In Scotland we have a unique opportunity to build a new social security system as we take responsibility for 11 benefits previously held by the UK government.
We have seized this opportunity and, and as Scotland’s Social Security Minister I am taking forward a fundamentally different approach to that of the Westminster government.
For us, social security is an investment that we collectively make in ourselves and in each other. So the system we will design and deliver will be rights-based, ensuring that people receive what they are entitled to and from a service that exemplifies dignity, fairness and respect.
A landmark Social Security Bill is making its way through the Scottish Parliament and will enshrine the principles of dignity and respect in law, with social security recognised as a basic human right.
The law will make it clear that social security is a public service and it will deliver our commitment not to use the private sector in health assessments.
There is more. We’ll end the indignity of assessment and review for people who are terminally ill and introduce more lifetime awards.
A new Social Security Agency will be set up to deliver devolved benefits with its HQ in Dundee, a major centre in Glasgow and locally based staff helping people understand what they are entitled to and support them to make their application.
We’re legislating to set up an independent Social Security Commission to ensure all future regulations, or changes, comply with human rights – from designing the application forms through to determining eligibility criteria and the right to challenge decisions.
What are the social security powers being devolved to Scotland?
- Disability Living Allowance / Personal Independence Payments
- Attendance Allowance
- Carer’s Allowance
- Winter Fuel Allowance and the Cold Weather Payment
- Sure Start Maternity Grant
- Industrial Injuries Benefit
- Severe Disablement Allowance
- Funeral Payment
And we are working directly with our 2,400 volunteers in our nationwide Experience Panels, key stakeholder organisations and local councils to make sure the voices of those who use the system are heard every step of the way.
We do not underestimate the scale or complexity of this opportunity. Few countries in recent history have built a new system from scratch or on these principles.
At the moment, 1.4 million people in Scotland rely on the financial support involved. Our job is not only to set up this value-based and principle-led system but at the same time, to make sure that they continue to receive the payments they rely on.
So we are taking this step by step, in a planned and robust way, designing, testing and delivering each component of this new public service as we go. Our fellow citizens deserve nothing less.
Yet faced with an uncaring UK system, we must take action where we can. So we have already introduced the small but important changes to Universal Credit that our limited powers allow – giving choice on frequency of payment and on rent payment direct to landlords. And we have retained housing support for 18 to 21 year olds, now cut the Tories at Westminster for young people in the rest of the UK.
This summer we will increase Carer’s Allowance by 13 per cent to match the level of Jobseeker’s Allowance. And by summer next year we will delivery funeral assistance and introduce our Best Start Grant to replace the Sure Start Maternity Grant. The Best Start Grant will see increased payments for the first child to a total of £1100 and restoring payments for the second and all subsequent children, taking the support from zero to a total of £800. A significant additional investment in young lives.
As we move forward in our planned delivery, we will also introduce a Jobs Grant – to support young people into work, and a new Young Carer’s Grant. While the UK government is slashing benefits for young people, in Scotland this SNP government will do the right thing by them.
We are also supporting local authorities explore radical new ways to deliver social assistance, through funding pilots for citizens’ basic income schemes.
But it is clear that with further powers we could do so much more.
What social security powers are still reserved to Westminster?
- Universal Credit
- Employment Support Allowance
- Housing Benefit
- Child Benefit
- Jobseeker’s Allowance
- Pension Credit
- State Pension
In-work benefits remain in the hands of an uncaring Tory government at Westminster and Scotland still has to endure a botched roll-out of Universal Credit; a four year benefit freeze on Universal Credit benefits; the abhorrent two child policy and Rape Clause; and cuts to benefits for children.
In contrast, in our work to build a Scottish social security system we are firmly and clearly re-establishing this part of the social contract between government and those we serve.
The case for full devolution of social security powers is unanswerable and it is well past time that all progressive parties in Scotland, who want us to go further and do more, recognised that and backed us.
With the powers we do have there is no doubt that Scotland is leading by example – taking bold and innovative action that will change lives. We can all take pride in that. But we all know there is much more to do and so we use our approach here to strengthen our arguments for the future.
Jeane Freeman MSP is Scotland’s Minister for Social Security.