The right to access independent advocacy is being extended to more people via the Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018. The Act says that Scottish Ministers must make independent advocacy services available to disabled people who, because of their disability, need the support of an independent advocate to engage with the Scottish social security system.
The Scottish Government is now consulting on its draft Social Security Advocacy Standards, which aim to ensure that the social security advocacy being delivered on its behalf meets a recognised and consistent level of quality across the country.
This is a really important opportunity to help shape the standards and ensure they embed and reflect the principles you want to see at the heart of the Scottish Social Security system. You can read the Scottish Independent Advocacy Alliance’s (SIAA) response is here – SIAA – Draft Social Security Advocacy Service Standards response
The key points of our response are summarised below.
If you want to get involved, you can either:
- Submit your own organisational response – by Monday 7th October.
- Endorse SIAA’s response by e-mailing Lindsay.Isaacs@siaa.org.uk – by Thursday 3rd October
Definition of advocacy
The draft standards start by defining advocacy. SIAA supports some elements of the definition, but has an overarching concern that the definition describes ‘advocacy’ and ‘advocacy workers’ rather than ‘independent advocacy’ and ‘independent advocacy workers’. This goes far beyond semantics – our members tell us how important the concept of independence is to people using their services and how critical it is in shaping positively their perceptions of and engagement with their services.
SIAA welcomes the explicit statement in the definition that advocacy workers will not provide advice, which echoes and amplifies the assertion in the document’s introduction that “advocacy is not the provision of advice” (p6). It is a fundamental tenet of independent advocacy that people accessing it are “protected from undue pressure, advice or others’ agendas” (SIAA Principles, 2019).
The five principles
The draft standards then invites comments on five underpinning principles – independence, person-centred, accessible, trained and quality assurance.
SIAA strongly supports all of the principles – indeed, they all feature at the heart of our Code of Practice, to which all our member organisations work and which has been successfully implemented for over 10 years. However, we have significant concerns about the way each of the five principles has been written in the draft standards, including problems with the way things have been defined, critical elements that have been omitted and standards that appear under the wrong principle.
- Independence: We strongly disagree with the definition of ‘independence’ contained within the draft standards which proposes that, “advocacy services are independent if they are provided by a person other than the Scottish Ministers” (p6). Our position on this is unequivocal – the delivery of other services increases the likelihood of conflicts of interest thus compromising an advocate’s ability to act independently. SIAA and our members would like to see a definition of independence that will ensure meaningful independence, rather than independence in name only.
- Person-centred: , SIAA and our members strongly support the principle of person-centred. However, we do not believe that the person-centred standards are achievable in a context in which advocacy lacks true independence from other service provision. This is because advocacy workers will face conflicts of interest that might compromise their ability to put the people they are supporting at the heart of the process.
We also consider that the standards would be significantly strengthened by the inclusion of explicit, specific references to rights-based social security.
- Accessible: SIAA agrees with the content of some of the draft standards designed to ensure the accessibility of independent advocacy services, but has significant concerns about how these will be financed and delivered, and the lack of detail in this area is very concerning. Whilst many of the provisions are laudable – such as advocacy workers meeting people at a place which suits them – they are also resource- and labour-intensive and not deliverable without significant and sustained investment.
- Trained – SIAA supports the principle of independent advocacy workers being trained, but has concerns with some of the draft standards and their ability to deliver this principle effectively in practice. The name of the principle should reflect the competence, skills and experience required of professional independent advocates, with the current use of the word ‘trained’ setting the bar too low in this regard.
- Quality-assurance – SIAA broadly agrees with the standards and believes that these will help develop important first steps in terms of quality assurance. However, they adopt a very narrow and process-driven view of what makes a quality service, and do not go nearly far enough in stipulating what independent advocacy organisations must do to ensure the ongoing quality of their services. For instance, they do not contain an explicit focus on capturing more intangible outcomes such as the impact of the work done by independent advocacy organisations.
For further information, please contact Lindsay Isaacs, Development Manager at SIAA, at Lindsay.Isaacs@siaa.org.uk