CPAG in Scotland today welcomed the launch of the Scottish Government’s consultation on the future of social security in Scotland.
John Dickie, Director of CPAG in Scotland today said,
“This consultation is a critical opportunity to help develop a Scottish social security system. Whilst most benefits remain reserved at UK level, devolved benefits must now play a key role in tackling the poverty that blights so many children’s lives. It’s vital that Scotland uses these new powers to ensure that social security is adequate to meet the needs of struggling families across Scotland, that the system for accessing benefits is straightforward and treats people with real dignity and respect and that devolved benefits are delivered at a national Scottish level to ensure consistency, accountability and the very best possible quality of service.”
The three month public conversation provides an opportunity to consider how powers being devolved to Scotland can be used to improve the lives of children and families across Scotland – many of whom are currently being failed by the social security system.
The powers to be devolved to Holyrood include control over benefits for disabled people and carers, some benefits for families with young children and limited aspects of universal credit.
While the majority of social security powers are still reserved to Westminster, the Scottish Government now has increased powers to make a meaningful difference to the thousands of households living in poverty in Scotland.
CPAG in Scotland looks forward to responding to the consultation over the coming months but today highlighted five ways in which the new powers could be used to improve social security for children and families across Scotland. It urged the Scottish Government to:
1) Seize the opportunity to invest further in Scotland’s children
CPAG welcomes the Scottish Government’s decision to invest in a ‘Best Start Grant’ for children in low income households. The payments will provide a much needed financial boost to families when their baby is born and again when they start nursery and primary school. However, Ministers must now go further and consult on how new powers to ‘top-up’ UK benefits could be used to tackle child poverty. CPAG proposes a £5 a week top up to child benefit. This would reduce child poverty in Scotland by 14% - meaning 30 000 fewer children in poverty than would otherwise be the case - and help thousands of families avoid the food bank. This could set Scotland on a different trajectory from the rest of the UK, where levels of child poverty are set to rise dramatically in the coming years.
2) Ensure disabled people and carers are treated with dignity and respect – wherever they live
Changes to the social security system, including the introduction of more face-to-face assessments and narrower eligibility criteria have brought great uncertainty to disabled people across the UK. The Scottish Government must take this opportunity to ensure the process of applying for Scottish disability benefits is as fair and stress free as possible. It should also ensure that disabled people are treated with dignity and respect and that they do not need to go through repeated and unnecessary assessments.
Disability benefits must also remain as cash benefits with decisions made and claims administered at a national Scotland level. This will help ensure that disabled people get a high quality, consistent and accountable service.
3) Make UK universal credit work better for Scotland’s families
The Scottish Government has already committed to use new powers to tackle some of the worst effects of welfare reform at UK level by, for example, getting rid of the bedroom tax in Scotland. It must now use new powers – such as the power to pay rent directly to landlords and split universal credit payments between adults in a household – to make universal credit work as well as possible for families in Scotland. The Scottish Government will also have the power to give more help to hard-pressed families struggling to cover their rent. Ministers must consider how these powers could be used to ensure housing support within universal credit is based on people’s actual housing costs.
4) Keep the system as straightforward as possible
Our evidence shows that some of the biggest problems with the social security system arise because of its complexity which can lead to high rates of error and delay. This in turn can cause income crisis and food poverty for those in receipt of benefits. The Scottish Government must ensure that simplicity and accessibility are at the forefront of its considerations when it is designing a social security system for Scotland. This could play an important role in reducing demand for food banks in Scotland.
5) Provide people with the help and support they need to use the system
No matter how straightforward the social security system in Scotland is, there will always be a need to ensure people have the information, advice and support they need to access the benefits they are entitled to. There is currently low uptake of some of the benefits being devolved, with only 47% of eligible families claiming Healthy Start vouchers in some parts of Scotland. The devolution of powers provides an opportunity to make sure everyone has the help and support they need to claim the benefits they are entitled to.
ANNEX 1 Powers being devolved to the Scottish Parliament
Powers being devolved to the Scottish Parliament under the Scotland Act 2016 include the following:
• Disability living allowance (DLA), personal independence payment (PIP), attendance allowance (AA) and carer’s allowance
The Scotland Act 2016 gives the Scottish Parliament legislative control over certain benefits for disabled people. This includes the power to replace or amend benefits such as DLA, PIP and attendance allowance as well as carer’s allowance.
• The Regulated social fund and Healthy Start
The Scotland Act gives the Scottish Parliament the power to provide financial or non-financial assistance to people to reduce maternity expenses, funeral expenses or expenses for heating in cold weather. This includes control over Sure Start Maternity Grants. The Scotland Act gives the Scottish Parliament control over the Healthy Start voucher and vitamin scheme which currently provides vitamins and vouchers for healthy foods (such as milk, fruit and vegetables) to low-income families.
• The power to create new benefits and top up reserved benefits
The Scotland Act allows the Scottish Government to make ‘top-up’ payments to individuals who require financial assistance and who are entitled to an existing UK benefit. The Act also gives the Scottish Parliament the power to create new benefits.
• Responsibility for discretionary housing payments and the Scottish Welfare Fund
The Scotland Act gives the Scottish Parliament the power to legislate for discretionary payments to help alleviate a short-term need for people whose well-being is at risk. Similar powers are currently used by the Scottish Government to deliver the Scottish Welfare Fund. The also gives the Scottish Parliament control over discretionary housing payments which can be made to certain households who need help to cover housing costs.
• Universal credit flexibilities (amount for rent, payment arrangements)
The Scotland Act gives the Scottish Parliament the power to amend the way in which the housing costs for universal credit are calculated for claimants who rent accommodation. The Parliament will also be able to make regulations which enable the housing costs to be paid to someone on behalf of a claimant (such as the claimant’s landlord).
The Act also enables Scottish Ministers to make alternative payment arrangements in relation to universal credit. This will include the power to pay universal credit twice rather than once a month. It will also allow the universal credit payment to be split between adults in the household instead of being paid to one person only.