Social Justice and Social Security Committee
Scottish Government's response to the Carers Allowance (Supplement) Scotland Stage 1 report
Letter from the Minister for Social Security and Local Government, 22 September 2021
Neil Gray MSP
Social Justice and Social Security Committee
The Scottish Parliament
22 September 2021
I am writing in response to the Social Justice and Social Security Committee Stage 1 report on the Carer’s Allowance Supplement (Scotland) Bill.
I would like to thank the Committee for its careful consideration of the Bill as introduced and welcome the fact that it recommends the general principles of the Bill should be agreed to by the Parliament.
The Committee has raised a number of important points and recommendations and I have considered all of these and added further context where appropriate, as set out in the attached Annex.
I look forward to hearing Members’ further thoughts during the Stage 1 debate on 23 September.
Scottish Government response to the Social Justice and Social Security Committee Stage 1 report on the Carer’s Allowance Supplement (Scotland) Bill, September 2021
• The Committee understands the reasons for the expedited timetable for consideration of this Bill. Nevertheless, it is not ideal that the timetable for our scrutiny has been truncated. The Committee seeks assurances from the Scottish Government that this is a one-off event due to the unavoidable circumstances on this occasion.
Scottish Government response: The Bill’s focused scope and expedited timetable are necessary to ensure the additional payment can be made to eligible carers with the December payment. The Scottish Government appreciates the quick work and attention of the Committee, and the implications the timetable will have had for the Committee’s immediate work programme. However the timing of the election, convening of the Committee, and summer recess means the timetable was unfortunately unavoidable. One of the reasons the Bill allows for regulations for any future increased payments, is to avoid the need for primary legislation in the future.
• We note section one of the Bill allows for the CAS payment to be increased for the specific occasion of the December 2021 payment, whilst section two allows regulations to provide for future increases. We believe there is a strong case for making further increases to the level of CAS payment in the future. We urge the Scottish Government to seriously consider the evidence we received to this inquiry which argues for further additional payments to CAS to be made in future years using the regulation power in this Bill.
• Allowing carers to plan their finances over the longer term could allow carers to look at longer term financial planning. In the longer-term we hope that this is something Scottish Carer’s Assistance will help with. Until this new benefit is introduced we urge the Scottish Government to look at the evidence we have received to this inquiry when considering how best to support carers as they continue to face the extra burden the pandemic has placed on them.
Scottish Government response: Carer's Allowance Supplement (CAS) itself is already an increase to Carer’s Allowance, increasing it by 13%. Since CAS was introduced in 2018 to the December payment in 2021, carers in Scotland continuously in receipt of Carer’s Allowance and Carer's Allowance Supplement will have received over £2,270 more than carers in the rest of the UK.
The proposed increase to the amount of CAS in December is intended specifically to help mitigate the worst of the pressures associated with the pandemic and will be the second time the Scottish Government has made an additional payment through further investment of around £20 million.
Through Carer’s Allowance and CAS the government invests around £350 million each year supporting unpaid carers. As we continue to balance the Scottish budget, challenging decisions will have to be made regarding any new policy suggestions we receive, ensuring that any new changes are affordable and how any changes will interact with reserved benefits. We will consider the evidence gathered by the Committee as well as the responses to our own consultation and engagement programme on Scottish Carer’s Assistance.
• We welcome plans for consultation on Scottish Carer’s Assistance and look forward to engaging with the Scottish Government on the options proposed.
• We note the suggestion that the numbers of carers receiving financial support should be increased. We hope the Scottish Government’s plans for Scottish Carer’s Assistance will consider issues such as expanding eligibility, increasing the level of benefit and recognising those unpaid carers with more than one caring role.
• We ask the Scottish Government to publish a timetable for delivery of the new benefit including its date for introduction. We also ask the Scottish Government considers the evidence we received to this inquiry, as well as information from their other consultation work when designing the new benefit to ensure that it addresses the issues that were raised with us. We heard in evidence to this inquiry that the new benefit should prioritise lifting carers out of poverty and ensuring support for their wellbeing.
Scottish Government response: We are working with carers and stakeholders to develop Scottish Carer’s Assistance, the replacement benefit for Carer’s Allowance, that works better for the people of Scotland – maintaining the extra amount provided by CAS and including extra support for those with multiple caring roles. It is important we take time to get this right, as Carer’s Allowance has some of the most complex links with UK Government reserved benefits of all the devolved benefits, and we need to ensure we can protect the existing reserved support that carers rely on.
We also want to ensure our carer benefits align better with wider carer support, and the rights of carers and duties on local authorities set out in the Carers (Scotland) Act 2016. We will use the introduction of Scottish Carer’s Assistance to make sure carers are given more information on the wider support available to them.
Due to the impacts of coronavirus on the Scottish Government and the Department for Work and Pensions, who are integral to our work to transfer delivery of Carer’s Allowance, we are working on a new delivery timetable for Scottish Carer’s Assistance. We will update the Committee when this work is complete. Following a detailed options analysis, we still intend to consult on proposals for Scottish Carer’s Assistance this winter.
• Ensuring all those who are entitled to Carer’s Allowance and CAS are accessing these benefits, especially in the situation where some claimants receiving Universal Credit may be entitled to CAS is crucial. We ask the Scottish Government to set out how it will monitor and evaluate whether the steps taken to promote the December 2021 payment have been successful in ensuring high uptake by those carers who qualify for it. We expect this issue to be addressed in the forthcoming benefit take-up strategy.
Scottish Government response: CAS is paid automatically to all those in receipt of Carer’s Allowance on a set date so all those in receipt of CA will automatically receive CAS too.
We understand the impact on recipients of CAS through the evaluation we published in December 2020 . That, along with the input of stakeholders and wider research on the impact of the pandemic on carers, informed our decision to again make a double payment in December 2021. We will continue to review emerging evidence on the impact of coronavirus on carers.
As set out in the Discussion Paper for Scottish Carer’s Assistance , take-up of Carer’s Allowance is difficult to measure accurately. The criteria mean it is challenging to work out the number of people who are eligible but do not apply. Department for Work and Pensions do not publish take-up rates for Carer’s Allowance, so we do not have a baseline to compare any improvements in the take-up of Scottish Carer’s Assistance against. We are working on methodologies to produce estimates of take-up for the low income benefits currently being delivered by Social Security Scotland as part of our second Benefit Take-Up Strategy.
• We recognise the importance of carers being able to access support that goes beyond just financial. The need for carers to have an opportunity to get a break from their caring roles has never been more essential with many people finding Covid-19 has increased the intensity of the demands on them as carers. Given the limited numbers of carers who qualify for CAS and the increased payment ensuring there is non-financial support accessible to as wide a range of carers as possible is crucial.
• Non-financial support was considered essential by many of the people we heard from. Some submissions suggested provision of some such support including respite had been affected by Covid-19. We consider it vital that the Scottish Government considers how best to provide non-financial support to carers and that support the Government has already committed to is provided as quickly as possible.
Scottish Government response: We recognise that carers are facing increased pressures as a result of the pandemic. The government is in regular touch with carer representatives to make sure we understand carers’ concerns and can act accordingly.
Alongside statutory support, we fund Shared Care Scotland and Family Fund to deliver the £3 million per year Short Breaks Fund. During the last financial year, due to the pandemic we put an extra £1.1 million into the Short Breaks Fund and £300,000 in our Young Scot young carer package, to support carers of all ages to enjoy some time away from their caring role and look after themselves. This year we have already committed an extra £570,000 for the Short Breaks Fund and the ScotSprit Holiday Voucher Scheme for carers and families on low incomes will open in October 2021. We also established a £500,000 fund to help local carer organisations transition to remote working.
• The Committee has heard that there is a wide interest from stakeholders in the increased CAS payment being proposed by the Scottish Government. The Committee therefore considers it important that the Scottish Government ensure the regulation making powers in this Bill are subject to a suitable procedure to allow robust scrutiny to take place.
Scottish Government response: The use of the affirmative procedure is considered appropriate given the nature of the provision and the fact that its use involves modification of primary legislation. It is therefore appropriate that the Scottish Parliament is afforded the higher level of scrutiny of any proposal by the Scottish Ministers to increase the amount of the payment of CAS for a particular period.
The Scottish Commission on Social Security play an important role in providing a detailed level of scrutiny of draft social security regulations, which are often very complex. Given that the effect of regulations made by virtue of the power to be conferred by section 2 of the Bill is limited to increasing the level of the CAS for a specific period(s), it is not considered that scrutiny by the Scottish Commission on Social Security is necessary or appropriate in this case.
• The Committee is content to support the general principles of the Bill and recommends to Parliament that they be agreed to.
Scottish Government response: The Scottish Government welcomes the Committee’s support and looks forward to progressing the Bill to ensure carers receive a double payment of CAS support this winter.