Fewer than six months after its passing through Parliament, the new public service responsible for Scottish benefits was in place and making its first payments.
From a standing start, Social Security Scotland has grown rapidly and now employs nearly 1,500 people. It delivers 10 benefits, with our 11th starting next week.
These benefits are aimed at increasing financial support to hundreds of thousands of people on low incomes. This support includes assisting families with young children, families of disabled children to heat their homes, carers, those who have lost loved ones and young people starting work
Social Security Scotland has made a remarkable difference already and we are going to do a lot more.
Whilst getting money into people’s pockets at the right time is vital, there is more to tackling poverty and promoting equality through social security. That’s why we have a commitment to treat people with dignity and respect embedded into our system and enshrined in our legislation.
This means providing a social security system that is there for people when and where they need it, is fair and straightforward to access, and holds no stigma towards people getting financial support they are entitled to.
This commitment can only be achieved by listening to what people want. Their voices are crucial to inform what we need to build, which is why over the last three years we have listened to, and learnt from, our client-experience panels and people with lived experience of the UK benefit system.
There is no doubt Covid-19 has created unexpected challenges and, unfortunately, it has meant we have had to reassess our timetable. This was unavoidable. However, even in the face of the pandemic, Social Security Scotland has continued to deliver, ensuring everyone was paid their benefits on time.
We have also recruited and trained more employees to administer the new benefits we’ve created. Because in the past year we have successfully introduced three benefits: Job Start Payment, Child Winter Heating Assistance, and the “game-changing” Scottish Child Payment.
All these benefits are designed to make a direct, significant impact to the lives of thousands of households. Scottish Child Payment, in particular, will be key in achieving our wider objectives as a government to eradicate child poverty. I’m proud that Scotland is the only part of the UK where this type of additional payment is available.
In recent months, as Scotland’s social security minister, I’ve been able to talk with and listen to people who’ve benefited from our new social security system, and I’ve seen the positive impact it’s making to people’s lives. We are using the powers we have to make a meaningful difference, support families and tackle poverty, especially at this challenging time.
Our next benefit, Child Disability Payment, will be introduced next week on 26 July in three pilot areas, Dundee, Perth and Kinross, and the Western Isles, ahead of November’s nationwide roll out. This is the first phase of delivering much more complex and larger disability benefits.
We will introduce our Child Disability Payment to replace the UK government’s Disability Living Allowance for children, and transfer existing claims from the UK to the Scottish government for the first time.
The introduction of this new payment will be the first time two governments will share clients as many people may be eligible for payments from both the UK and Scottish governments, and those payments will affect and, in some cases, interact with one another.
This is the first time any country has attempted to devolve powers from such an integrated and complex system of social security. Child Disability Payment will be followed by Adult Disability Payment, the replacement for the UK’s Personal Independence Payment, next year.
People coming to us for the first time to apply for Child Disability Payment will discover our approach is significantly different. We have learned from the challenges families typically experience in the current service. Clients will find our system simplified, less time consuming and much less stressful.
For the first time, they will also be able to access our new local delivery service, which will be able to answer queries about Scottish benefits, help to complete paper or online applications, and be available online, on the phone and also face-to-face.
A lot has been achieved already and building a better social security system remains a major priority for the Scottish government, and one of our most significant undertakings in the years ahead.
It is also a key feature of our priorities for the first 100 days of government and the delivery of our manifesto commitments. As we come out of the pandemic, and collectively work to build a fairer and more equal society, the Scottish government will ensure that devolved social security is effectively delivered to support those who need assistance, tackle poverty, promote equality and create a more socially just country.
Social security is a human right and none of us know when we might need it. Creating this new system is a collective investment.
That is why we have been developing Social Security Scotland in a way that will not only continue to deliver in the months and years ahead, but will also serve our society well for decades to come.
The next stages of delivery are hugely ambitious but we have established a new institution with strong foundations to build on. Our aim is to make Scotland’s social security service one that we can all feel rightly proud of, and one that makes a meaningful, positive difference for all those who need it. Achieving this aim will be significant and it will benefit the whole of Scotland, as we build forward fairer, together.
Ben Macpherson is minister for social security and local government and SNP MSP for Edinburgh Northern and Leith