A new Scottish social security system will be “much more humane” that the Westminster one, the Scottish Government claimed today.
Leading a debate on the new powers over benefits coming to Scotland, Social Justice Secretary Alex Neil also responded to concerns that more generous system would lead to a “benefits stampede” north of the border.
The Conservatives have warned that the system envisaged by the SNP would undermine the UK Government’s attempts to encourage people off benefits.
After confirming that a new benefits agency would be created to deliver social security, Mr Neil said he did not see a rush of people wanting to take advantage of the new system.
“I think it would inconceivable, particularly with these benefits because they relate to severe illness and disability,” Mr Neil said.
“I don’t see people deliberately trying to make themselves disabled or ill in order to come to Scotland to claim a benefit.
“We already have a number of free benefits in Scotland such as free prescriptions, and that hasn’t ended in a stampede from elsewhere in the UK, and I don’t believe this will end up in a stampede either from other parts of the UK.”
He said there will be a requirement for residency in Scotland in order to qualify.
Mr Neil said his number one priority is to ensure that claimants receive their benefits on time and in full throughout the transfer period.
The SNP will bring forward Scotland’s first Social Security Bill in the first year of the next parliament if it is re-elected in May, he said.
“Our ambitions are that this legislation will reflect a distinctively different and fairer Scottish approach to social security,” he said.
He outlined five basic principles that will underlie the Scottish social security system: investing in people to participate in society; respecting dignity; designing processes based on evidence and consultation with claimants; continuous improvement; plus efficiency and value for money.
Labour equality spokesman Neil Findlay said the devolution of social security offered Scotland the chance to rescue welfare from the perception created by “the forces of Conservatism” and “the dark cloud of Thatcherism” in the 1980s.
“From then until now the tone of the debate around social security has become steeped in a negative culture of blame and division, setting worker against worker, the able bodied against the disabled, young against old, and host community against immigrants,” he said.