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Chamber and committees

Social Justice and Social Security Committee


Letter responding to the recommendations on The Social Security Response to COVID-19

Letter from the Minister for Social Security and Local Government of 2 July 2021

Neil Gray MSP
Convener
Social Justice and Social Security Committee
The Scottish Parliament
Edinburgh
EH99 1SP
___


2 July 2021


Dear Neil

Scottish Government response to Social Security Committee recommendations on The Social Security Response to Covid-19

I am grateful to the previous Social Security Committee for the work that was undertaken as part of this inquiry and in the preparation of the report. I’d like to thank the previous Committee for their constructive engagement in this area that has so dominated all of our work and lives over the past year and more. The recommendations provided in the Report (entitled as above) are useful. Not only to inform not only the future development of social security in Scotland, but also wider activity promoting social justice and indeed our cross-governmental work on Covid recovery. I am pleased to be able to provide a response at Annex A.

As you will be aware, following the election, the Deputy First Minister is leading cross-government activity focussed on Covid recovery, ensuring that Government delivers in a cohesive way and is making the best use of our collective resources, to join up policy and ensure successful delivery.

I agree with the Committee’s assessment that we must learn from what worked well. The response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the collective efforts to address the impacts on our communities, includes social security actions playing a key role in the broader package of measures that the Scottish Government is providing and introducing to ensure a strong recovery.

These are part of an unprecedented package of social protection that includes social care, health and economic measures, as well as social security. For example, from an initial budget of £35.5 million we significantly increased our investment in the Scottish Welfare Fund in response to the pandemic, distributing an additional £22 million to local authorities. In addition we made £20 million of flexible funding available from the Scottish Welfare Fund reserves, for use by local authorities to tackle financial insecurity over the winter period.

We added £8 million to Discretionary Housing Payments, increasing the non-bedroom tax mitigation budget from £11 million to £19 million. Furthermore, we committed £19.2 million for the Coronavirus Carer’s Allowance Supplement, which meant around 83,000 carers in Scotland, on some of the lowest incomes, and with some of the most intensive caring roles, received up to £690 more this financial year than equivalent carers south of the border.

We also introduced the brand new Self-Isolation Support Grant in October to help people stop transmission of coronavirus by self-isolating themselves and others, without losing out financially.

Moreover, we continued to deliver more benefits, introducing three new benefits in 2020. This included prioritising delivery of the Scottish Child Payment, in order to help households manage financial impacts opening to applications in November. For this, £3.6 million was paid out to around 79,000 children, between its opening on 15 February 2021 and 31 March 2021. Also, working closely with our local authority partners we are delivering entirely new Pandemic Support Payments. These include payments for around 145,000 children and young people in receipt of Free School Meals, with £100 paid in December 2020 and £100 at Easter 2021. We have now committed to going further and will use this mechanism to deliver Bridging Payments of £520 each year until the Scottish Child Payment is rolled out in full by the end of 2022. We have also committed to deliver a £130 payment for households in receipt of Council Tax Reduction in April 2021, which will be paid by the end of October this year and is expected to benefit around 500,000 households.

I hope that this letter and the annexed response are helpful. I look forward to meeting the new committee soon to talk about our future work.

Best regards

 

BEN MCPHERSON

 

 

Annex A

Recommendations and Responses

Recommendation(s)

We welcome the unprecedented amount of resource that has been passed to public bodies, local authorities and third sector providers to enable a swift and flexible response during the pandemic. But it is not clear to the Committee that lessons are being learned about how existing services should, where required, be reformed and new services designed to provide efficient support. We need a greater level of assurance that these lessons are being considered systematically and banked to improve future service provision, resilience, and agility.

Scottish Government Response

The response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the collective efforts to address the impacts on our communities, has seen social security play a key role in the broader package of measures that the Scottish Government is introducing to ensure a strong recovery.

This was indeed part of an unprecedented package of social protection that includes social care, health and economic measures as well as social security. For example increased investment in the Scottish Welfare Fund and Discretionary Housing Payments, the introduction of the Self Isolation Support Grant (SISG) and Coronavirus Carer’s Allowance Supplement and the prioritisation of the Scottish Child Payment.

The Scottish Government agrees with the Committee’s assessment that we must learn from what worked well and what didn’t during the pandemic. In doing so, we will consider the response across the entirety of the Government’s work - bringing people together in pursuit of the strongest possible recovery by establishing a cross party steering group on Covid Recovery; establish a Standing Committee on Pandemics, and beginning to take the necessary steps to establish a Covid-19 Public Inquiry in order that lessons are learned for the future.

An important part of that, and our wider commitment to tackling poverty, will be considering lessons for future operation of the benefits system – noting that despite the challenges we’ve faced from COVID-19, we were still able to introduce three new benefits in 2020.

Recommendation(s)

At the start of this year, the Scottish Government’s Social Renewal Advisory Board published its “calls to action” one of which is “build on new ways of working, based on what has worked well during the pandemic.” We support this and call on the Scottish Government to ensure that a systematic review is undertaken of what has been learnt about how best to support people in and out of work.

Scottish Government Response

We welcome the Social Renewal Board’s report and are committed to taking forward learning from the nationwide changes in policy and practice in the face of COVID-19. We have taken forward a comprehensive range of work, with further actions underway.

As part of our approach to continuous improvement we have already published an evaluation of the Wellbeing Fund and have commissioned a similar evaluation of our Supporting Communities Fund.

On behalf of the Scottish Leaders Forum Action Group on Child Poverty, the Scottish Government also commissioned and published a review of local learning during the pandemic. This review focused specifically on the priority attached to child poverty, how local governance has adapted in the face of COVID, future priorities identified and lessons which have been learned.

Our response to the Social Renewal Advisory Board, published in March, highlights our commitment to responding positively to their recommendation including through the Local Governance Review, Place Based Investment Programme and Empowering Communities Programme. It also notes our intention to initiate a full review of the Scottish Welfare Fund in the first year of the new parliament, ensuring that this key investment best supports the people who need it.

We will continue to work with our partners, including in COSLA, Public Health Scotland and the third sector, to identify how we can support and embed positive changes made as a result of the crisis.

No One Left Behind, our strategy for placing people at the centre of the design and delivery of employability services, promotes a strengthened partnership approach where the spheres of government work more collaboratively with third and private sector to identify local needs and make informed, evidence-based decisions, flexing these to meet emerging labour market demands.

Taking the Scottish Approach to Service Design, we aim to co-produce a national framework which establishes an all age employability system that is person centred, more joined up, flexible and responsive to individual needs.

Through No One Left Behind Lived Experienced Panels, we are engaging with service users to co-design a set of national service elements which enable partners to develop and deliver services that address user needs and ensure the user voice is central to the design of future employability support.

We are undertaking primary research later this summer to understand the views and experiences of low income households with regard to the nature and extent of pandemic support they received. This research will aim to understand how much people understood about the support they received, whether any particular mechanisms were more stigmatising than others and whether they felt there were big gaps in support.

Recommendation(s)

There are two phases to moving beyond Covid: the support phase and the recovery phase. Different policies are needed for each and the Scottish Government must now carefully consider what policies are need for the next phase. For example, how support currently provided through the self-isolation grant will continue to be developed.

Scottish Government Response

The Deputy First Minister has already convened a Covid Recovery Round table - to secure the momentum we will need to progress this work, and a Cross-party group on Covid Recovery - which will provide an opportunity to listen carefully to the views of politicians from opposition parties, and to make sure that they can be as influential as possible in the formulation of the national response to the challenge of COVID. We’ll also replace the current coronavirus legislation - removing parts and powers which are no longer necessary, whilst ensuring we can manage any upsurge in the virus.

The Scottish Government accepts the need for a phased approach to economic recovery from COVID. So far, as part of the responsive phase, SG has invested £3.6 billion directly to support jobs, businesses and productive capacity in our economy – more than a third of total COVID-19 funding.

The COVID-19 pandemic gives us the opportunity to design an economic recovery that works for all of Scotland’s people. It is crucial that we do not simply to go back to how things were, but instead address with a renewed impetus many of the deep seated challenges our country faces – building a greener, fairer and stronger, inclusive and resilient wellbeing economy for Scotland.

There are already a number of actions and commitments in support of the recovery phase which are relevant here: for example, working closely with the Equality & Human Rights Commission to ensure that our city deals and growth deals target improvements in outcomes for under-represented, disadvantaged and deprived communities, and prioritising action to address workplace barriers including for people from minority ethnic backgrounds, disabled people, women and older workers.

In relation to the Self-Isolation Support Grant, we have close working relationships with colleagues in Health, CoSLA, Local Authorities and the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman, to ensure that the Grant can quickly respond to changing priorities and approaches to tackle the virus. For example, on 16 May the National Incident Management Team recommended changes to the Covid testing and contact tracing approach, which mean secondary contacts will be asked to self-isolate in certain high-risk contexts. We were able to implement the necessary changes to the SISG to facilitate this quickly in Glasgow.

Recommendation(s)

For reasons of expediency, most of the additional funding made available during the pandemic has been channelled through local authority discretionary funding rather than Social Security Scotland. Discretionary payments are being used to plug gaps in national entitlement provision. Discretionary payments play an important role in addressing temporary short-term need or temporary gaps in provision but national entitlements should be available for longer-term need.

Where appropriate, the Scottish Government should consider whether financial assistance can be provided, to those in need, through social security entitlements. It is the view of the Committee that unless there are strong reasons not to, taking a rights-based approach to social security should mean delivery as a national entitlement.

The Committee acknowledges the important role for local discretionary payments which can be distributed quickly and used flexibly to plug emergency or temporary gaps. When national entitlements, such as the Self-Isolation Support Grant, are delivered locally, accompanying guidance must be clear to ensure consistency and transparency around entitlement.

As new benefits are rolled-out in Scotland, the Scottish Government must consider the balance between national and local delivery of benefits and entitlements to assess whether it continues to meet the needs of those seeking support and ensure that a rights-based approach to social security is maintained.

Scottish Government Response

The Scottish Government agrees that it is important to provide entitlement-based support for people who require it. We are committed to taking ambitious steps to tackle and reduce levels of poverty and inequality through our ‘game-changing’ Scottish Child Payment and increased entitlements through Best Start Grant and Best Start Foods, and through our Carer’s Allowance Supplement. And of course a human rights-based approach is one of our key principles and enshrined in legislation

In the context of the pandemic, an unprecedented national emergency, it was also important for the Scottish Government to consider expediency and speed in choosing routes to make funding available for those in need. Although it is complex, it is quicker to deliver top-ups to existing benefits and funds administered by Social Security Scotland, whether administered at a national level like the Carer’s Allowance Supplement or at a local level like the Scottish Welfare Fund, than to design and deliver a full new national benefit. For context, the new Scottish Child Payment for 0-6 year olds was designed and delivered at unprecedented speed for a new benefit (less than 18 months from announcement to the launch of applications); but clearly in the context of the pandemic an 18-month lead-in time would have been of no use to people in immediate need, making other delivery routes more appropriate.

Aside from the practical issues around the time it takes to develop and deliver new benefits, including the legislation needed to do so, there are circumstance where delivery in partnership with local authorities will be the right approach, notably to provide individuals with the full range of support available. So, there is a place for locally delivered discretionary support such as the vital safety net offered by Crisis Grants and Community Care Grants through the Scottish Welfare Fund. Delivering the Fund through local authorities ensures a holistic approach can be adopted, including the active referral or signposting of individuals to local support and services that are available.

The Scottish Government has committed to review the purpose and operation of the Scottish Welfare Fund. We will consider any results and recommendations from the review in terms of its delivery in due course.
Work is already underway with local authorities to explore the feasibility of automation. We will work collaboratively with local authorities to co-design an automated approach to providing locally administered benefits. This would mean that clients could be automatically entitled to services such as free-school meals or school clothing grants at the point of award, without the need to apply locally to receive these services.
As set out within Scottish Government guidance on the discretionary funding made available to councils, we encouraged a joined up and proactive response to need, linking with key support such as the national assistance helpline, and ensuring that individuals access the wider help and support they are entitled to. We will continue to promote this approach to crisis response. Discretionary funds have enabled councils to respond quickly and flexibly to emerging needs in the context of the pandemic, and temporarily fill gaps in support for people facing crisis.

The SISG was developed in partnership with the local authorities and from its inception has had publicly available Statutory Guidance to provide consistent and transparent information about the Grant. This guidance is widely available and regularly updated in response to any changes in eligibility or administration.

As the pandemic has highlighted, the safety net provided through social security by the UK Government is simply not fit for purpose. They must match our ambition and make the changes needed to ensure the benefit system is improved. Some of these changes are described in a later response.

Recommendation(s)

The Scottish Government and Social Security Scotland should now consider how their systems and benefit-design can be adapted to ensure that, should a quick response be necessary for whatever reason in future, more can be delivered through Scottish social security – e.g. ongoing entitlement-based benefits. The crisis has illustrated some of the difficulties in Scottish social security being so closely linked to the eligibility criteria and payment schedules for UK Government DWP benefits. Such links should be carefully considered in the design of future benefits.

Scottish Government Response
As noted above, there are significant time commitments involved in the delivery of new benefits, and the speed at which Scottish Child Payment was put in place was exceptional. It is not an effective or quick way to respond in a crisis situation. However we continue to think about how to reduce dependencies on DWP in the design of new benefits where it makes sense to do so.

There are inherent challenges with linking the eligibility of Scottish Government benefits to reserved ones that are delivered by the UK Government, such as Universal Credit. Including the reliance on the UK Government in order to ascertain eligibility for low income benefits. We are committed to making it as straightforward as possible for people to access their entitlements including exploring making payments automatic wherever possible. To assist families, Best Start Grant, Best Start Foods and the new Scottish Child Payment are available through a single application - making it more straightforward for people to access the money they are entitled to.

However, given the number of people in Scotland who are eligible for both reserved and devolved benefits, a closely linked approach between the Scottish and UK Governments’ social security policies is inevitable, particularly whilst 85% of welfare expenditure and income-replacement benefit spending remain reserved to Westminster.

The Scottish Government will continue to call upon the UK Government to make improvements to reserved benefits, and will account for these changes. We have seen that the UK Government is capable of making changes, at pace, to benefit those facing financial hardship during COVID, including increasing Universal Credit, Working Tax Credit and the Local Housing Allowance. The Scottish Government has called for the £20-per-week uplift to UC to be made permanent, and extended to legacy benefits, as well as to make other urgent fixes, including scrapping the two-child-limit, removing the benefit cap and offering non-repayable advances during the five week wait for a first payment.

Recommendation(s)

Problems, some long-standing, with the Scottish Welfare Fund have been exacerbated by the pandemic. The Scottish Government must now commit to review whether the purpose, operation and funding of the Scottish Welfare Fund remain fit for purpose and work with COSLA to consider the resourcing for administration of the Fund.

Scottish Government Response

We will guarantee the budget for the Scottish Welfare Fund and have committed to carry out a review of its purpose and operation to make sure it works as well as possible in all parts of the country. We will be working closely with COSLA and other stakeholders to take forward this review process.

Recommendation(s)

More needs to be done, at an earlier stage, to help people temporarily struggling with housing costs due to the pandemic; not least because growing indebtedness can lead to the greater damage and cost of eviction and homelessness.

As responsibility for housing costs is reserved to the UK Government and because of the statutory restrictions on what support can be provided through Discretionary Housing Payment, there is a limit to what the Scottish Government is able to do to help those struggling with housing costs. We call on the Scottish Government to work with the UK Government to consider what further assistance can be provided for people struggling with housing costs, whatever their tenure.

Scottish Government Response

In recognition of the unprecedented circumstances we face because of the pandemic, we took swift action to introduce emergency legislation to protect renters. Our priority has been to support people to remain in their homes and give people more time to engage with their landlord to agree longer term solutions to their issues. That is why we have committed to introducing a new £10 million Grant Fund that will support tenants who are struggling to pay their rent as a direct result of the Covid-19 pandemic. These latest developments build on a range of further policies already in place to support tenants. Which include an increased notice period to protect private and social rented sector tenants from eviction, pre-eviction action protocols making it clear that taking eviction action against those in financial hardship should be a last resort and a £10 million tenant hardship loan fund, offering an interest free loan to those in financial hardship.

Whilst we continue to invest in Discretionary Housing Payments (with over £80 million allocated in 2021/2022 including to fully mitigate the bedroom tax) to provide direct financial support to those struggling with housing costs we must be clear that, as the Committee notes, support for housing costs is the responsibility of the UK Government welfare system. The UK Government must work alongside the Scottish Government as we look at our continued navigation of and recovery from Covid. We will continue to push the UK Government to reverse its damaging welfare policies, including the wait for first UC payment, freeze to Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rates which put people at risk of eviction and homelessness.

Recommendation(s)

It remains our strong recommendation that both Governments should work together and agree appropriate funding for a concerted effort to increase take-up of all benefits and entitlements. We are already on record as saying we would support the Scottish Government taking the lead on this work in recognition of its successful campaigns on newly created devolved benefits such as Best Start Grant.

We cannot over-emphasise the importance of boosting benefit take-up. We welcome the new income maximisation campaign and the joint approach by the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish Ministers to the UK Government urging a more considered and collaborative approach to take-up across all devolved and reserved benefits.

Scottish Government Response

It is clear that social security is a key lever in tackling poverty, and the Scottish Government is committed to maximising the take-up of benefits. It is one of the principles in the 2018 Social Security Act and in our guiding social security principles. This is evidenced in our Benefit Take-up Strategies – the second of which is to be published later this year.

As part of the first Benefit Take-up Strategy, we launched the £600k Benefit Take-up and Income Maximisation Funds. These funds have allowed 26 third sector organisations to provide support to a wide range of seldom-heard and marginalised groups to access their social security entitlements. Insights gained through evaluation of funded projects will be fed into the forthcoming strategy.

To make sure families in Scotland on tax credits or certain benefits with children under six understand what additional financial support is available, Social Security Scotland has been proactively promoting each payment including writing to everyone on the Universal Credit and HMRC tax credit databases who may be eligible to invite them to apply. This happens automatically with people being written to weekly as they move onto the caseloads for certain qualifying benefits and meet the eligibility criteria

Further to this a major awareness raising campaign launched on 23 March 2021 based around the Five Family Payments. The campaign includes TV, radio, digital and social media ads and encourages parents and carers to check if they are eligible for any of the family benefits. The ‘campaign will continue throughout the year to make sure families get the money they are entitled to. All other Social Security Scotland benefits have their own tailored communication and marketing plans developed using insight gathered through secondary and primary research with the target audience and in consultation with stakeholders.

The former Cabinet Secretary for Social Security and Older People urged the UK Government to increase their activity in this area – most recently, joining Ministers from the Welsh and Northern Irish Governments in writing to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions in November 2020, urging a more active and joined-up approach to promoting benefit take-up. This call received no response. Scottish Ministers will continue to make the case robustly.

Beyond Social Security – and in line with commitments to eliminating child poverty – the Scottish Government has invested £3.17m over two years in Welfare Advice and Health Partnerships, which will see welfare rights advisors embedded in 150 GP surgeries in Scotland’s most deprived areas.

We have also invested £4.8 million over three years in the Money Talk Team (MTT) income maximisation service. The service is delivered by the Citizens Advice Network in Scotland and aims to ensure that people are receiving all the benefits they are entitled to (devolved and reserved) and are not paying more than they need to for basic services like gas and electricity. Since the service began in November 2018 it has supported over 31,000 clients across Scotland and put over £27 million into the pockets of more than 15,000 clients – averaging almost £1,800 per client.

Recommendation(s)

The economic shock of the pandemic has been far-reaching, and the Committee expresses considerable concern about the significant number of people who have been unable to access any Government social security support. Whilst recognising the difficulties in creating a permanent Citizens Basic Income, consideration of it as a future emergency response should now be brought to the table. The Committee calls on the Scottish and UK Governments to commit to work together to consider the feasibility of a Citizens Basic Income as part of the planning for any future crisis response.

Scottish Government Response

The Scottish Government has long been supportive of a Citizens’ Basic Income (CBI) pilot. Over the last parliament we funded an independent steering group to conduct feasibility study into piloting such a scheme in Scotland. A final feasibility report was published in June 2020 and concluded that piloting a CBI was desirable but that there are key barriers, including that the Scottish Parliament did not have the powers to progress this without the support of the UK Government, who have confirmed that they will not engage with the Scottish Government any further on a CBI. Whilst we are open to working with the rest of the UK to progress a CBI if the UK Government change their position on it, the Scottish Government is committed to exploring other innovative policies in the meantime.

The Scottish Government has committed to start work in this parliamentary term to deliver a Minimum Income Guarantee (MIG) in Scotland, incorporating the idea of Universal Basic Services as part of this work. A MIG can be described as a guarantee that everyone will receive a minimum level of income, and can be delivered through a combination of employment, social security and other policies. A Scottish MIG may contribute to reducing poverty over the next parliament so that everyone in Scotland has enough support to live a dignified life.

Delivering a MIG will be a long term aim. Groups and organisations supportive of a MIG will be invited to start planning how a MIG can be delivered in Scotland. This reflects a commitment already made in the Scottish Government’s response to the Social Renewal Advisory Board report. There is also a commitment to establish a Steering Group, inviting cross-party representation, to progress the delivery of a MIG.

Recommendation(s)

Employability policy and delivery landscapes are now extremely complex. In planning for recovery, it is vital that Scottish employability policies are fully integrated with each other and complement UK Government initiatives. The Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee concluded that job creation programmes designed and delivered locally, specifically targeted at the local economy and labour market, will be most effective. We agree.

The Committee welcomes the Scottish Government’s employability strategy and plan but seeks further detail on how people with disabilities, who have been particularly impacted by the pandemic, are being supported to find meaningful and sustained employment and how reserved employment service offers are being integrated into the Scottish Government’s plan.

The employability policy and delivery landscapes are extremely complex and involve a web of devolved and reserved functions. In planning for recovery, it is vital that Scottish and UK employability polices are fully integrated and complementary.

Scottish Government Response

Employability support is pivotal in supporting Scotland’s economic recovery - providing support to those most at risk to the adverse economic, health and social impacts of the COVID-19 crisis and delivering the ambitions set out in Programme for Government.

The Scottish Government recognise that the employability response to the pandemic must address the needs of individuals of all ages and circumstances, and those facing structural inequalities in the labour market including people with a disability, people with convictions, single parents, minority ethnic people, and people living in the most deprived areas in Scotland.

Scottish and Local Government are committed to No One Left Behind, and our ambition to create a simpler, more person-centred, joined up and aligned employability system in Scotland in partnership with local government, private and third sector partners, delivering stronger outcomes for people seeking fair work with opportunities to progress with the right support at the right time.

This commitment is underpinned by a Scottish & Local Government Partnership Agreement on employability matters, recognising that place based support is key. In 2021/22 and subject to Ministerial agreement, this support will include an all age job creation initiative co-designed with Local Government and delivered locally, specifically targeted at local economies and labour markets.

Whilst the labour market evidence of the impact of the pandemic is still emerging, we know that some groups have been disproportionately affected with rising unemployment and prevalence of long-term unemployment exacerbating pre-existing structural labour market inequalities. Our second Annual Progress Report Fairer Scotland for disabled people - employment action plan: progress report - year 2 - gov.scot (www.gov.scot) published on 8 March 2021 highlights the work undertaken to date in support of delivering our ambition to at least halve the disability employment gap in Scotland by 2038, as well as outlining work we propose to take forward in 2021/22, including in light of COVID-19. Recognising that disabled people are among those who are most detrimentally affected by the pandemic, we will continue to take action to mitigate further exacerbation of existing barriers to employment.

In 2021/22 we will invest £8.65m in the Parental Employability Support Fund (PESF) to enhance pre-employment and in work support for all families at risk of experiencing poverty. It supports low income families most at risk of experiencing poverty to increase their earnings through employment, by gaining and progressing in Fair Work.

The recent Manifesto commits to investing a further £15m in PESF in the first two years of our next delivery plan (2022-24), ensuring this vital support continues.

We will undertake an exercise to address the needs of and gaps in support/services that disabled workers may face in relation to their employment rights, and how to address these. We are also committed to deliver a practical hands on campaign to support employers to recruit, and support their disabled workers, and will build on some of the good work already taking place through the Workforce Equalities Fund.

Supporting people into fair, sustainable jobs is central to delivering many of our ambitions for an inclusive economy, tackling child poverty and improving health and wellbeing for all. This remains an important and ambitious agenda, constructive and effective partnership working across the employability system is essential for us to deliver on our shared ambitions, collectively we need to be clear on what success will look like, how it can be achieved given the complex and interconnected nature of this work, and how we can best support people looking to find work, and to stay in work.

Fair Start Scotland, our devolved national employment support service, has supported more than 29,000 (stats due to be updated 26/5/21) people since it was launched in April 2018 with over 9000 participants entering employment including unemployed disabled people, those with health conditions and other barriers.

The successful delivery of Fair Start Scotland places significant reliance on our partnership with UKG through DWP/Jobcentre Plus, and we have a number of partnership forums where we can navigate the interaction between devolved/reserved responsibilities. A recent example of this includes the agreement between the Scottish Government and DWP that eligible Fair Start Scotland (FSS) participants may access KickStart opportunities. FSS will offer in-work support to participants, actively encouraging them to re-engage with services should they need further support after their KickStart opportunity ends.

Recommendation(s)

As part of the tackling poverty agenda, the Scottish Government should review which social security measures best contribute to those aims and consider what more can be done to tackle poverty within devolved powers. We invite the Scottish Government to consider whether more of the antipoverty agenda should be delivered by social security payments administered by Social Security Scotland.

The Scottish Government and UK Government responses to this report should be provided in good time for early consideration by an incoming Session 6 Committee. Responses should also address what consideration is being given to wider cross-cutting measures to tackle poverty.

Scottish Government Response

The Scottish Government remains firmly committed to tackling poverty and creating a fairer Scotland, focusing action on the three key drivers of poverty reduction: increasing income from work and earnings; reducing household costs; maximising incomes from social security. As part of our approach to developing the next Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan we will consider the cumulative impact of measures announced to date and what further is needed to deliver the reductions necessary.

In line with our national mission to tackle child poverty, the Scottish Government will continue to consider what more can be done within devolved powers. The Scottish Child Payment is already the most ambitious anti-poverty measure currently being undertaken anywhere in the UK and by 31 March 2021 nearly 79,000 children had already benefitted. The Scottish Government has committed to extending Scottish Child Payment eligibility to under 16s by the end of 2022, subject to receiving the necessary data from the Department for Work and Pensions, and to doubling the Payment, to £80 every four weeks, by the end of this Parliament.

In determining what further measures are needed, and the most appropriate routes for support, it will be important to ensure that sufficient priority is given to Social Security Scotland’s delivery of the complex devolved disability and carer benefits. The Scottish Government has committed to ensure that these benefits can be launched safely and securely and that people who currently rely on them do not experience gaps in their payments as Social Security Scotland takes over administering their cases from the Department for Work and Pensions.