New Common Weal report argues that powers set to be devolved in the Scotland Bill are limited, but on child benefit and pensions provide some room for a progressive, universalist approach
COMMON WEAL has today [18 February] published a new report looking at what the Scottish Parliament can do with new powers set to be devolved in the Scotland Bill on social security.
The paper is authored by professor Paul Spicker, author of a number of books on poverty and welfare and Grampian chair of Public Policy at Robert Gordon University from 2001-2015.
Spicker analyses the powers set to be devolved, finding that there is as much limitations as there is opportunities to change welfare policy in Scotland from the package of powers agreed by the Smith Commission in 2014.
“Much of the exercise has been treated as if the intention was to pass the administration of existing benefits to Scotland, but that is not what the Smith Commission agreed, and it is not what the Bill actually does,” Spicker states. “The Bill only makes it possible for the Scottish Parliament to do something. It does not create any new benefits. It does not offer money to anyone, or take money away from them. It does not cancel any of the powers of the DWP or the Treasury.”
The report argues that changing benefits like Universal Credit would have to be negotiated with the UK Government and it is likely that any changes agreed would incur enormous administration costs.
However, Spicker does outline some areas where a more progressive, universalist approach can be achieved.
“In the case of Child Benefit, it would be open to the Scottish Government substantially to increase its value. Child Benefit does not affect other benefits and has no disincentive effect related to transitions to work,” Spicker states.
A top-up of 50 per cent of the current child benefit could, if integrated into the income tax system, raise significant sums for the poorest, while making it tax deductible would reduce the annual cost to approximately PS325 million.
With 1 in 5 Scots children in poverty (221,000), this policy would ensure that the additional money got to all poor households in Scotland with children.
Secondly, Spicker makes the case for a “Citizens’ Pension” to ensure that all pensioners in Scotland get the equivalent of the state pension.
Spicker explains: “This extra income would immediately mean that most people would not then be entitled to the means-tested Pensions Credit, and under the no-detriment principle, Scotland could then reclaim that money from the UK government. The cost of such a scheme would be the cost of the top-ups less the reduction in entitlement to Pension Credit.”
100,000 pensioners in Scotland that should receive Pension Credit (one in three) do not do so because the means-tested system is so confusing. The Citizen’s Pension would ensure “improved coverage, enhanced dignity, and a reduction in bureaucratic intrusion”.
The report was covered in The National, which you can read here .