New Scottish social security system a “milestone” moment, says Angela Constance

Stuart Rodger

Ministers seek views of public on how to make Scottish social security “fairer”

CABINET Secretary Angela Constance has said the creation of a social security system is a “milestone” moment in the history of the Scottish Parliament.

Constance was speaking at the Pearce Institute in Govan, Glasgow, where the Scottish Government launched its consultation on the changes. Ministers are seeking the views of the public on how the welfare system can be improved as it drafts a Social Security Bill, expected to brought forward by 2017.

The creation of a social security system in Scotland follows the devolution of new powers over welfare in the Scotland Act 2016. The changes mean the Scottish Parliament will have power over 15 per cent of all welfare and pensions spending – with Personal Independence Payments for disabled people, Attendance Allowance, and Carer’s Allowance being three of the key benefits being devolved.

“One of the things we heard this morning was how unfairly some people are treated.” Jeane Freeman MSP

Also in attendance was Jeane Freeman, minister for social security, who said: “We want to build a fairer social security system that treats people with dignity and respect. It is important that we gather views from from as wide a range of people as possible.” The consultation opens today, with people given 13 weeks to have their say on the changes.

The Scottish Government reiterated plans to “effectively abolish” the Bedroom Tax through powers of the housing element of Universal Credit, to increase Carer’s Allowance, and to introduce a new ‘Job Grant’ for all young people returning to work after a period of six months’ unemployment.

When asked about potential changes to assessments for Personal Independence Payment (PIP) – a benefit given to disabled people to meet the extra daily costs of living with a disability – Freeman said: “One of the things we heard this morning was unfairly some people are treated. Medical evidence ought to be the foundation, and the only place you can get that is from clinicians.”

See also: Disability campaigners urge Scottish Government to act as welfare powers transferred

PIP assessments in Scotland are currently carried out by private firm Atos. Asked if this would continue, Cabinet Secretary Angela Constance said there was “reticence about groups making profit from it” but declined to make specific pledges, saying changes would be informed by the consultation.

Constance added that they would consider “automatic” grants for people with specific conditions, and that they would increase disability benefits in line with inflation.

The changes come within the context of sweeping changes from the UK Government on welfare, with Univeral Credit being gradually rolled out to replace all working tax credits, child tax credits and jobseekers’ allowance. The Scottish Government will have “flexibilities” over how Universal Credit is delivered – offering claimants the option of being paid twice monthly instead of once-monthly, and the option of the rent element being paid directly to the landlord.

Constance reiterated that the welfare powers remain limited, but said: “The Scotland Act does not go as far as we would wish in devolving powers – leaving 85 per cent of benefit spending in the hands of the UK Government.”

“We will always use all the powers available to us in the best interests of Scotland.”

Picture: CommonSpace

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