Four years after the passing of the Social Security (Scotland) Act, the Scottish Government’s warm words are yet to be turned into action.
They have presided over delay after delay, leaving powers in the hands of the Tories and the Department for Work and Pensions in control of around three-quarters of current benefit spending.
They have shown no interest in growing our economy and creating the good, well-paid jobs needed to tackle poverty and exclusion.
Meanwhile poverty is rife, a debt crisis is looming and people are struggling to make ends meet. It is more urgent than ever to have a social security system that is truly fit for purpose and an economic strategy that supports people from all backgrounds into quality work.
With the powers we have here, we could have seen more support for women, recognising the role they played through the pandemic, stepping in as carers when the state pulled out. Instead, the uplift to the carers supplement was scrapped.
The SNP could have made real changes for disabled people by removing the 20-metre rule, which excludes anyone able to walk more than 20 metres from the highest level of support, and the 50% rule, which rules out conditions affecting people less than half the time. They could have recognised these arbitrary numbers bar people from accessing the support they need and harm those with fluctuating conditions like Long Covid and MS, but they haven’t.
At this rate, substantial changes to Adult Disability Payment won’t be in place in this parliament, despite financial and legal competence being entirely devolved for years.
Child poverty remains at shamefully high levels. The Scottish Government say that, with a fair wind, we might scrape the interim target for relative child poverty next year. But even with that optimistic outlook, the absolute poverty target will be missed next year.
The Scottish Child Payment is welcome, but at its current rate and unfinished state, it is not doing enough. Most of the children who should be eligible are not receiving the full amount. The Scottish Government’s clumsiness is denying children upwards of £5 million in payments every week. People deserve and expect better.
We did not devolve social security to tinker around the edges or create headline opportunities for the SNP.
The lack of real change in the areas where this government has acted is staggering, but in some cases they have yet to do anything at all.
There’s still no timetable for the development and delivery of so many benefits: the replacements for Attendance Allowance, Severe Disablement Allowance or Employment Injury Assistance.
The Scottish Government are big on talk but short on action. This is not about throwing money at piecemeal policies and sticking plasters, it’s about building a system that guarantees everyone has enough money to live on, using all the powers at our disposal.
It’s time to stop messing about, get the staff needed, sort the IT, move the payments over at pace, and deliver the promised radical new agenda.
Pam Duncan-Glancy is Scottish Labour social justice and social security spokesperson