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

Social Security Minister Jeane Freeman. Picture: John Devlin
Social Security Minister Jeane Freeman. Picture: John Devlin
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The handover of a historic new welfare powers to the Scottish Parliament has been formally backed by MSPs with a pledge to create a social security system which will “do things differently”.

Eleven new benefits, including Personal Independence payments (PIP) and Carer’s Allowance (CA), are to devolved under the Social Security Bill.

A new Scottish social security agency is being established to provide the benefits but it comes amid concerns about the Scottish Government’s ability to handle delivery of the new welfare system by 2021 as planned.

The first payments from the agency - Carer’s Allowance - will start this Summer with a gradual roll-out of the other benefits on which 1.4 million Scots rely.

Scotland’s welfare minister Jeane Freeman said it was marked the “single biggest transfer of powers since devolution began.”

She added: “This is a historic day for the Parliament.

“It will herald the first social security system in Scotland, but more than that it means we now have a new public service for the people of Scotland, a principle enshrined in legislation and that is something we should all be proud of.

“This Bill has been an opportunity to set up a new service and to do things differently - to remake the system in a way that fits the ambition we have for ourselves as a Parliament and for our country.”

Changes to the Bill will bar unnecessary medical assessments for those claiming disability benefits in a move which won universal backing from MSPs.

Another key change will also ensure clinical judgment, rather than a time limit, is used when defining a terminal illness.

About £3.3 billion of spending powers are being moved to Holyrood - 15 per cent of total social security spending north of the Border.

Tory welfare spokesman Adam Tomkins said the legislation marked “an important day in the coming of age of our Parliament.”

He said: “It will allow us to experiment, to try something new - it will allow us to learn from others’ experience and to build on experience, including experience elsewhere.”

Scotland’s Auditor General Caroline Gardner raised concerns in a recent report over the Government’s preparedness to deliver the welfare changes which are being transferred in line with the post-referendum deal on new powers for Holyrood.

There are particularl concerns about finding the 1500 workers needed to staff the new agency in Deundee and Glasgow, but ministers insist recruitment has started.

The Bill is largely a “framework” for the new benefits system - it does not set out which claimants are entitled to what benefits. The rules over eligibility and the benefits to be paid will be set out in future regulations.

“There is an awful lot of work to do before devolved Scottish social security is actually in operations” Mr Tomkins added.