Anti-poverty campaigners yesterday welcomed the introduction of a new ‘Social Security Bill‘ for Scotland, heralding it as a “very important step” in the development of Scotland’s very-own social security agency.
The Bill gives ministers in Scotland the power to manage a number of benefits devolved from Westminster, as well as the ability to create and develop new benefits to help support people in Scotland.
One of the first moves will be to increase Carer’s Allowance next year, followed by the Best Start Grant and the Funeral Expense Assistance from summer 2019.
The Bill sets out a legislative framework for the administration of social security in Scotland, making provision for issues such as overpayments, fraud, error, re-determinations and appeals.
It also places a duty on the Scottish Ministers to give assistance to persons who are entitled to it and provides a brief description of each type of assistance that Scottish Ministers will give.
Secondary legislation will provide detail on what assistance will be available and how the system will work in practice, once the Bill has been agreed by the Scottish Parliament. The legislation is expected to come into force within the current Parliamentary term.
Social Security Minister Jeane Freeman said the Bill gives Scotland “the opportunity to make different choices” from the UK Government and “create a fairer and more just society”.
Freeman reiterated a commitment that “dignity and respect” would be firmly at the heart of social security policy making and criticised “unjust” Tory welfare cuts that “cause misery” and “push more people into poverty“.
She said: “I believe strongly that everyone has a right to social security – so much so that I have put these principles on the very first page of this Bill.
“These principles are embedded in our approach throughout – whether it is how entitlement to benefits is determined, a more just review and appeals system or our decision to remove the private sector from disability benefit assessments.
“Dignity and respect is at the heart of our social security policy – a marked contrast to the approach that the current UK Government is taking as their unjust welfare cuts continue to cause misery, push more people into poverty and attract international criticism.
“I look forward to working with colleagues across the chamber, the expert advisory groups and our experience panels to make choices that work for Scotland, to reinstate fairness into the social security system and to listen to people throughout the process.”
Peter Kelly, director of the Poverty Alliance, said the new Bill was a “very important step” towards developing a new social security system in Scotland.
He added: “The Poverty Alliance has supported the calls for the Scottish Parliament to have more powers over social security, and we are pleased that the legislation to implement these powers has been introduced.”
“This Bill is the starting block in thinking about what we believe social security in Scotland should look like”, he said, “and what we can do with our new powers to improve the lives of people living on low incomes.”
Mr Kelly welcomed a commitment by the Scottish Government that the new system will be underpinned by human rights, adding that “securing the dignity of those who use it will be fundamental”.
He added: “For decades, organisations like the Poverty Alliance have campaigned against changes to our welfare system that have undermined human rights and that have often left people stripped of their dignity. We are pleased then to be finally welcoming social security legislation that is based on a very different set of principles and goals.
“As this legislation is turned into real benefits, we will be working with our members and activists to ensure that the principles are made real and that we have a Scottish social security system that genuinely delivers dignity for all.
“Adequate incomes are, for us, the cornerstone of a dignified system. That is why the Poverty Alliance believes the Scottish Government should seek to increase incomes, starting with increasing child benefit by £5 per week and a new poll shows that almost two-thirds of the Scottish public support this.
“Throughout the process it is important that people with experience of poverty are involved in a meaningful way, and we will continue to work to our activists to seek to achieve a social security system that works best for them.”