it needs to be easier for people to make claims and there needs to be different ways in which this can be done.  The decision makers need to be well trained and more account needs to be taken of the person’s existing medical evidence and not just relying on a medical assessment which only lasts a short period of time.

I think that the biggest issues with the existing system is that it is too inflexible and it does not take account of the vulnerability of many of the people claiming disability benefits in particular those with mental health issues and learning disabilities and these account for a high number of the clients who we assist.

The increased need for food banks is worrying but it is not just people who are claiming benefits.  It is well known that Dumfries & Galloway is a low wage economy which means that there are individuals and families who simply do not have enough money to pay for essentials and therefore need assistance from food banks.

Dumfries & Galloway and the whole of the South of Scotland appears to be forgotten about on a regular basis.  With the sites both being located in urban areas there is a danger that they will focus on urban issues and not take into account the isolation of some people in rural areas.  My understanding is that the new social security agency will be delivered on a local basis so perhaps there will be future announcements on how this will happen.  DAGCAS will continue to lobby the Scottish Government via Citizens Advice Scotland to ensure that extra support is given to rural areas.