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I was really struggling’: people share their benefits advocacy stories at Scottish Parliament reception

12 March 2024

Our recent reception at Holyrood was an opportunity for Members of the Scottish Parliament to hear from people whom VoiceAbility has supported to access Social Security Scotland benefits.

More than 4,000 disabled people have received the support of an independent advocate to access Social Security Scotland benefits since the Scottish Government funded the service in 2022. 

MSP Collette Stevenson, Convenor of the Social Justice and Social Security Committee at the Scottish Parliament, sponsored and hosted the reception. She spoke about the importance of dignity, fairness and respect” — and how this was leading to an increasing number of benefits being taken up.

VoiceAbility ambassador Susan Douglas-Scott chaired the event, and spoke to people about their experiences of the service. 

Advocates and volunteers from VoiceAbility’s Scotland team with Operations Manager Emily Johnston, Chief Executive Jonathan Senker, and speaker Laura Haining from Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland.

Among the speakers was Paul Hunter, who has been profoundly deaf since birth. Paul described his father as his support worker” — but, after he sadly passed away, Paul said he just didn’t know who to turn to for help”.

Luckily, I came across VoiceAbility and had a one-to-one appointment with [my advocate] Lynn at home,” Paul told the reception.

I opened up and went through all the problems that I’ve had, the disabilities that I have and spoke about my son who’s disabled as well. I got some help and information to move things forward. 

It’s taken me 53 years to get benefits support, which I should have had from birth. I cannot thank VoiceAbility enough for what they’ve done for me and my son.”

Parents who were supported to apply for child disability payment also spoke.

One parent explained how they’ve really struggled” over the past year, with numerous challenges for their daughter and son — who are both dyslexic.

They said: Everything’s been a constant fight. I’m normally the type of person who’s quite in control, and capable and able to deal with filling out forms and life in general.

I was aware that it was likely that my son and daughter would be entitled to benefits, but I just couldn’t bring myself to complete the forms. Everything was just so overwhelming for me.”

After hearing about VoiceAbility through their job, they contacted us directly.

I was lucky enough to meet [my advocate] Lynn, who was absolutely fabulous – so compassionate and kind.”

I’ve been very lucky, as I don’t think I would have been able to complete the forms without Lynn. My experience has been so so positive. I would recommend the service, 100%.”

Attendees also heard from organisations working in partnership with VoiceAbility. Bethany Biggar, the Director of Edinburgh Food Project, said: It’s been an absolute pleasure having VoiceAbility at our drop-ins and being part of that journey with us. 

We’re already starting to see the positive impact of having advocacy support through VoiceAbility to ensure that people who need the support get it.” 

Laura Haining, a Community Links Practitioner in Alexandria for Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland, added: 

For us, working with VoiceAbility is worth its weight in gold. If you meet a patient who you think might be entitled to adult disability payment or any other benefits, you have that service there to help people complete the forms.

VoiceAbility is up there for me because they get back to patients really quickly, there’s not a long waiting time, and they’re very client-driven. It’s all about what suits that person.”

Chief Executive Jonathan Senker wrapped up the event, contemplating on the work being done to make sure that people’s whole lives are reflected and supported, that people have their voices heard and their rights respected.”