SCOTLAND'S Social Security Minister has vowed to end rural discrimination in the Scottish Borders and the daily scenes from I Daniel Blake played out in local Citizens Advice offices.

Jeanne Freeman was in the region this week as part of a fact finding mission ahead of Holyrood taking over responsibility for 11 welfare benefits, starting from next year.

From the summer of 2018 the Scottish government will gradually begin delivering social security payments such as Disability Living Allowance, Personal Independent Payment, Attendance Allowance, Severe Disablement Allowance and Discretionary Housing Payments.

Other benefits which will also be devolved to Holyrood over the next few years include Carer's Allowance, Maternity Grants, Winter Fuel Payments and Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit.

On Wednesday the Minister was told of harrowing instances of people being left penny-less for up to six weeks before benefits are paid.

During her meetings with Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) staff and volunteers she was also told of a constant stream of appeals being prepared, and mostly won, after long-term disability claimants lost their benefits due to controversial Work Capability Assessments.

And the minister heard of regular sanctions being imposed due to transport difficulties as well as assessments being cancelled by the city-based contractors due to the rural nature of the Scottish Borders.

Following her Borders meetings Ms Freeman told us: "There is something terribly wrong with the current system.

"There are a lot of issues here in the Borders that are similar to issues we are finding right across the country, but there are also additional problems being faced by people who live here as it's not always so easy for them to make appointments, be assessed or fulfill their obligations for claiming benefits.

"My own constituency is also rural and it can be overlooked as well when decisions are being made to change systems such as benefits .

"We will do away with the private sector carrying out assessments after social security is devolved and we will have locally based staff here in the Borders taking their place."

While eleven benefits will be devolved to Holyrood from next year, Jobseeker's Allowance, Employment Support Allowance, Income Support, Housing Benefit and Tax Credits will still be controlled from Westminster through the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP).

State Pensions, Child Benefit and Maternity Allowance will also remain reserved to the UK Government.

Despite the looming creation of two-tier benefits in Scotland to an already complicated system, the Social Security Minister believes it can be simplified following the partial devolvement.

Ms Freeman added: "The UK system is clearly broken - more and more people are having to ask for crisis grants because they have no money coming into their homes. Why should anyone have to wait for six weeks on Universal Credit?

"We clearly won't be able to fix what the DWP will remain responsible for but we will continue to press them for improvements.

"It seems to me the whole application process is wrong. People need to get advice on how to fill in these forms... they are so complicated.

"We will make sure we have a much easier system in place. We will also make sure Citizens Advice and other agencies have plenty of time to fully understand our social security system before it is introduced.

"Rather than becoming more complicated, our aim is to make social security in Scotland easier and fairer."

Ms Freeman's arrival in the Borders coincided with the release of figures showing crisis grants in Scotland had risen by 14 per cent from the previous year.

Local authorities across the country received more than 160,000 requests for help during 2016/17, with the emergency cash paid out totalling more than £9.3 million.

Scottish Borders Council has been inundated with applications ever since the Scottish Welfare Fund was introduced in 2013, with an average of around eight applications being made every DAY.

During 2016/17 a total of 2,240 applications for a crisis grant were made to officers at Newtown St Boswells.

Staff and volunteers at the Central Borders CAB in Galashiels described their daily struggle of helping many of those people who are without any money.

Central Borders CAB manager Kathryn Peden told us: "Since the welfare reforms came in it has been a constantly evolving social security system.

"The scenarios you see in the film I Daniel Blake are what we have to deal with every day. People get stuck in this system and they don't know where to turn.

"We have a dedicated but frustrated team here in our office who are trying to help them.

"The Scottish government are trying to look at all possibilities and outcomes - it's good to know that there will be some light at the end of the tunnel with devolved powers."

Since the Welfare Reform Act 2012, the DWP has contracted Atos and, more recently, American firm Maximus to carry out Work Capability Assessments in Scotland.

Both firms have been heavily criticised by disability rights campaigners, with the DWP’s own statistics showing that between December 2011 and February 2014, a total of 2,380 people died after their claim for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) ended after they were found fit for work.

We were told about some local claimants who have had as many as six ESA assessments cancelled as Edinburgh-based staff only visit the Borders one day each week.

We were also told that more than 60 per cent of appeals made against the equally-controversial Personal Independence Payment (PIP) assessments from the Scottish Borders are successful.

Ms Peden added: "The main issues for us just now are with the move from Disability Allowance to PIP.

"The criteria is so different and when people have been reassessed they often find they no longer qualify and are no longer entitled to the support they received.

"These people are ill already and going through the appeals process can be very damaging.

"We often find that by the time they have gone through the appeals process they have gone from zero points on their first assessment to being put on the enhanced rate because of their disability or illness.

"It has been really useful for everyone to meet with the Minister and relay the stories of people we come across every day."

The Social Security (Scotland) Bill is currently going through the Scottish Parliament.

The Bill sets out a legislative framework for the administration of 11 different social security payments, making provision for operational functions such as overpayments, fraud, error, re-determinations and appeals.

The first social security payments to be delivered by the Scottish government from summer 2018 will be the Carer’s Allowance, followed by the Best Start Grant and the Funeral Expense Assistance from summer 2019.