Tomorrow is Human Rights Day, which provides an opportunity to reflect on how the Scottish Government is putting human rights into practice in its delivery of social security. Since the 2018 Act was passed, the Scottish Government has introduced 12 benefits. Seven of these are completely new forms of financial support, only available in Scotland, including four of our five family payments and our carers allowance supplement.
We want to ensure everyone can get all they are entitled to, so we proactively promote Scottish benefits. For example, we are investing £3.47 million over three years in Welfare Advice and Health Partnerships, placing welfare rights advisors in 180 GP surgeries in our most deprived, rural and remote communities. And we offer people choices to apply online, by phone, by post or in person through our local delivery service.
Treating people with dignity, fairness and respect when accessing a service that is a human right is key to reducing any stigma people can feel when claiming benefits. This is why we are also funding the new Independent Social Security Advocacy Service, with £20.4 million over four years. This makes social security more accessible to disabled people, supporting people to be more involved in the processes and decisions which affect them.
The introduction of adult disability payment in 2022 has been a significant milestone in the growth of Scottish benefits. As part of this, we’ve introduced indefinite awards for severely disabled people with needs which are highly unlikely to change. There are also no UK Department of Work and Pensions-style assessments carried out by the private sector in our system, and people will only be asked to attend person-centred consultations with Social Security Scotland health and social care practitioners if it is really necessary.
Furthermore, we created and developed Scottish child payment at pace from 2020, and since its introduction we’ve increased the payment by 150 per cent to £25 a week for each eligible child. This has been extended to under-16s, and more than 400,000 children are forecast to be eligible for the payment. The increase and extension was described as a “watershed moment” in tackling child poverty by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, and already people have applied in their tens of thousands.
Moreover, where we can, we want to make sure people receive money they are entitled to without the need to apply. We already do this with our carer’s allowance supplement and child winter heating payment, and we recently introduced automatic best-start grant early learning and school age payments for people who qualify and already receive Scottish child payment.
What we are doing is helping people across Scotland. We are delivering an easily accessible and compassionate service – 93 per cent of respondents to Social Security Scotland’s annual client survey rated their overall experience as very good or good. We know we have a challenging winter ahead and will continue to do what we can with our limited powers and resources to support people.
We have allocated almost £3 billion in this financial year which will help households face the increased costs of living, including £1 billion in providing services and financial support not available elsewhere in the UK. This includes Scottish benefits, and is part of how we are putting human rights at the heart of our developing social security service.
Ben Macpherson is SNP MSP for Edinburgh Northern and Leith and minister for social security