Scottish and UK Governments recommit to work together on benefits policy

The Scottish and UK Governments have restated their commitment to work together on welfare policy, in response to a report by MPs.

As part of the Scotland Act 2016, welfare policies will be fully devolved north of the border, but various issues including the pandemic have slowed progress.

A report from the Scottish Affairs Committee called on both governments to publicly state their commitment to cooperate in the delivery of benefits in Scotland.

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In response to the report, both have stated their commitment to work together.

The Scottish and UK Governments will work together to help give benefit claimants the best experience.

Committee chairman Pete Wishart said: "The welfare system must work for everyone.

"I am pleased that both the UK and Scottish Governments, in response to our report, acknowledge the necessity for joint working to improve information sharing and to give welfare claimants the best possible service."

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In a written response to the recommendations, the UK Government said: "The UK Government is committed to the safe and secure transfer of powers and responsibility.

"As noted above, the Joint Ministerial Working Group on Welfare allows ministers to oversee, engage with and review progress on the implementation of the devolution of social security powers set out in the Scotland Act 2016.

"The minutes of these meetings are published, and regularly endorse the progress made by officials in both governments to ensure the safe and secure replacement of UK Government benefits with Scottish Government provision.

"There are also bilateral meetings as necessary between Ministers in DWP and the Scottish Government. These forums demonstrate a commitment from both Governments to a collaborative, accountable approach."

While Scotland's Social Justice Secretary Shona Robison said: "The Scottish Government remains committed to joint working with the UK Government to ensure that the devolution of social security active happens in a safe and secure manner and is confident that this commitment is shared by the UK Government.

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"We are happy to discuss this at the next Joint Ministerial Working Group on Welfare."

But Mr Wishart claimed the committee was "disappointed" over an ongoing dispute about data sharing, with information about children under 16 not being made available to the Scottish Government in order to roll out the Scottish Child Payment.

Another recommendation in the report states that the UK Government should "prioritise" the delivery of the data.

The response from Whitehall said each request for data was considered, adding that some information about children under six had been shared for the set up of the Best Start Grant and had been re-used for the early stages of the Scottish Child Payment.

"It is important for Scottish Government colleagues to work with DWP to establish what data are available from DWP before finalising policy design and moving into implementation," it said.

"Scottish Government should also be building their own datasets for future use.

"DWP has confirmed to the Scottish Government, the data it is able to share and has also directed the Scottish Government to the owners of other sources of data that would help Social Security Scotland ensure it has access to the most up-to-date information when it processes benefit claims."

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Ms Robison welcomed the recommendation in her response, claiming it was "essential" the data be received in order to meet the timescale of rolling out the payment to all families with children under 16 by the end of next year.

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