Devolution of welfare working well, but good working relationship 'crucial', Scottish Affairs committee report finds

The devolution of welfare is working well, but a good working relationship between the UK and Scottish governments is “crucial”, a report has found.

In a Scottish Affairs committee report on welfare policy, MPs are now calling on both administrations to improve information sharing to help improve benefit take-up.

The report also called for the UK Government to raise the work allowance for Universal Credit, as well as review the £20 uplift to decide if it should become permanent instead of ending in September.

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Chair of the Scottish Affairs Committee, Pete Wishart MP, said: “The Covid-19 pandemic has led to rocketing unemployment, resulting in more people in Scotland than ever before turning to the social security system.

The report praised the devolution of welfare but called for better relations to improve benefit take-up.

“What we heard was that the devolution of benefits is working well, and we commend the Scottish and UK governments working together to make this a success.

“However, we also heard that it is incredibly complex to unpick what claimants can access under both systems.

“Communications must be improved and staff appropriately trained to offer consistent advice to claimants in their time of greatest need.

“Worryingly, our committee heard how the support provided by benefits such as Universal Credit is simply not enough for families to feed themselves, and we urge the UK Government to review making the £20 weekly uplift permanent.

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“Based on what witnesses told our committee, it is incomprehensible that sanctioning for failure to adhere to a claimant commitment during such a challenging year for people must stop immediately for at least the remainder of 2021.”

The committee also urged the UK Government to find a solution to providing Social Security Scotland with data to ensure Scottish Child Payments are distributed to families for six to 16-year olds.

Without this data, they say the Scottish Government would be unable to deliver its commitment to extend the child benefit to this age group.

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The committee also found that often claimants are unaware of what benefits they are entitled to from both governments, and are now calling for new communications materials or a “one-stop shop” of benefits.

MPs also expressed disappointment in the delay in the rollout of the devolved benefits until 2025.

Chris Birt, deputy director for Scotland at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, who gave evidence to the inquiry, warned the Univeral Credit uplift must not be scrapped.

He said: “Social security should protect people at risk of being pulled into poverty, but as this report highlights this vital lifeline is too often being left to wear thin and threadbare. We agree with the committee that the [UK] Government must urgently change course and not cut Universal Credit by £20 a week in October.

“As the committee says, it’s essential that the UK and Scottish governments work together to ensure families receive the support they need.

“It is now make-or-break time as to whether Scotland will meet its child poverty targets.

"Ministers in Holyrood must bring forward a credible plan for delivering on this commitment, starting by doubling the Scottish Child Payment as soon as possible and beginning work on a minimum income guarantee.”

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