Scotland’s new welfare agency is to start making its first payments this week, in what has been hailed as a “historic moment” for devolution.
Social Security Scotland will eventually have responsibility for 11 benefits, including Disability Living Allowance, Personal Independence Payments and Carer’s Allowance.
The payments are worth about £3.3 billion a year and are relied upon by 1.4 million people, with a freephone number and website now available for those who need help and support.
Although the new welfare agency will not be fully operational until 2021, it will begin paying out top ups to the Carer’s Allowance this week and the Best Start Grant before Christmas.
It is estimated that more than 75,000 carers will have received a top up payment of £221 by the end of the month, followed by another payment in December and another every six months thereafter.
The change means that carers who live in Scotland will be given 13 per cent more in benefits than those in England, the first time such a differential has existed.
Social Security Scotland is headquartered in Dundee and Glasgow, with 1,500 jobs split across the two cities. The Scottish Government has said it wants the new agency to treat claimants with “dignity, fairness and respect”, after criticism of the way the UK’s Department of Work and Pensions operates.
A statement on the agency’s website says it aims to deliver services in a “clear, helpful and friendly way”, with claimants treated as “individuals”. It also says its employees will come from “all walks of life” and must have the “right attitude”.
Social security secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said: “Making these payments represents a historic moment, launching a new public service that will deliver a social security system that treats people with dignity, fairness and respect. This new public service will deliver a further benefits once fully operational.”
The Scottish Conservatives pointed out that the agency so far had bases in only two of the nation’s 32 council areas, despite ministers promising earlier this year there would eventually be branches everywhere.
“After years and years of complaining from the sidelines about welfare reform, the SNP is about to discover just how difficult it is to create a fair and affordable social security system,” said the party’s social security spokeswoman Michelle Ballantyne.