Power over 11 benefits, including carer’s allowances, disability assistance and maternity grants, is being devolved from Westminster to Holyrood but opposition parties have claimed the SNP is trying to delay taking full responsibility.
Scottish Labour MSP Mark Griffin questioned why the Scottish Government has chosen to “delay” assuming the powers and continuing the “conscious cruelty” of the UK benefits system.
Scottish Tory MSP Adam Tomkins asked what “ministers have to hide” over their meetings with the UK Government on the issue where they have discussed a “split competence” approach.
This approach would see Holyrood assume legislative control over a series of benefits from June 2017 but not take over delivery of some of them until April 2020.
Social security minister Jeane Freeman accused the Tories and Labour of trying to score political points and said “to call this a delay is to completely misunderstand the process of how you go about building a new public service”.
She told MSPs in parliament: “The Scottish Government has consistently been clear that we will have a Scottish social security agency delivering the 11 devolved benefits by the end of this parliamentary term.”
She said in the recent three-month consultation “no-one told us to do this quickly, everyone told us to do it safely”.
“We will take the time, we will listen, we will not be bullied into false timescales or deadline dates, and within the lifetime of this parliament we will deliver a social security system for Scotland that everyone in Scotland can be proud of,” Ms Freeman said.
Labour MSP Neil Findlay said: “The minister clearly has her brass neck on today because in 2014 the SNP told the Scottish people they could establish all the mechanisms and all the institutions of a new state within 18 months and now we find out they can’t even administer 11 benefits within the next three years.”
Ms Freeman said Mr Findlay should be “ashamed” and that the white paper made it clear “there would be a period of transition”.
She said: “I appreciate it is some time since you were in power and you may have forgotten what is required to bring into being a new public agency for the first time in Scotland.
“It requires that we take the time to get it right, unlike the UK Tory government, and that we have first and last in our sights our attention to those 1.4 million people that will rely on us to deliver those benefits on time, in the right place, to the right account.”