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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid)

Meeting date: Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Agenda: Business Motions, Portfolio Question Time, Deaths in Custody, Retained European Union Law, Cost of Living Support, Social Care Charges, Social Security (Additional Payments) Bill, Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Loch Lomond (Proposed Development)


Contents


Social Security (Additional Payments) Bill

The Presiding Officer (Alison Johnstone)

The next item of business is a debate on motion S6M-05155, in the name of Ben Macpherson, on the Social Security (Additional Payments) Bill, which is United Kingdom legislation. I invite members who wish to speak in the debate to press their-request-to-speak button.

18:10  

The Minister for Social Security and Local Government (Ben Macpherson)

The UK cost of living crisis is of deep concern to people across Scotland and to all of us who serve them. That is why, as well as taking a wide set of actions totalling around £3 billion, the Scottish Government has continually urged the UK Government in good faith to use the powers at its disposal to address the unprecedented increases in the cost of living.

On 26 May, in the House of Commons, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced a range of interventions to support people who are struggling financially, which we welcome. Those include a number of social security interventions, including an additional £650 in cost of living payments for those who are on means-tested benefits and a disability cost of living payment worth £150, to be paid from September to people who are in receipt of devolved non-means-tested disability benefits. People who receive the child disability payment and the adult disability payment that are delivered by Social Security Scotland will be among those who are entitled to the sum.

The UK Government has said that approximately 8 million people across the United Kingdom will receive extra payments. To enable that, the UK Government has introduced the Social Security (Additional Payments) Bill in the UK Parliament, but the UK Government has not requested the Scottish Parliament’s consent to the bill. Its view is that the provisions in the bill are temporary additional payments that are intended to respond to the rising cost of living and, as such, are reserved matters. However, it is my view that payments in the form of assistance that is provided to individuals who have a short-term need for financial support to avoid a risk to their wellbeing can be legislated for within the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament.

Therefore, it is the Scottish Government’s view that the bill relates to devolved matters. That is why it is necessary to lodge a legislative consent motion, although the UK Government has not requested one. In doing so, we will ensure that the devolution settlement is properly respected and, importantly, that a precedent for overriding the devolution settlement is not established. The only alternative to a legislative consent motion would be to pass legislation in the Scottish Parliament to an extremely truncated timescale. The legislation would need to come into force by 30 June in order to match the UK Government’s timetable and to ensure that payments can be made when intended.

Attempting to pass legislation in such an expedited fashion carries risk—in our view, too great a risk. It is important that people in Scotland receive the financial support that the UK Government announced on 26 May as soon as possible, and it is my view that introducing legislation in the Scottish Parliament is not necessary or proportionate in the circumstances, when a legislative consent motion is a suitable legislative vehicle to quickly implement the payments UK wide.

Providing legislative consent to the UK Social Security (Additional Payments) Bill is the advisable course of action, and I hope that the Parliament will support the motion in my name.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees that the provisions of the Social Security (Additional Payments) Bill, introduced in the House of Commons on 15 June 2022, so far as they relate to matters that fall within the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament, should be considered by the UK Parliament.

18:14  

Jeremy Balfour (Lothian) (Con)

We have many debates in the chamber that are constructive and helpful, but I see no reason why we are debating this motion tonight. In a few minutes, we will all vote on the motion, and we will be grateful for the money that will be received from the Westminster Government. The only reason why we are debating the matter is, I am afraid, Scottish National Party grievance with Westminster for doing something for disabled people compared with the Scottish Government.

When the matter came to committee, no SNP member spoke against it. They all welcomed it and were happy to accept it. We are seeing the SNP Government bringing forward more grievance against Westminster. What it should be doing today is thanking the Westminster Government and thanking the Department for Work and Pensions for bailing it out yet again.

Let us see what the UK Government is doing. It is introducing a £650 cost of living payment for every household on means-tested benefits. It is introducing a £300 pensioner cost of living payment for every pensioner household in receipt of winter fuel payment. It is introducing a £150 disability cost of living payment for those in receipt of disability benefits—I should say that I will benefit from that. That equates to £1,100 for those on the lowest incomes—around one third of all households.

What has the Scottish Government done? Absolutely nothing. Rather than giving us grieving, moaning policies, the Scottish Government should take responsibility for the benefits that they are running. Instead, they are handing them back to the DWP and saying, “We’re not ready to deal with it. Can you please bail us out and look after us again?”

What we should be absolutely worried about is that the Institute for Fiscal Studies is predicting a £3.5 billion gap in the SNP finances by 2026-27. Should that not be what the Scottish Government is concentrating on? Should the Scottish Government not be trying to bridge that gap, rather than slagging off the Westminster Government?

The Westminster Government has reached out to those who are most vulnerable in our society. Will the Scottish Government accept that? Of course it will, but only with the grievance that comes with it.

18:16  

Pam Duncan-Glancy (Glasgow) (Lab)

Across the country, households are facing a cost of living crisis. Bills are rocketing, the cost of petrol is rising, with no sign of stopping, and food prices are sky high. Money is going nowhere near as far as it used to. Additional help is welcome, of course, and we support that additional help, and the bill that brings it, but it should not have taken as long as it has done for the Tories to be dragged kicking and screaming into action, and grateful is not exactly the emotion that many people will feel—I would imagine it is more a sense of relief and frustration.

I welcome the move to push the legislation through the UK parliamentary process as fast as possible, so that there is money in people’s pockets by 14 July. However, let us be honest. Had UK ministers listened to the Labour Party, acted sooner and uprated benefits by a measure closer to inflation, they could have avoided forcing people into months of uncertainty and struggle. The cost of living crisis is already stinging. Had this action been taken quicker, people would not have been left to suffer, to accumulate debt, to sacrifice other costs or, in some cases, to choose between heating and eating.

We on the Labour benches know that we cannot rely on the Tory Government to support disabled people or people in poverty. In fact, when we break it down, all that it is actually doing by giving disabled people an additional £150 is replacing money that it took from them in other ways, such as failing to uplift legacy benefits or making those on personal independence payment, disability living allowance and attendance allowance ineligible for the warm home discount. However, it has at least recognised that there are additional costs associated with being a disabled person, and the policy has been built to reflect that. The same cannot be said of the Scottish Government.

In 2018, Scope found that Scottish disabled people spent on average £632 on disability-related expenses, including usage of heating. One in five disabled adults faces additional costs of over £1,000 a month, and those are the highest excess costs in the UK. Disabled people also have fewer savings than non-disabled people.

Once all those costs are taken into account, half a million disabled people and their families in Scotland are living in poverty. That is 48 per cent of all the people in Scotland who live in poverty, despite disabled people representing only 22 per cent of the population.

Although I of course welcome any money coming from the UK Government, and the long-overdue recognition of that need for targeted support, particularly in a cost of living crisis, let me be clear that, because of the crisis and the previous actions of the Tory Government, what is being provided is not coming close to meeting need.

The same goes for additional money given to pensioners. Again, it is absolutely right to recognise that older people need more support, but all that the Tories are doing with the new £300 cost of living payment for pensioners is putting money back in the pockets that they themselves emptied by allowing the £500 real-terms cut to state pensions. With the rising costs, even this additional payment will still leave pensioners hundreds of pounds worse off.

Those on pension credit can, of course, claim the £650 cost of living payment, but its impact is stifled significantly by low levels of uptake. To make sure that the money gets to those that it is intended to, both Governments must promote and ensure greater uptake.

Except for the Tories, I think that we probably all agree that the chancellor’s measures have been lacking every step of the way. However, so, too, have those of the Scottish Government. When consequentials came to Scotland following the UK Government council rebate policy, we urged the Scottish Government not to copy the Tories. We presented a fully costed plan that recognised the additional costs for priority groups and the need for targeted measures. We would have put £400 in the pockets of those struggling to make ends meet: disabled people, carers, pensioners and families on low incomes. The SNP refused to do that.

When regulations came to committee, the SNP refused to extend the winter heating allowance to all disabled people, despite accepting that they had higher fuel costs. Even the Tories have now recognised the need for targeted support.

For so many groups of people living in poverty, including disabled people, the Scottish Government has also failed to do enough. For some, it has done nothing at all—there has been no specific cost of living support for disabled people, unpaid carers or pensioners.

As I bring my remarks to close, I highlight unpaid carers. Throughout the pandemic, we clapped for carers, both paid and unpaid. We identified them as key workers and relied on them to pick up the pieces when the state could not. Have both Governments forgotten their contribution? Have their memories faded of how much effort unpaid carers put into keeping this country going, or are they just overlooking their plight?

Unpaid carers are likely to have higher energy bills because of their caring responsibilities, but neither Government has included them in its package of support. It is time that the SNP, Greens and Tories stepped up to the plate. People across Scotland are struggling. The measures that the UK Government has put forward will lighten the burden slightly, but they will not ease it for enough people. The UK Government must go further; so, too, must the SNP Government. It has powers, but it has not used them enough. I say to the minister that he should, by all means, demand more from the Tories—we will, too—but he also needs to take his own advice, recognise his own responsibility and realise that he must also step up for the people of Scotland.

I call the minister to wind up the debate.

18:21  

Ben Macpherson

I appreciate that the debate was scheduled at short notice, and I am very grateful to members from all parties for their time and contributions this evening, although I think that Mr Balfour’s contribution was unnecessarily tribal and critical.

The UK Government’s Social Security (Additional Payments) Bill aims to alleviate the pressures that people are experiencing due to the cost of living crisis. Although there clearly is a need for a much more comprehensive package of support using the headroom that the chancellor has and the fiscal and monetary powers at his disposal, it is important that we here do not cause any delay to the payments getting to those who need them. We want people to get the payments, which is why we are undertaking this legislative consent motion today.

The Scottish Government is committed to supporting the delivery of the measures following the chancellor’s statement. I believe that passing the LCM is the most efficient and effective way to do so. It is required because the measures relate to devolved matters.

Given the extremely limited time between the announcement of the measures in the UK bill and its introduction, and the truncated timetable in which the UK Government is legislating, it would simply not be feasible to introduce Scottish legislation, as I said in my opening remarks. That would risk delaying the delivery of the provisions. We want that delivery to happen. We are doing the right thing. Unnecessary criticism from the Tories is unhelpful in this scenario in which we are trying to collaborate to provide assistance to the people Scotland.

I always appreciate that colleagues will push us as a Government to do as much as we can. That is why we are delivering around £3 billion of support for people in this cost of living crisis. For example, our child winter heating assistance and our Scottish child payment are only available in Scotland. We have a wide range of other measures, but there is not the time to go through them today.

We need the UK Government to do more, but we want to facilitate what has been announced. I close by reiterating the Scottish Government’s call for more action from the UK Government to address the unprecedented rise in the cost of living above and beyond what is set out in its bill. Nevertheless, we wish to ensure that we facilitate the delivery of the support that has been announced. It is important that that is done without delay, and I urge Parliament to pass the motion.