Benefits name could be dropped from new Scots social security system

Holyrood ministers are considering scrapping the use of the word 'benefits' when they take charge of some parts of the social security system.

Picture: John Devlin
Picture: John Devlin

Responsibility for ill health and disability benefits is being devolved to MSPs, with social security minister Jeane Freeman revealing she believes there is “value in looking at whether we continue to use the word ‘benefits’” when that happens.

The SNP government has already made clear its ambition to place “dignity, fairness and respect” at the heart of the new social security system.

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Ms Freeman said: “I do think there is value in looking at whether or not we continue to use the word ‘benefit’, because there is an implication in there that is the rest of us doing something nice for somebody else, when actually what we have said consistently as a government is that social security is an investment we make collectively in ourselves.

“Part of how you make dignity, fairness and respect real as opposed to just fine words is about the culture that the organisation that will deliver those benefits embraces, and how people receive that in their dealings with that organisation.

“There are some things you can do to effect quite quick cultural change, and part of that is around language and thinking, so there is value in looking at whether or not we don’t simply call these payments, as opposed to benefits, or some other word.”

Ms Freeman, who was elected to Holyrood in May, made the comments as she and Social Security Secretary Angela Constance launched a consultation on how benefits being devolved to Scotland should be delivered.

With welfare payments for those suffering from ill health or disability among those being transferred from Westminster, Ms Constance made clear her reluctance to see private companies “motivated by making profit” being responsible for carrying out health assessments.

The Scottish Government is considering whether people with some medical conditions should automatically receive help.

On the question of who would carry out any assessments for other payments, Ms Constance said: “We would have a great reticence about folk who are motivated by making profit being involved in the social security system.”

The Social Security Secretary described Holyrood taking responsibility for part of the welfare system as “the biggest and most complex programme of change, probably in the history of devolution”.

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A Social Security Bill is expected to be introduced to Holyrood in May or June next year while the proposed new Scottish social security agency could be making payments to people before the 2021 elections.