SNP accused of betrayal over new delay to devolution of welfare benefits

The devolution in full of welfare benefits to Scotland promised after the independence referendum have been delayed until 2024 amid claims the Scottish Government has “betrayed” Scots.

Social security secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville told MSPs the delay to the Scottish successor to personal independence payments (PIP) was to make sure the transfer of cases happens “effectively and securely”.

The SNP government had pledged the benefits would be fully devolved by the end of this Parliament in 2021. Opponents last night hit out at the delay, claiming the eight-year wait for the Smith Commission benefits to be devolved made a mockery of SNP pledges during the referendum to deliver independence in 18 months.

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Tory social security spokeswoman Michelle Ballantyne said the delay exposed the “utter hypocrisy” of SNP ministers on the issue.

Social Security Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville. Picture: John Devlin
Social Security Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville. Picture: John Devlin

“For two years the SNP has slammed the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP),” she said. “The SNP has used highly charged language on the UK government’s administration of benefits. The SNP has raised expectations and promised the earth to some of Scotland’s most vulnerable people.

“After repeated promises that the new system would be up and running by the end of this Parliament, we now learn that this will just not happen – and it will be 2024 before PIP’s successor is in place.

“That is nine years since the Scotland Act that introduced the devolution of social security, from the party that claimed they could set up an independent country within 18 months.”

Holyrood is to take control of 11 benefits as part of the post-referendum deal on new powers for Holyrood. This accounts for about 15 per cent of social security spend – roughly £3 million in total.

Aspects of Universal Credit, carers’ allowance, funeral expense assistance and the Young Carer Grant are among those being devolved to Holyrood as part of powers set out in the Smith Commission.

This was established after the independence referendum to devolve greater to powers to Holyrood to counter demands from Nationalists.

Scottish Labour social security spokesman Mark Griffin described the delay as a “betrayal”.

“The SNP government has left vulnerable people at the mercy of the callous DWP and the Tories for far too long already,” he said.

“Ministers must apologise to everyone in Scotland entitled to social security who is being left at the hands of the Tories.”

Ms Somerville told MSPs at Holyrood that work will start on transferring people from DWP to Social Security Scotland next year.

“This involves moving more than half a million cases – 10 per cent of people in Scotland,” she said. “Such transfers have in the past caused huge problems when DWP has migrated people within its own benefits systems. What hasn’t been done before is transferring people from one government’s agency to another’s and we must do this effectively and securely and in conjunction with the DWP.

“With their co-operation I expect the majority of people to be transferred by 2023, with all cases fully transferred by 2024.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Our priority for this is delivering payments for disabled people, as this is where we can make the most meaningful difference for the largest number of people.

“We are significantly changing the parts of the current system that cause the most stress, anxiety and pain. That is why new claims for the three types of disability assistance will start next summer.”