UK minister labels Scottish Government social security policy ‘frustrating’

Westminster’s benefits chief has said it is “frustrating” the Scottish Government has not taken advantage of its social security powers.

Therese Coffey, speaking exclusively to The Scotsman at the COP26 summit, also defended the UK Government’s record around Universal Credit.

Additional social security powers were devolved to Holyrood as part of the Scotland Act 2016, following the recommendations of the Smith Commission.

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Therese Coffey is the UK Government's work and pensions secretary. Picture: PA

Opposition parties have criticised the SNP for failing to take advantage of the new powers since they were devolved, accusing the government of failing to take action where it could.

Ms Coffey, who heads up the UK Government’s benefits system, said the transition to the Scottish Government taking over all of their devolved social security was a “pretty slow journey”.

She said: "They’ve started taking on some of the benefits, but it is a pretty slow journey and I think it is perfectly acceptable that until the Scottish Government administers its own benefits that we help them along with that.

"The Scottish Government agreed that they’ll stick with our policies at the moment on things like disability benefits until they start administering their own.

"My understanding is that there are powers in the Scotland Act, they could do more of some of these things, it is their choice.

“It is really up to them. They have the opportunity to use it. It is not for me to decide Scottish Government policy on what powers they do or don’t use.”

However, when asked about the criticism from the SNP around the cut to the £20 uplift of Universal Credit, which the SNP labelled “devastating” and “callous”, Ms Coffey said it was “frustrating” not to see the powers used to their full extent if the Scottish Government was unhappy with UK policy.

She said: "I suppose what is more frustrating is they do have the powers. If they don’t like something, they have got the opportunity.

"At the end of the day the Scottish Government is quite a small administration and just like a lot of things you have to prioritise what matters.

"I’m very proud about what we did last week in the budget, so much I was cheering very loudly in the chamber, with the change to the work allowance which is really significant, as well as the big change to the taper rate where people can keep more of what they earn.

"I genuinely hope this is an opportunity to try and help more people get into work and there are a lot of people who only work quite limited hours and to try and see what other hurdles and barriers we can remove from that.

"But we have a lot of collaboration with the Scottish Government on the skills and the getting people into work agenda.”

Reacting to accusations Nicola Sturgeon had made the COP26 summit about independence, the Conservative politician refused to comment.

She said: “Nicola Sturgeon is First Minister of Scotland. This [COP26] is a thing about global coming together rather than separation.

"The whole theme of trying to make sure we hit net zero is how we can all work together, not split apart I would say.”

The Scottish Government was contacted for comment.

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