Jeane Freeman: Benefits bill was a historic move

Social Security Minister Jeane Freeman.       Picture: John Devlin
Social Security Minister Jeane Freeman. Picture: John Devlin
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The Scottish Parliament recently voted unanimously to pass the Social Security (Scotland) Bill. It was a historic moment – one when it truly felt as though all of us in the chamber were witnessing a milestone as we see the biggest transfer of powers since devolution.

But the real impact is not just in passing laws, but in what it means for the people who will rely on social security. That’s what’s important and that’s what we have always focused on.

A safe and steady transition is what counts. This is what matters – making sure that the 1.4 million people who need the 11 devolved Scottish benefits get what they are entitled to and that payments are on time and accurate.

By the end of this summer, we will start paying the first Scottish benefit. The carer’s allowance supplement will mean a 13 per cent increase for Scottish carers – equivalent to an extra £8.50 a week in people’s pockets, paid twice a year as a lump sum. It’s worth over £30 million a year and will benefit more than 70,000 carers.

Next year will see the introduction of the young carer grant. That’s a £300 annual payment for young adults with significant caring responsibilities who don’t qualify for carer’s allowance.

Our improvements for carers are examples of how we’re doing things differently.

READ MORE: Scots welfare approach to be ‘different’ as MSPs pass new benefits system

For low income families with young children, there will also be changes for the better.

By summer 2019 we will be paying the best start grant. That’s a payment to help low income parents – a one-off £600 grant for the birth of a first child and then two £250 payments in the early years of a child’s life. We don’t put caps on our future generations so we are introducing birth grants of £300 for second and any other children born in a family.

In total this is worth up to £1400 more for a two-child family, a significant improvement on the UK government system and an important one because we believe in investing in families and children at the earliest possible stage.

Next year will also see delivery of the first funeral expense assistance. That will provide help to bereaved people when they’re in some of the most difficult of circumstances. We will make it simpler for people to gain the financial support they need to pay for a funeral and, as we have increased the eligibility for help, our funeral expense assistance will also reach around 2000 more people than the UK system. It will also provide more financial support as we have committed to annual uprating of the flat rate element of the payment, which has been frozen at £700 since 2003. We are doing this for carer’s allowance and disability payments too.

These tangible benefits reach wider than those who will receive social security assistance. Our focus on delivery extends to the jobs and economic benefits of our new agency too.

We are already recruiting the first staff who will deliver our benefits. When fully operational, Social Security Scotland will have created 1,900 jobs – that includes staff in its HQ in Dundee, its second site in Glasgow and staff providing help across the country. In total the agency expects to contribute around £125 million in GDP and support around 800 other jobs outside the agency in the wider economy.

While the bill may have seemed like the end of the process for some, to me it’s an exciting beginning marking the point where we are able to deliver the first Scottish social security benefits. Our new social security system will always have dignity and respect at its heart and I am determined that this is one we can all be proud of.

Jeane Freeman OBE MSP is a Scottish National Party (SNP) politician and the Minister for Social Security in Scotland.