A new way forward for benefits in Scotland

So as part of the ‘Smith Commission’ on devolving more powers to the Scottish Parliament after Scotland chose to stay in the UK in 2014 we have this. New powers of some of the benefits paid in Scotland.

A new ‘Scottish Benefits Agency’ will be set up in this parliament, to administer 2.7 billion worth of payments when they are devolved to Scotland. This is a great time to talk about how we might treat people on benefits, how we set the conditions of payments, what sanctions are applied when rules are not adhered to and how we can make the system work for people not against people.

The Scottish Government has already confirmed it will use its new powers to:

  • Increase Carer’s Allowance to the same rate as Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • Abolish the bedroom tax
  • Introduce flexibilities around how Universal Credit is paid including giving people choice to be paid twice monthly, and direct payments to social landlords
  • Scrap the 84 day rule which removes income from the families of disabled children.

Among other reconditions that could come to Scotland via the Scotland Bill could include:

  • Powers to vary housing cost elements of Universal Credit.
  • Administrative powers to change payment arrangements for Universal Credit.
  • Powers over benefits for carers, disabled people, and those who are ill, (currently Attendance Allowance, Carer’s Allowance, Disability Living Allowance and a range of others).
  • Devolution of the Regulated Social Fund, which includes Winter Fuel Payments, Sure Start Maternity Grants and others).
  • Power to create top up benefits in reserved areas.
  • Powers over Discretionary Housing Payments and Discretionary Payments and Assistance (excluding assistance required arising from impact of conditionality/sanctions).
  • Support for unemployed people through the employment programmes (currently delivered through the Work Programme and Work Choice).

The table below summarises details of the powers transferring to Scotland.

Group Benefit Main Purpose
For carers, disabled people  and those who are ill.   Attendance Allowance To help with additional costs of personal care for individuals aged 65 or over with a physical or mental disability.
Carer’s Allowance To help an individual look after someone with substantial caring needs. To be eligible the individual must be 16 or over and spend at least 35 hours a week caring for them.
Disability Living Allowance To provide financial support for the additional mobility and daily living costs of a disability, impairment or illness.

DLA is closed to new working-age claimants and being replaced by the Personal Independence Payment.

DLA is closed to new working age claimants and being replaced by PIP.

Personal Independence Payment Helps with some of the extra mobility and care costs caused by long-term ill-health or disability for individuals aged 16 and over.
Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit For individuals who are ill or disabled as a result of an accident or disease caused by work or while  on an approved employment training scheme or course.
Severe Disablement Allowance For working-age individuals who are unable to work due to severe illness or disability. The Severe Disablement Allowance has been replaced by a premium within the Employment Support Allowance (ESA).  ESA, and all other work related benefits, will remain the responsibility of the UK Government.
Currently part of the Regulated Social Fund Cold Weather Payment A payment for individuals on certain benefits when the temperature is either recorded as, or forecast to be, an average of zero degrees Celsius or below over seven consecutive days.
Funeral Payment For individuals on low income and needing help to pay for a funeral they are arranging.
Sure Start Maternity Grant A one off payment of £500 to help towards the costs of having your first child for individuals who are in receipt of certain benefits.
Winter Fuel Payment A tax-free payment to help pay for heating bills if you were born on or before 5 July 1952 (Current State Pension Age for women).
Other Discretionary Housing Payments Additional help for those in receipt of Housing Benefit and having difficulty meeting their rent payments. Paid at the discretion of your Local Authority.

This is an exciting time to form and lead in providing a modern benefit and support system for a Country that is more socially progressive than its English Cousins. We can be bolder as a nation, more caring, giving more support going forward. We need to help alleviate poverty. We need to stop punitive sanctions. We can do better than a set of draconian sanctions applied in the offices of the Department for Work and Pensions up and down Scotland at the moment.

My party, the Scottish Green Party has set out a campaign to stop Scottish Sanctions before they’ve even started. You can download the research paper here: Sanctions Report for Scottish Green MSPs – its highlights are –

What does the research show?
80,000 sanctions have been issued to people on employment programmes in Scotland since 2010. Employment programmes are to be devolved from April 2017. This means that, without a change in policy from the SNP, 13,000 people a year may soon face sanctions under benefits devolved to the Scottish Government.

How much money are we talking?
The average JSA sanction is worth £530. That means £7m a year is taken from people eligible for support through the employment programme that’s coming under Scottish control. And remember, that’s just 22% of all sanctions applied to people in Scotland.

But sanctions are needed, right?
Employment programmes are meant to help people get back to work, but we know only a third of people on the Work Programme successfully find a job for more than 6 months. Sanctions can push people into low paid, insecure or inappropriate jobs which force people into a cycle of regular unemployment. The ever-present threat of sanctions can lead to a deterioration in people’s health and make it harder to get a job. We also know people who are most disadvantaged are the most likely to be sanctioned – this is wrongheaded.

Aren’t sanctions reserved to Westminster?
They are, but for the DWP to implement a sanction they need information from the provider of the employment programme. The Scottish Government could, if it was willing, ensure that its procurement contracts with employment programme providers bans this sort of information being passed on.

Can that really be done?
Yes. It’s already the case for a couple of small-scale schemes in Scotland. For example, young people on training courses through the Sector Based Work Academy (SBWA) could be sanctioned but the information needed for sanctions to happen is deliberately withheld on Scottish ministers’ orders.

Let’s do it then… let’s make sure Scotland’s social security system is sanction-free.

Sign our petition to show your support for a sanction-free Scotland.

Equality not Poverty
In order to ensure a fairer and more equal society, Greens believe that the universal approach to benefits must be defended. We will roll back welfare cuts founded on false claims that people prefer benefits rather than rewarding work. We will abolish the Bedroom Tax and Workfare, lift the punitive sanction regime, halt the roll-out of Universal Credit and allow the Scottish Parliament to design a scheme that works with new devolved social security powers.

In the longer term we will build a welfare system which removes the stigma of benefits, helps end the ‘poverty trap’, recognises unpaid work and promotes equality. A Citizens’ Income is emblematic of this approach. A Citizen’s Income will require a reform programme replace almost all benefits apart from disability payments with a simple regular payment to everyone – children, adults and pensioners. The beginnings of this system already exist with state pensions and Child Benefit.

We can do better, and we must for people up and down our nation. If we start from day one with zero sanctions we can build a better Scotland, fairer system for all and a system that is there as a safety net, not a stigma for those who need in their time of need. The early days of a better way forward on the road to a progressive future.

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