A new social security system for Scotland?

Alex Rowley spoke of need for joined up strategy to tackle inequality and poverty
Alex Rowley spoke of need for joined up strategy to tackle inequality and poverty

The Parliament will have more welfare powers and in the debate that took place the convenor of the committee Hugh Henry set out the issues as the committee saw them.


One of the issues that has occupied us, and indeed many stakeholders in the field, is upon what principles should be new Social Security system be based?

Many principles been suggested –

  • dignity
  • respect
  • having a person centred system
  • basing it on human rights
  • making it passported, with eligibility for one benefit automatically leading to qualification for others
  • making it simple, with documentation in plain English

Are these the sort of principles you feel should underpin the Scottish Social Security system or are there others?

Disability Living Allowance and Personal Independence Payments

This Parliament will inherit responsibility for Disability Living Allowance and its successor Personal Independence Payments or Pip as it is often known. This is a huge scheme and a huge responsibility – it currently has a budget of £1.5 billion a year and covers hundreds of thousands of people.

Changes are already in train, of course. The move from Disability Living Allowance to Pip has already attracted some criticism and comment.

How should we run Pip in the future? Should we change the eligibility criteria?

Carer’s allowance

Carer’s allowance will be devolved and this has attracted a lot of interest. There are issues around the definition of carers – which it now looks as though we will have the freedom to change. But how should we operate carers allowance in the future? What are the changes we want to make from the scheme we will inherit?

The Work Programme and Work Choice

The Work Programme has its detractors and supporters. The Work and Pensions Committee at Westminster recently reported that it had achieved similar results to its predecessors at significantly less cost to the taxpayer, so some say it represents value for money. But then again the Committee has heard evidence from those who have been on the work programme and not found the experience helpful. One participant I remember clearly describing the assessment centres as “stinking of Red Bull and desperation”.

There are also many who claim that the Work Programme has failed people with disabilities because the additional payments that providers receive to get them into work are not enough to make them a worthwhile group for providers to focus on.

How do we want to run the Work Programme or its successor in future?

Do we want it to run on the basis of £100million contracts held by private organisations whose primary motive is bound to be profit?

Do we want it to be run by third sector organisations – do they have the ability?

To what extent do we want it to be run locally? Do we want to have a national scheme delivered locally……or what?

There doesn’t seem to be a clear consensus on this issue at the moment, so your views are particularly welcome.

And what about Work Choice, the rather neglected sibling of the work programme, for people with disabilities? It seems to enjoy a better reputation than the Work Programme, but, do we want to keep it exactly the same? Are there not potential improvements there too?

The Regulated Social Fund

The regulated social fund covers a number of relatively small aid schemes, but they include some that raise heated issuesfuneral payments – the cost of funerals has risen rapidly and vary enormously from one local authority to another. How should funeral payments respond to this? Should the bereaved be eligible for different amounts in different areas, or should we try and create some universal scheme?

cold weather payments and winter fuel payments – leaving aside for a minute the fact that we have two independent schemes for helping older people with heating costs, how selective or universal should these be? Should you continue to be eligible if you’re living in Benidorm?

And finally two big issues where we will not have full control, but may be able to make a significant impact.

Universal Credit

Universal Credit is the main Social Security benefit for the future. It’s incorporates seven current benefits. The Department of Work and Pensions estimates that when it is fully rolled out (if ever!) it will cover 6 or 7 million people in the UK. There may never have been a benefit on this scale.

This Parliament will not be in control of it, that power will remain with Westminster, but we do have some important powers in relation to the administration of it.

There seems to be a strong degree of consensus on the following issues:

  • that the housing element of universal credit be paid by default to the landlord, unless the tenant requests otherwise
  • that it should be paid fortnightly rather than monthly
  • and that it should be easy to arrange for it to be paid to more than one householder when necessary

Do you agree with these propositions, or do you have a different view, and why?

Top up benefits

Finally, it also seems to be clearer now than it once was, that we will have the ability to top up devolved benefits.

This is potentially a huge power, but of course comes at a cost.

What do we think as a Parliament? Do we think that this is a power we should use to the full, to improve the sometimes miserable lot of people on benefits?

Are there any groups that should particularly benefit from this power?

Or do we wish to take a cautious approach initially?

What are the issues that we would face using this power?

Many of the benefits due to be devolved to Scotland are accessed by people living with a terminal illness, such as Attendance Allowance, Disability Living Allowance and Personal Independence Payment. Many carers of those living with a terminal illness will be claiming Carer’s Allowance, which will also be devolved.

Post Author: Alex Rowley