News

Scotland’s Social Security Agency: A New Hope

The Trussell Trust has announced its figures for Foodbank use for the year. The statistics are shocking. Across the UK  1,182,954 emergency 3 day food parcels were distributed with 145,865 of them in Scotland. In a wealthy western democracy these figures are truly staggering. In their report Early Warnings Universal Credit and Foodbanks the link between welfare payments with the UK Government’s system of Universal Credit and food poverty is clearly established.

eoy-stats-primary-referrals-2017

Primary Reasons for Referral to Trussell Trust foodbanks (Trussell Trust)

The Key findings of the report show that in areas of full Universal Credit rollout to single people, couples and families, there has been a 16.85% average increase in referrals for emergency food, more than double the national average of 6.64%.

The  causes are  delays in payment and problems using the online system. This has a serious effect on the well being and mental health of people awaiting payments.

Job insecurity, the increasing use of zero hours contracts (OIC employs 1800 people and has 1000 zero hours contracts) and the claw back of benefits people were receiving is having an appalling impact on the most vulnerable in our society. At a time when people need support the most it is either being withdrawn or delayed to such an extent that folk are having to go to a Foodbank before they can have their next meal.

Scotland is to have some devolved powers over welfare payments.  Social Security Minister for the Scottish Government, Jeane Freeman has announced her intention to set up a new social security system in Scotland not only to deal with the new powers but with a different set of principles underpinning it.

The new Scottish social security agency will have one main location but with local agencies across Scotland. It is expected to employ about 1,500 people with an estimated annual running cost of £150million. In a change of direction from the rUK benefit system private firms will no longer be used in assessing people for benefit entitlements.

Jeane Freeman said:

“One of our fundamental principles is that profit should never be a motive nor play any part in assessing or making decisions on people’s health and eligibility for benefits.”

“We are building a system based on dignity and respect – this means an assessment process which isn’t demeaning or deliberately difficult.”

“I am very clear that assessments should not be carried out by the private sector and I want to give people in Scotland this assurance as we take forward our new social security agency.”

Scotland will have power over the delivery of 11 benefit payments. Ten of these will be delivered by the new social security agency at £2.8 billion of annual payments. Local authorities will be responsible for  Discretionary Housing Payments and the Scottish Welfare Fund.

The 11 benefit payments to be devolved are:

  1. Disability Living Allowance
  2. Personal Independence Payment
  3. Attendance Allowance
  4. Severe Disablement Allowance
  5. Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit
  6. Carers Allowance
  7. Sure Start Maternity Grant (to be replaced by the Best Start Grant)
  8. Funeral Expenses
  9. Cold Weather Payments and Winter Fuel Payments
  10. Discretionary Housing Payments
  11. Some powers in relation to Universal Credit (i.e to split payments between household members)

The UK Government will retain control over the major welfare payments including Universal Credit, maternity allowance, child benefit and the state pension.

Jeane Freeman said:

“It means setting up an agency that has a local presence with a human face where people can go to get one-to-one support if required. This is very different to what exists at the moment.”

“It is extremely important that we start how we mean to go on – by listening to people and seeking expert opinion to deliver an agency that respects people’s views and is sensitive and responsive to their different needs and requirements.”

The Orkney News has published many articles relating to ‘in work poverty’, ‘zero hours contracts’ and ‘foodbank’ use. The circumstances where people find themselves in need can happen to any of us.  Loss of employment or long-term health issues don’t just affect some one else – it could by you. A welfare system once the pride of the UK is no longer fit for purpose. Successive UK Governments have picked away at its very foundations and the 11 devolved powers coming to the Scottish Government to administer will not be sufficient for the task ahead.

The only bright light in all of this is the setting up of a Scottish social security agency with dignity and respect as its foundations. Growing foodbank use and increasing levels of poverty,however, will only be solved with a strong growing economy where people are paid not just a Living Wage but a Wage They Can Live On. Whilst public bodies, local authorities and private industry are able to get away with low pay and zero hours contracts the economy will continue to  stutter and stagger. The Scottish social security agency will at least give a glimmer of hope in this unforgiving system.

Reporter: Fiona Grahame

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