The Winter Heating Payment will make a real difference

This month, Holyrood will introduce our 13th new benefit – the Winter Heating Payment, which will deliver £50 to struggling households to help with heating costs.

When you consider that we’ve introduced these 13 payments within five years, this is remarkable progress.

We did not inherit an existing system – we’ve built Social Security Scotland from scratch. We set up a new public service, designed new benefits, developed digital infrastructure and recruited a diverse workforce to deliver an improved experience for people accessing social security.

From the outset, our timetable was always ambitious – especially considering the complexity involved and various dependencies on the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

This was made even more challenging when the pandemic hit. We had to reassess our plans while being cognisant of the pressures our partners were also facing.

We replanned what we could, and I am proud that we were able to prioritise the creation and introduction of our Scottish Child Payment. Since announcing it in the summer of 2019, people have been receiving payments since February 2021.

Since then, we have increased this payment twice and it is now at £25 per week per child – a 150% increase in value. We have also extended the Scottish Child Payment to under-16s, meaning 385,000 children could now be eligible.

Given that we have found ourselves in the grips of a cost of living crisis, getting this payment in place so quickly has made a real difference.

The Scottish Child Payment isn’t the only benefit we introduced through the pandemic. We started paying Job Start Payment, Child Winter Heating Assistance, Child Disability Payment and Adult Disability Payment too.

Disability benefits were always going to be a step change for our new system, given the scale and complexity of these payments and the requirement to transfer 700,000 disability and carer awards safely and securely from the DWP to Social Security Scotland.

To help us get this right, we listened to people and designed how we will deliver payments with them and have since made several improvements and many changes from the DWP approach. In our system, there are no DWP-style assessments or degrading functional examinations.

Now that the benefits are in place, our listening and learning haven’t stopped. We continue to make improvements through our current programme to make what is already a good experience into an even better one.

Providing people with a good experience remains a top priority for us in establishing and developing this system.

That is why I am particularly happy that the latest satisfaction scores indicate that 89% of people thought their experience of engaging with Social Security Scotland was “good” or “very good”.

As we introduce further benefits, this is something that we will be working hard to maintain.

Social security is a human right. It is something that people should be able to access with ease when they need it and feel that they are treated with dignity, fairness and respect when they do.

Any one of us could need some support at some time in our lives. Social security is an investment in ourselves and each other, and payments help to tackle poverty and promote equality.

Moreover, social security interventions can help take the pressure off other parts of our public service, as they can improve things like health outcomes. Collectively, social security helps us all to prosper.

I look forward to updating the Scottish Parliament on the delivery plans for further benefits. These benefits will provide £7.3 billion in support each year by 2027-28, to more than two million people.