History made as the Scottish Parliament passes landmark Social Security Bill, improved by cross-party co-operation

Last Wednesday the Scottish Parliament passed the Social Security Bill which gives power over many disability and carers benefits as well as some aspects of Universal Credit. It was a marathon debate with over 120 amendments. One of the really good things about the Scottish Parliament’s modern systems is that you can have many more votes. Unlike the House of Commons where each vote means 15 minutes of queuing, at Holyrood, it’s a second of button pushing. This has meant a much more wide-ranging debate. To the SNP Government’s credit, Social Security Minister Jeane Freeman engaged with the opposition parties and not only listened to what they had to say but took it on board as well.

One particular issue was the issue of terminal illness. At the moment, to access benefits if you are terminally ill, you have to have six months or less to live. In a move even supported by the Conservatives in the Scottish Parliament, there will be no limit.

The Liberal Democrats have no representation on the Social Security Committee, but worked with Green and Labour MSPs to ensure that there will be no unnecessary disability benefit assessments, and for those that have to take place, the person involved will have a say in when and where they should take place.

Unlike south of the border, the Bill provides for the housing element of Universal Credit to be paid directly to the landlord and, as the result of an amendment, to be split between joint claimants in a household. The latter is an important point. If there is domestic abuse in a relationship, there will likely be financial abuse as well, so it is important that everyone has some level of financial independence. That is going to be a difficult one to implement because the DWP will drag its heels. I hope, though, that they will find a way to do this for the whole of the UK.

The DWP also needs to address issues with the direct payment to landlords. At the moment, payments are being delayed. They are aware of the fault but not seeing a sense of urgency about fixing it.

You can read the whole debate here and you can see all the documents related to its passing here.

The passing of the Bill is the beginning, not the end of the story, though. The Scottish Government’s social security agency must have a very different, more compassionate and enabling culture than the Department for Work and Pensions from the start.

This Bill must be used to tackle inequality and poverty and give everyone the chance to get on in life. People need to feel that they are treated with dignity and respect and that the organisations supporting them have confidence in the system. This is the measure against which they must now be judged and there can be no hiding from it.

There are still huge challenges ahead to get the IT infrastructure and skills in place to put these powers to good use.

With a million people in Scotland living in poverty, including one in four children, people are relying on ministers to get this right and they can’t afford for payments to go astray or be delayed.

This is a massive opportunity to show the rest of the UK how a fair social security system can work. This will then create pressure for similar changes across the whole UK.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • William Fowler 29th Apr '18 - 1:23pm

    “There are still huge challenges ahead to get the IT infrastructure and skills in place to put these powers to good use.”

    If they actually get one that works properly, they can sell it back to the English govn as they seem to have been running around in circles trying to get theirs working (hence I would guess all the irrational and often stupid bits of implementation). I suspect a small core of competent people rather than the layers of hapless bureacrats would be a step in the right direction.

    Love to see Scotland get full tax and spend powers, show the existing system up for the creaking mess it is.

  • You don’t have to have 6 months or less to live, you must have a pregressive disease which is reasonably expected to cause your passing away in 6 months or less. “Reasonably expected” allows there to be wiggle room. Where many clamour for assessment process to be scrapped and judged on evidence of specialist or GP who knows you best the Special Rules is the closest example to that happening

    Whether it’s still an imperfect policy or not now much improved by the Scottish parties is a separate question, but seems an odd one to bring up regarding cruel DWP practice.

    Good, joined up, work nevertheless.

  • 2nd post:

    Special rules are more cruel in that DWP offices don’t communicate to each other (therefore information has to be gone over again) and that UC seemingly hasn’t the function of uploading it onto the system rather than strictness of 6 months prognosis.

  • That is indeed good news, Caron.

    Now let’s tackle the job of getting rid of all the outsourcing to the likes of ATOS and their successors – and start tackling the issue of social care for the elderly.

  • @ William Fowler ” I suspect a small core of competent people rather than the layers of hapless bureaucrats would be a step in the right direction.”

    It’s good to hear of your expertise, Mr. Fowler, and reassuring to know that you don’t count yourself as a hapless bureaucrat.

    For myself, I would walk 500 miles (bad hip’nall) to give a decent system of Social Security to England and Wales…. and if you stick around long enough you might discover that not everything has to be bought and sold in the market place in the social Liberal world.

    PS After years of NHS Wales bashing by the Tory Party……. how refreshing to learn that NHS Wales leads the way in organ donation, and this week with a safer and more accurate test for Down’s syndrome. The Welsh Health Minister Rebecca Evans has confirmed the Welsh Government has agreed to the introduction of non-invasive prenatal testing (NIPT) within the antenatal screening .

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