Everyone in the country has a stake in making this workby Jeane Freeman / December 13, 2016 / Leave a comment
Over the last few months, I have spent a lot of time travelling around Scotland as part of the Scottish Government’s consultation on the future of social security. With my ministerial colleague Angela Constance, I have met many people who have had bad experiences with social security under the UK government. It was harrowing, at times, to hear how people felt alienated by the current system. And it made me angry and frustrated that things are sometimes done to people, rather than for them—often without their knowledge or consent. But it was important to listen and to understand the issues people are facing.
What I heard, loud and clear, was that people in Scotland want a social security system that treats them better. People realise that we all have a stake in this, that we all contribute to society in different ways and in return, it’s only fair that the government should contribute support and care, where and when it’s needed. That’s how healthy societies work and that’s how the people I’ve spoken to want our system to work.
Next year, Holyrood will take over some aspects of universal credit and employment support, with more responsibilities to come. What people want is for politicians to set aside their party divisions and focus on what really matters. That is ensuring that none of the 1.4m or so people who depend on the vital payments and support, fall through a gap during the transfer of responsibilities.
There is plenty to be getting on with. The Scottish Government has always been clear that we will have a Scottish social security agency delivering devolved benefits by the end of this parliamentary term. We’ll keep to that commitment but there is a lot of work to do.
This is the biggest single challenge any Scottish Government has faced since devolution, the first time that we have had to build a new public service more or less from scratch and it is vital that we get this right.
In many ways it would have been easier to transfer over the full responsibility of social security rather than reconcile the 15 per cent of the system we will get with what remains with the UK government. It is critical that we give ourselves time to ensure new technology is thoroughly tested. When it is all up and running we will be making more payments in a year than we currently do in a month. We cannot take risks with the support that we provide to people at what are often crisis points in their lives. So, when we do start to administer benefits, we must make sure that everyone gets the right payment in the right account at the right time.
People might disagree about some of the decisions that this government makes but they can’t ignore the fact that politicians on all sides have a stake in the success of a Scottish social security system. Next year, we will introduce a bill into the Scottish parliament to provide the framework on which our social security agency will deliver. Every member of the parliament will have the job of scrutinising our plans and ensuring that no one does fall through the gaps.
Politicians change, ministers change and governments change, but this social security system will outlast all of us. So, it is important for everyone involved that first, the system works for the good of the people of Scotland; second, that it is fit for purpose; and third, that it is properly accountable.
We are determined that the new Social Security Agency will be noticeably different from the one run by the UK government in how it operates and deals with people. We want to make it more accessible and review the current assessment process. That’s what the people I’ve been talking to over the last few months have been telling me they want and that’s what I want. And I’ll work with people regardless of their political affiliation if it will help make sure that we get this right.