Here’s why Social Security Scotland shows decisions are best made in Scotland

This week’s announcement by Rishi Sunak that he would withhold benefits from those with/suffering mental health conditions is yet another example that shows decisions are better being made  in Scotland.

In his speech on welfare the Prime Minister described sickness benefit as a the “sick-note culture” and said people were “over-medicalising the everyday challenges and worries of life”.

He suggested greater medical evidence should be required to support a claim for personal independence payments (PIP) by people with mental health conditions who would be offered talking therapies or respite care rather than cash transfers.

As the Scottish Government’s Social Justice Secretary, Shirley-Anne Somerville, said, these proposals were “heartless”, and that the SNP “completely rejects” them.

In fact, the UK government didn’t even consult the Scottish Government before making this announcement.

Scotland has some powers over social security in Scotland which is run by Social Security Scotland. It takes a different approach to the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) run by the Tory government in Westminster. It puts dignity, fairness and respect at the heart of what it does.

Under the SNP Scottish Government the widespread use of sanctions are not imposed as there is clear and overwhelming evidence that they simply do not work.

Through Social Security Scotland the Scottish Government is delivering Five Family Payments, that also includes the Scottish Child Payment, which, from the start of this month, could be worth over £10,000 by the time an eligible child turns 6 and around £25,000 by the time an eligible child turns 16.

This compares to less than £2,000 for eligible families in England & Wales where the Tories have control of all social security.

The Scottish Government has also tackled poverty by providing 1,140 hours per year of high-quality funded early learning and childcare to all three and four-year-olds and eligible two-year-olds. If families paid for this themselves, it would cost them around £5,000 per child per year.

We are also replacing DWP’s Cold Weather Payment with our new Winter Heating Payment, providing an annual £55 payment helping over 413,000 low-income individuals with their heating expenses this winter. For next Winter this will be uprated by a further 6.7% to £58.75.

And there are other policies the SNP has put in place to help families in Scotland.

We are providing free bus travel for over 2 million people, including all children and young people under 22, disabled people and everyone age 60 and over.

We offer free school meals to all pupils in primaries 1 to 5 and in special schools, saving families on average £400 per child per year.

And through the Council Tax Reduction Scheme we ensure over 450,000 households receive some level of reduced Council Tax, saving recipients an average of more than £800 a year.

Analysis by the Child Poverty Action Group estimates that low income families in Scotland will be around £28,000 better off by the time their child turns 18 as a result of the more generous support and lower costs for childcare. They said: “Holyrood policies are working”.

In February 2023, the Institute of Fiscal Studies found that the lowest income families in Scotland were £2,000 a year on average better off as result of our progressive tax and benefit policies.

Then there is the Scottish Child Payment – a payment not available anywhere else in the UK. It’s available because we’re prioritising lifting children out of poverty, despite our constrained resources.

Analysis already suggests that the Scottish Child Payment will keep 60,000 children out of relative poverty in 2024-25.

More than 327,000 under-16s were benefitting from the payment by the end of December 2023 and anti-poverty stakeholders and academics recognise its impact.

Professor Danny Dorling of the University of Oxford, said the impact of the Scottish Child Payment was “stunning” and “has an effect on changing the inequality level in Scotland, which I don’t see in any country for which there has been data for the last 40 years.”

Morag Treanor of Glasgow University described the payment as a “a game-changer for Scotland” noting: “Levels of child poverty in Scotland will drop faster [and] further than they will in the rest of the UK, particularly England, because of this payment.”

And Polly Jones, head of the Trussell Trust in Scotland, said: “The Scottish Child Payment… is starting to make an impact in reducing the need for food banks for families with children.”

The actions the Scottish Government is taking are working. As statistics show, poverty rates in Scotland are lower than those for the UK as a whole.

However, the SNP Government has had to step in where the Westminster government has failed.

The Scottish Government has spent over £1bn mitigating the impacts of 14 years of UK Government policy such as the bedroom tax and benefit cap.

And over the past 6 years, it has spent £733 million through Discretionary Housing Payments and the Scottish Welfare Fund.

But this is money that could have been spent on services like health, education and transport, or on further ambitious anti-poverty measures – it could pay for around 2,000 teachers or Band 5 nurses each year.

Nevertheless, Westminster control is a hinderance to tackling poverty in Scotland.

As headlines over the past few years have shown, the UK has some of the worst poverty and inequality levels amongst its peers in developed countries and north west Europe:

It’s a far cry from what was promised in the 2014 referendum when the Westminster parties claimed people would be £1,400 better off every year by voting ‘No’, that Westminster ‘served Scotland so well’ and it ‘offered better protection’ for pensioners, disabled and the unemployed.

And the changes announced by Rishi Sunak can affect the work Social Security Scotland does as the eligibility of some people on a low income to Scottish benefits is linked to eligibility for benefits they receive from the DWP.

Those changes announced by Rishi Sunak are yet another example of the UK Government’s punitive approach to Social Security. One which appears to be entirely focussed on reducing the support to those who need it the this most, regardless of the devastating consequences.

But there is a new path Scotland can take. The Scottish Government’s record on tackling poverty shows that decisions made in Scotland are better for the people of Scotland, compared to those made by the Westminster obsessed parties.

Imagine how better things would be if Scotland had the powers Westminster currently controls. And that can only be done by voting SNP for independence.