Private firms barred from role in Scottish benefits system

Minister Jeane Freeman. Picture: Contributed
Minister Jeane Freeman. Picture: Contributed
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Private companies will not carry out assessments for Scotland’s newly-devolved benefits, the social security minister has announced.

Jeane Freeman ruled out the involvement of private firms as she set out details of the new social security agency in a statement at Holyrood.

She told MSPs that once fully operational, the new agency was expected to create at least 1,500 jobs and have running costs of about £150 million a year.

The move follows controversy about the UK government’s use of the private firm Atos to assess suitability for benefits amid claims people were being told to work when unfit to do so.

A decision on where the Scottish agency will be based is expected to be made in the autumn but Ms Freeman said jobs would be spread across the country. She told the chamber: “In the past 11 months I have learned a great deal about how the current UK system goes about assessments.

“Over and over again, I have heard the personal experiences of so very many who have found this to be one of the most difficult, distressing and demeaning aspects of their whole experience, and I am in no doubt that the current UK assessment model must be substantially changed.”

Ms Freeman continued: “We will be guided by our principles.

“One of those principles is that profit should never be a motive nor play any part in making decisions or assessing people’s health and eligibility.

“I have seen and heard enough evidence to know that the private sector should not be involved in assessments for Scotland’s benefits.

“So, I can confirm to the chamber that in our assessment model there will be no contracting with the private sector.

“I have begun to explore the potential to use the existing information and expertise of the health and social care sector.”

She told the parliament that ten of the 11 devolved benefits would be delivered directly by the new central agency, with the 11th – discretionary housing payments – as well as the Scottish Welfare Fund continuing to be administered by local authorities.

Tory welfare spokesman Adam Tomkins said there were still questions about how the new social security agency would work.

He welcomed that progress was “finally being made”, but added people were unsure of its structure and how accountable it would be to MSPs.