Monday, 12 December 2016

A Reflection on Commissioners' views regarding Social Security

This year the Scottish Government has been gathering responses to a consultation launched into the future of social security in Scotland. It has promoted the idea of social security as opposed to welfare and personally I welcome this because it seems to me that the term "welfare" puts claimants at a judgemental distance from people not claiming 'welfare'; on the other hand 'social security' is something that all citizens may need at some point(s) in their lives. At the PTC we decided to respond to the consultation given the importance of social security to many of our Commissioners.

For the PTC as a whole the consultation process really began in July with a meeting between Commissioners and two Scottish Government civil servants (Daniel and Ed from the Social Security Policy & Delivery Division). We were reminded that twelve social security powers are being transferred to Scotland as a result of the Smith Commission recommendations which led to the Scotland Act 2016. They include the power to set up a Scottish Social Security Agency. 15% of social security spend in Scotland will be delivered under the remit of the Scottish Government.
From the start the SG’s three overarching principles of dignity, fairness and respect, that it has said will be critical for both design and embedding within the new Scottish Social Security Agency, have clearly resonated with Commissioners. In particular Commissioners recommended:
·        The need for long term or lifetime awards for conditions that are only going to get worse.(Admittedly the UK Government has moved on this but to my knowledge all the conditions meriting such awards have yet to be clarified).
·        The fairness and natural justice inherent in enabling benefits appellants to remain on the original benefit during the entirety of the appeals process, rather than the present position of benefits being terminated during the appeals process.
·        If the current system says that benefits offices need to have security guards on the pretext that some people might become angry or in very rare cases violent, the question should be about what the system is doing to make them angry.The SG Minister for Social Security who met with and listened to Commissioners agreed with them that security guards should not be the answer.
·        With regard to Universal Credit (UC) these should at the very least have the options of being paid fortnightly and to have payments split between members of a household rather than payment to one household only. (The minister was clear that whilst she is supportive of this, the SG will have no power to make such changes until Universal Credit is completely rolled out across the UK which will be in approx. 2022).
Commissioners also strongly supported the idea of a Claimant's Charter that sets out that dignity, fairness, respect etc. will be embedded in the new Scottish agency / system. These principles should also be embedded in the legislation that establishes the new system.  
Further details of the PTC response as regards the proposed Charter and to all other relevant questions in the  Consultation on Social Security (PTC Response submitted in October)were published by the SG recently (link here)