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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) [Draft]

Meeting date: Thursday, May 26, 2022

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Falkland Islands, Portfolio Question Time, Drug Deaths, Social Security Benefits, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Correction


Contents


Social Security Benefits

The Presiding Officer (Alison Johnstone)

The next item of business is a debate on motion S6M-04621, in the name of Ben Macpherson, on an update on social security benefits. Members who wish to speak in the debate should press their request-to-speak buttons now.

15:01  

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

Social security is an important human right. It is a shared investment in building a fairer and better society. None of us knows when we might need it or whether someone close to us might need it, which is why, collectively, and especially in these serious and challenging times, we—Scotland’s politicians—must work together to continue to successfully deliver and develop our devolved social security system, which is based on our shared principles of dignity, fairness and respect.

I wish to update Parliament on the progress that we have made, particularly during the pandemic, and on how we will build on that strong foundation to safely and securely deliver the remaining devolved benefits. The debate is a chance for us to reflect on the remarkable progress that has been made since Parliament unanimously passed the Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018, and to look forward to what further change and assistance the Scottish Government will deliver for the people whom we serve.

We have used, are using and will continue to use our devolved powers proactively, purposefully and passionately to strengthen and develop our still fairly new public service and to deliver significant extra financial support to people in our communities who need it most. The Scottish Government has now introduced 12 benefits, seven of which are brand-new forms of support that are only available in Scotland. In this financial year, through record investment of £3.9 billon in benefit expenditure, we will provide support to more than 1 million people.

In this financial year, we have chosen to invest more than the money that is being transferred to us by the United Kingdom Government, by around £360 million. As a Government, we have taken that decision on how we allocate our limited resources and use our limited powers to introduce new forms of support to tackle child poverty, promote equality and mitigate cost of living pressures.

We are taking a range of actions. For example, by the end of 2022 we will extend the Scottish child payment to under-16s and increase it to £25 per week per child. By that point, around 430,000 children who are living in low-income households could be eligible—a fourfold increase on the 104,000 children we are already helping.

Pam Duncan-Glancy (Glasgow) (Lab)

Various briefings have come in ahead of the debate, as we will all know, and all of them have pointed to the fact that children are still living in poverty today. They cannot wait until the end of year, particularly children whose families receive bridging payments. Will the Government therefore commit to doubling the bridging payments?

Ben Macpherson

We have answered Pam Duncan-Glancy on that point several times. As she knows, the reason why we cannot extend the Scottish child payment until the end of the year is that we have to go through a process with the Department for Work and Pensions to access the data and implement the change systematically. We have provided bridging payments in the meantime, in order to provide that extra assistance.

That support has been welcomed by families across Scotland, as has our package of five family payments for low-income families, which will be worth more than £10,000 by the time a family’s first child turns six, and £9,700 for subsequent children. That compares with less than £1,800 for an eligible family’s first child in England and Wales—a difference of more than £8,200 for every eligible child born in Scotland and proof that, using our powers, we are delivering for the households who need it most.

We reacted to the cost of living crisis by increasing eight Scottish benefits by 6 per cent, which is closer to the rate of inflation than previous plans, which were based on the CPI of 3.1 per cent.

We delivered and introduced several of our new benefits during the pandemic, including the Scottish child payment and our complex disability benefits. Last week, Audit Scotland said that that was “a significant achievement”.

Miles Briggs (Lothian) (Con)

I am grateful to the minister for taking an intervention. Audit Scotland also stated that the implementation costs of new devolved benefits are “not routinely reported on” in the public domain, which inevitably makes it

“difficult for those in scrutiny roles to track and compare over time.”

What assessment of those comments has the minister made?

Ben Macpherson

We welcome all the recommendations in the Audit Scotland report and will work to implement them, and we will work with the auditors, as we have throughout the process.

With regard to progress during the pandemic, our delivery partners at the Department for Work and Pensions also had to reprioritise their programme of work. We are now working with them to plan our timetable for delivery of the remaining devolved benefits and the transfer of around 700,000 cases from the DWP to Social Security Scotland.

I take this opportunity to thank all those who are involved in the delivery of our devolved social security benefits, including all my officials in the Scottish Government; the UK ministers and civil servants who have been involved; everyone at Social Security Scotland; our experience panels; the Scottish Commission on Social Security; the disability and carer benefits expert advisory group; and every stakeholder and individual who has contributed to the development of our 12 benefits and those that we are currently preparing to introduce.

On that note, I move on to a new benefit that will directly support around 400,000 low-income households with their energy costs. Beginning in winter 2022-23, we will introduce our low-income winter heating assistance. The new benefit will replace the DWP’s cold weather payments and will guarantee an annual £50 payment to around 400,000 low-income households each winter, which is an investment of around £20 million a year.

The current £25 cold weather payment is paid only if the weather gets cold enough and for a sustained period of time. In contrast, our replacement winter heating benefit will provide a guaranteed £50 payment, which ensures that it provides targeted, stable, reliable financial support to those who need it most. It will deliver certainty and will no longer be tied to temperatures recorded at weather stations that are often miles from people’s homes. It represents an investment of around £20 million each year.

Since 2014-15, there have been only two years in which spend on cold weather payments in Scotland has been above £20 million—only £325,000 was paid to just 11,000 households in the winter that we just had. There is no doubt that the new Scottish benefit will be of huge help to people in the coming winter. It is another way in which the Government is supporting people and mitigating the cost of living crisis.

The next benefit that we will introduce is Scottish carers assistance, which is our replacement for carers allowance. I am pleased to announce that we will begin to roll out Scottish carers assistance by the end of 2023, with full national introduction in spring 2024. The final dates will be agreed following our on-going work with the UK Government, but this is a key milestone for our new benefit.

Our consultation on Scottish carers assistance and our plans for future improvements to increase the support available to carers has just ended. Those plans include an additional payment for those caring for more than one disabled person, and proposals to remove full-time education restrictions and increase the earnings limit, so that carers can earn more and still get financial support. We will consider the responses to the consultation and, later this year, we will confirm the improvements that we will make and when we will be able to make them.

In the meantime, we will continue to pay the carers allowance supplement, which provides real, tangible support to around 90,000 carers. We have now delivered £188 million-worth of carers allowance supplement support since the benefit was introduced, in 2018—including two additional payments that were paid in 2020 and 2021 in response to the pandemic.

We are also delivering significant changes this year with our new disability benefits. After we successfully rolled it out last winter, child disability payment has already helped more than an estimated 3,000 children.

I am proud that, just a few months ago, we successfully introduced the adult disability payment, which is our replacement for the UK personal independence payment. On 21 March, we launched it in three council areas and it will be phased in across 10 more areas in the coming months, ahead of full national introduction at the end of August.

The adult disability payment is delivering significant improvements, which range from never using the private sector to carry out health assessments to providing an independent advocacy service and short-term assistance if people challenge a review decision.

Further evidence of our human rights-based approach in action is our introduction of indefinite awards for people on the highest level of adult disability payment whose needs are highly unlikely to change, which will provide the most severely disabled people with long-term financial security. In addition, we have moved away from the DWP’s definition of terminal illness to one that is based on clinical judgment instead of life expectancy. Importantly, benefit applications from people with a terminal illness will be fast-tracked and paid at the maximum rate.

The adult disability payment is, without doubt, the most complex benefit that we have introduced, and the seamless, safe and secure transfer of hundreds of thousands of people’s payments from the DWP is not a simple administrative process. From the middle of next month, we will start to move personal independence payment awards and, from the end of August, we will start to move working-age disability living allowance awards for individuals who would otherwise need to undergo an assessment or reassessment with the DWP. People in Scotland whose cases will be transferred do not need to do anything; we will do it, and we will do it seamlessly. We will keep them informed throughout the process.

There is a lot more that I could say about the remarkable progress that we have made since the Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018 was passed just four years ago. In that time, we have created a new public service for Scotland, delivered new and replacement benefits and positively impacted thousands of lives. This afternoon, I look forward to hearing from colleagues about how, together, we can make an even bigger difference.

We have ambitions to help more people as we use our powers to create a modern, future-proof social security system—a system that can serve the people of Scotland well and effectively for decades to come, and one that embodies one of the four key words that is written on the mace that lies before us: compassion.

To do that, we will have to be ambitious but appropriately realistic. We will have to move forward purposefully but be responsible. We will have to put people first, not party politics. We will need to work together to encourage benefit take-up and remove the stigma around social security that, unfortunately, has built up in previous years.

The months and years ahead are, arguably, the most significant for the new system that we have created and for those of us who serve in communities across Scotland. In these serious times, I encourage my fellow MSPs to play their part in supporting our constituents to access any available support to which they are entitled, and I encourage colleagues to be constructive in the next, really important phase of delivering social security benefits in Scotland.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees that social security is a human right and an investment in people; welcomes the introduction and delivery of 12 Scottish social security benefits in total, seven of which are new forms of support only available in Scotland, including most recently the Scottish Child Payment, Child Disability Payment and Adult Disability Payment; notes the more humane and compassionate process for applying for the Adult Disability Payment, which contrasts with the intrusive assessments often required to receive Personal Independence Payment from the UK Government; further notes the implementation of a clinically determined definition of “terminal illness” and fast-tracking of these applications for support; welcomes the introduction of indefinite awards within Scottish disability assistance, which provides the most severely disabled people with long-term financial security; looks forward to the introduction of new benefits, including Low Income Winter Heating Assistance and Scottish Carer’s Assistance; notes that social security is one of the three key pillars in the national mission to tackle child poverty, and commends the extension of the Scottish Child Payment to under-16s and plans to increase it to £25 per week per child by the end of the year; welcomes the substantial financial support that these benefits provide to people, which is important at all times and particularly so now as people are impacted by the cost of living crisis in the UK, and acknowledges the Scottish Government’s record investment of £3.9 billon in benefit expenditure in 2022-23, which is £360 million above that received by the UK Government, all of which will provide meaningful social security support to over one million people, including low-income families and households, disabled people and carers.

Members might wish to know that we have some time available to give back for interventions.

15:13  

Miles Briggs (Lothian) (Con)

Following the sweeping devolution that was delivered through the Scotland Act 2016, the Scottish Parliament now has unprecedented powers and influence over social security in Scotland. That goes to the heart of the devolution settlement following the 2014 independence referendum, whereby the Parliament is responsible for taking a greater number of decisions for the people of Scotland. Not only is the Scottish Government of the day able to top up UK-wide reserved benefits, it has full control over 11 benefits that were previously administered by the UK Government, including child disability payments.

If the pandemic has demonstrated anything, it is the benefit of the broad shoulders of the UK which, through assistance from the furlough scheme to the unprecedented support that was provided to families and businesses the length and breadth of the country, helped to protect and support us through the pandemic. We saw more of that support today in the chancellor’s statement.

I start today with where I agree with the Government, which was in the final point that the minister made. The implementation of a clinically determined definition of terminal illness and the fast-tracking of applications for support from people with a terminal illness is a welcome step forward, as is the introduction of indefinite awards for Scottish disability assistance. Many members from across the Parliament, including the Presiding Officer, have campaigned for that. It is welcome that, today, we see that finally being taken forward.

Despite the Scottish National Party-Green Government motion, it must be said that the establishment and transition to date of Social Security Scotland has not been all plain sailing. We are acutely aware of how ministers had to hand back administrative powers over the severe disability allowance, for example, to the Department for Work and Pensions. Moreover, despite recent welcome progress, the transition has been far too slow. It is worth reflecting on the fact that it will be nearly a decade since ministers received powers over devolved benefits before all cases are transferred from the DWP to Social Security Scotland.

Ben Macpherson

Could Mr Briggs make any practical and realistic suggestions about how we could have gone more quickly? We have introduced new benefits, such as the Scottish child payment, which the Conservatives welcomed and campaigned to be doubled during the last election campaign. It is easy to say that things should have been done more quickly, but how would the member have done it more quickly?

Miles Briggs

We are talking about holding the Government to account and ministers made the specific promise that the new system would be fully in place before the 2021 election. Indeed, only last week, Audit Scotland warned that the timescales for the delivery of the new benefits are also challenging. As I have said in previous debates, it is in all our interests that Social Security Scotland should succeed. We all want that, but the organisation must deliver efficient and cost-effective assessments and payments, and we will continue to hold the Government to account on that.

As is the case with any Government body or quango, the Scottish people rightly expect its resources to be managed effectively and efficiently, and that they will deliver value for money. As the Social Justice and Social Security Committee has recently heard, projections around spend on devolved benefits estimate that there will be a gap of at least £0.75 billion by the end of the current parliamentary session. As my colleague Jeremy Balfour has previously said, SNP-Green ministers have also not outlined where we are seeing costs for rebranding around the personal independence payment, for example, which is ostensibly just a repeat of the same system. Ministers have not set out any changes that will be made to that payment, and that is something that the committee and members across Parliament want to see.

Ben Macpherson

Mr Briggs has just pointed out a difference in the definition of terminal illness, and, in my opening remarks, I talked about a difference in indefinite awards, as well as in the way in which people will access benefits. Let us be serious here.

Miles Briggs

My point was about the specific criteria for PIP and what seems to be a rebranding of that payment. We need to see where those changes will be, and the minister did not outline any of them at committee either.

We also know that the cost to Social Security Scotland of delivering benefits stands at around 10 per cent of total resources compared to 6 per cent for the DWP. Yes, it is a new organisation but, last year alone, Social Security Scotland’s overspend costs were approximately £44 million. The Parliament and members of the committees that are looking at the issue would like further clarity from the Government about how projected future expenditure will be controlled and what its plans are to plug some of the funding gaps.

It is concerning that the costs of setting up Social Security Scotland were more than triple what SNP ministers estimated, and we still have not heard any clear answers on that.

Today’s debate is also an important opportunity to highlight the need for more transparency from ministers.

Did Miles Briggs agree with the UK Government’s decision to cut the £20 universal credit uplift?

Miles Briggs

That is not the point that we are debating today. That was a welcome additional resource that was provided at the start of the pandemic, but we need to concentrate on what we are responsible for and we should certainly be able to discuss the £44 million overspend.

Audit Scotland clearly says that the Scottish Government is making it difficult for those of us who are responsible for it to scrutinise the costs and track them over time. The minister said that he accepts Audit Scotland’s recommendations, and I welcome that and hope that we will see action on that soon. Because of that lack of transparency, Audit Scotland is urging the Scottish Government to make those important changes now, including by publishing a new programme for the business case so that Scots can see exactly how the money is being spent. The future financial sustainability of our welfare system is vitally important, and additional costs and duplications in the system need to be fully considered as we move forward.

We all agree that, in the spirit of the Scotland Act 2016, Scotland should be able to have a unique approach to social security and one that is distinctive from the approach that is taken elsewhere in the UK. Scottish Conservatives have outlined our priorities for reform, which include the extension of bereavement support for carers and a new top-up benefit for veterans, the need for which the minister has acknowledged in committee, and I hope that the minister will engage on those.

However, there are serious budgetary concerns, and the Scottish Government needs to be clearer about its long-term vision for Social Security Scotland and the spend that that will involve, and to lay out the practical steps that it will take to make the body more transparent and accessible to the public.

I move amendment S6M-04621.1, to leave out from “notes the more” to end and insert:

“notes the implementation of a clinically determined definition of ‘terminal illness’ and fast-tracking of these applications for support; welcomes the introduction of indefinite awards within Scottish disability assistance, which provides the most severely disabled people with long-term financial security; looks forward to the introduction of new benefits, including Low Income Winter Heating Assistance and Scottish Carer’s Assistance; notes that social security is one of the three key pillars in the national mission to tackle child poverty, and commends the extension of the Scottish Child Payment to under-16s and plans to increase it to £25 per week per child by the end of the year; welcomes the substantial financial support that these benefits provide to people, which is important at all times and particularly so now as people are impacted by the cost of living crisis in the UK, and acknowledges the Scottish Government’s record investment of £3.9 billon in benefit expenditure in 2022-23, which is £360 million above that received by the UK Government, all of which will provide meaningful social security support to over one million people, including low-income families and households, disabled people and carers; is concerned that the £251 million cut to local government funding will have a knock-on effect on debt advice services, which will have a detrimental impact on low-income families and households; notes further concern at the published processing times at Social Security Scotland showing record highs, with many applications taking 30 days to process, almost double the average processing time of September 2021, which raises further concerns about how Social Security Scotland will be able to cope with the additional caseload, given that Audit Scotland forecasts that the Adult Disability Payment caseload will increase from 20,000 cases in 2022-23 to 475,000 cases by 2026-27; seeks clarification on how the Scottish Government plans to finance increased social security expenditure, with a projected extra £760 million needed by 2026; thanks the Department for Work and Pensions for its continued support in helping to deliver these benefits through agency agreements when Social Security Scotland was unable to meet its proposed timescales for delivery, and looks forward to finally having full case transfer, as agreed, by 2025.”

15:20  

Pam Duncan-Glancy (Glasgow) (Lab)

The devolution of social security was a key moment. It was a chance to be radical, to create a new system and to remove the most undignified and unjust policies of the past. However, the SNP has failed to seize that moment. It had warm words but, as is too often the case, it has failed to turn them into action. It has failed to deliver on promises, even when those promises have been its flagship policies.

Four years on from the passing of the Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018, the Scottish Government still regularly announces delays and opts to leave powers in the hands of the Tories, handing the DWP more than a third of its budget in the process.

Ben Macpherson

I pose to Pam Duncan-Glancy the same question that I posed to Miles Briggs. It is very easy for people to say that things should have gone faster and that they want to move more quickly. Everyone in the Parliament wants to move more quickly, but the issue is how we do that. Looking back on the trajectory from 2018 to now, given the circumstances that we have faced, I cannot see how we could have done things any more quickly, considering that we introduced new benefits such as the Scottish child payment, which I know that Pam Duncan-Glancy strongly supports.

Pam Duncan-Glancy

It is true that I strongly support the Scottish child payment.

There are a number of things that I think could have been done much more quickly. One of the most important of those is that the Government should have been in a position to ask the UK Government for the information that it needed well ahead of announcing policy on it. When the UK minister appeared before the Social Justice and Social Security Committee and we asked them why the data from the DWP—in particular, the data that was needed for the Scottish child payment—was not available, they said that the Scottish Government had not asked them for it in advance. Therefore, I strongly urge the Scottish Government to ensure that it engages at as early a point as possible with the public and with the UK Government on such matters.

The Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Housing and Local Government (Shona Robison)

I think that the point that the UK minister was making was that, somehow, we should have asked the UK Government’s permission in advance of making increases to the Scottish child payment. I do not think that that is right. The DWP had a lot of lead-in time from when the Scottish child payment was first announced. Pam Duncan-Glancy calls for things to be changed and increased all the time, but surely she recognises that decisions about the level should lie with us. The DWP and the UK minister had plenty of lead-in time to get the data issues resolved. The issue was that there was a disagreement on how the data issues should be resolved.

Pam Duncan-Glancy

If the cabinet secretary looks at the Official Report of the committee meeting in question, she will see that the DWP representatives specifically said that they had not been given enough notice ahead of policy changes. If any policy change is intended in relation to the adult disability payment review, it will be key that that information is available as soon as possible, because people need to know that the systems are in place to deliver the changes that they so desperately need and want.

Meanwhile, poverty is rife, debt is racking up and people are struggling to make ends meet. The key workers in the pandemic—those who put their lives on the line to protect ours by performing roles with high exposure to Covid in social care and education—were predominantly women. With the powers that we have here, more support could have been made available to them, in recognition of the roles that they played, including as unpaid carers, stepping in when the state pulled out. Instead, the uplift to the carers supplement was cut.

Many disabled people in Scotland are living in poverty. The Scottish Government is finally in the process of rolling out the adult disability payment, but all that it has done is tinker at the edges. I welcome the improvements to the application process, but that was not a high bar. The SNP could have made real changes by removing the 20m rule and the 50 per cent rule, in recognition of the fact that those arbitrary numbers allow for no recognition of fluctuating conditions, including long Covid and MS, but it has not done so. It has said that, first, it must prioritise safe and secure transfer.

Will the member give way on that point?

I will. Can I get the time back, please, Presiding Officer?

You can indeed.

Is Pam Duncan-Glancy suggesting that we should have a two-tier system as we undertake case transfer? That would be the reality if we made changes to the eligibility criteria before undertaking case transfer.

Pam Duncan-Glancy

That is not what I am suggesting. However, as the committee heard this morning, there will be a two-tier system, particularly for the 38,000 people who are currently on disability living allowance and will be moving to adult disability payment.

It is possible, where there is the will, for the Government to find solutions to those problems. What matters more than anything is that people are not facing DWP systems that do not give them adequate money to live on and that rule people out of access to support because of arbitrary figures such as the 50 per cent rule and the 20m rule. The sooner that we, in Scotland, can do away with that, the better.

At this rate, any substantial changes to eligibility for and the adequacy of adult disability payment will not be in place during this session of Parliament, despite both financial and legal competence having been entirely devolved for years.

The system does not meet children’s needs either. Child poverty remains at shamefully high levels. I engage with third sector organisations, as, I know, the cabinet secretary and the minister do. They have shared stories about families sharing blankets and children sharing their free school meals. People are coming together to support each other while Governments fail to step in. Last week, Aberlour told the Social Justice and Social Security Committee that it sees not relative but absolute child poverty—complete destitution.

The tackling child poverty delivery plan 2022 to 2026 concluded that, with a fair wind and on a good day, we might scrape through the relative poverty target next year. I hope that we do, but the plan also admitted that, even with the same optimistic outlook, the absolute child poverty target for 2023-24 will be missed and 16 per cent of children will remain in destitution.

The Scottish child payment is welcome, as I have said before, but, at its current rate and in its current unfinished state, it does not do enough. Three out of four children living in poverty are not receiving the money that they should be getting from that payment. The clumsiness of the roll-out is costing the poorest children upwards of £5 million a week. The Government blames the DWP but, as I said, the committee has heard that the Government has not asked quickly enough for the information. The SNP made yet another headline-grabbing announcement but has not had the plans to back it up. People deserve and expect better than that.

Then we come to bills. A quarter of people in Scotland are in fuel poverty—a figure that is only going to get worse after Tuesday’s announcements about the fuel price cap. Neither Government is doing enough to address that. Fuel poverty is another example of the Government failing to live up to its rhetoric. The fuel strategy rightly recognises that disabled people of all ages have a higher cost of living as a result of fuel costs, yet, when the Government had the opportunity to extend child winter heating assistance to all disabled people, regardless of age, it did not do that. It had the power but did not use it.

Fuel poverty already affects 619,000 households in Scotland, a number that will increase. People who were already struggling are finding that they cannot make ends meet and cannot pay their bills. Of those households, 218,000 have older people in them. That is why we proposed fully costed plans that would have given people on pension credit £400 to mitigate some of the rises in energy bills. We would have given the same amount to people on carers allowance supplement, child winter heating assistance and council tax reduction.

Please conclude, Ms Duncan-Glancy.

Pam Duncan-Glancy

We would have put money in the welfare fund so that people could get the help that they need.

The Tory Government in Westminster has always let us down. In Scotland, where we should be using our powers, the SNP has failed us, too. It is time to stop messing about and put the necessary staff in place, sort the information technology, move payments over at pace and deliver the promised new radical social security system that people in Scotland so desperately need.

I move amendment S6M-04621.2, to leave out from “; welcomes the introduction and delivery” to end and insert:

“but notes with concern that, in the face of a cost of living crisis, the Scottish Government has taken little action to deliver a social security system that adequately insulates the poorest in society from financial shocks, and protects more and more people from being driven into poverty; acknowledges the ambitious statements previously made by the Scottish Government on the opportunities given by the devolution of social security; is disappointed by the lack of progress made by the Scottish Government since; draws attention to the fact that over three quarters of devolved social security spending is still administrated by the Department for Work and Pensions, three out of four children who should be eligible for the Scottish Child Payment do not receive it, and no changes have been made at all to eligibility criteria for disability payments; considers that, despite the rhetoric indulged in by the Scottish Government boasting of transformational changes to benefits in Scotland, examination of the policy detail betrays the reality that very little radical change is taking place, and concludes that it is imperative that the Scottish Government takes on board the warnings of Audit Scotland that financial and staffing plans must be set out in order for Scotland to have any reassurance that its social security system will be fit to deal with the challenges that lie ahead.”

15:28  

Willie Rennie (North East Fife) (LD)

I know that the minister probably finds me rather curmudgeonly on occasion and a tad critical of the Government’s management of its responsibilities. That is because I am usually right: the Government’s record is pretty terrible in many areas.

I plan to tread new territory, however, and to compliment those responsible for the progress so far in Social Security Scotland. [Interruption.] Jim Fairlie should not get too carried away: my compliments will be limited and will not go too far. I praise those in Dundee and elsewhere who have been working throughout. It is a big programme and has been delayed, but the progress must be recognised and ministers deserve some credit.

I find Ben Macpherson an open and approachable minister. He is also focused on and dedicated to his work—there is no doubt about that. Jeane Freeman probably also deserves some credit for setting up the implementation plan at the beginning.

That is enough of that. I am coming out in a rash now.

It is also important to recognise that there are warnings in the Audit Scotland report. There is still a huge amount to be done. For example, the case load for the adult disability payment, which we discussed yesterday, is forecast to go from a few thousand just now—20,000—up to almost 500,000 in only five years. We have only just started on that benefit, so we need to keep our feet on the ground. There is also the extension of the child payment to 200,000 older children—the six to 15-year-old range—by the end of this year. That is a big step as well. We know that there were problems with the child disability payment roll-out. That is not unreasonable—the pandemic created some of those issues—but it shows that the system is not as robust as the minister would like to think.

The people who are dependent on the adult disability payment and the Scottish child payment need the money and need it on time. They are cutting right to the edge every month and run out of money before the end of the week. They need the money without delays, so there is no slack and we need to make the system work because we know the consequences that it has for people’s lives if we do not get it right.

Yesterday, I asked the minister how confident he was of the timetable for delivering those benefits. He rightly talked about the system but did not express any confidence. Perhaps he can clear that up now.

Ben Macpherson

I am glad to have a second opportunity to emphasise that I am confident of the robustness of the processes. Recruitment, training and proper investment in our information technology systems have taken place, are taking place as we speak and will take place as we roll out the different phases of the adult disability payment and, crucially, undertake case transfer. Willie Rennie is right to raise those serious points, and I am confident that we will do it right and get people their money on time and when they expect it.

Willie Rennie

We will hold the minister to account on that because it is important. Not only I, but all the children and people with disabilities will hold him to account to ensure that that is fulfilled. I hope that he is right.

There also needs to be a focus on costs. Miles Briggs was right about that. The cost of the benefits is an additional £760 million according to Audit Scotland. The implementation costs have doubled since 2017. The criteria have changed and the scope is different, but, nevertheless, it is quite an increase from what was originally planned.

I understand the purpose of having, and the need for, an agile system that has a focus on the needs of the user. However, it comes with costs to the system. We must recognise that money is not unlimited and ensure that the system is in balance. Perhaps the minister could tell us in his closing speech how he will keep control of those costs.

We have heard more today from the minister, but we need the full details of the replanning of several benefits that need to be rescheduled: the pension age disability payment, various carers payments and employment injury assistance. All of that needs to be set out in detail, because people are dependent on those benefits.

The cost of living crisis must be at the centre of everything that we think about in the Parliament. It will plunge huge numbers of people into poverty. We have met many people who are experiencing that already and it will only get worse. The package that the chancellor announced today will help with that to some degree but we must be ready to do more and the Parliament must do more.

The Child Poverty Action Group is calling for a number of steps to be taken, including the doubling of the bridging payments for the Scottish child payment. I hope that the minister will address that, too, and ensure that there is a commitment to it because children are desperate for that money right now. There are thousands of carers who get nowhere near any carers support and that needs to be addressed before long. Thousands and thousands of people who care for loved ones get no recognition for it.

Back in 2015, I asked our representatives on the Smith commission—Tavish Scott and Michael Moore—to make the case for the transfer of significant welfare powers, because I believed that the non-universal credit items should largely be devolved. I wanted greater synergy with the work of this Parliament. I thought that it was a substantial transfer of powers, but also that it was reasonable. It created a big, multibillion-pound budget. It was not everything that the SNP wanted, but it was significant.

A few months earlier—casting our minds back—the SNP was claiming that it would deliver independence within 16 months. Seven years later, we are not even near the end of the transfer of the benefits—

Ben Macpherson rose—

Willie Rennie

I am coming to my conclusion.

We are nowhere near the full delivery. That is all that I am pointing out. I understand what the minister said about timing—these things do take time to implement—but we were promised a grand new welfare and benefits system and we were promised that independence would be delivered in 16 months. Years later, that should be a sobering lesson to the SNP.

We have tried to work constructively with the Government throughout. We support dignity, fairness and respect. We think that, in the forging of a new welfare system, the country needs to come together to do its best to make sure that that works effectively. We will continue with that approach, as I hope I have shown the minister that we are determined to do.

We move to the open debate.

15:36  

Elena Whitham (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) (SNP)

I rise to support the Scottish Government motion. It is extremely important that we take a moment to reflect on the fact that, in the four short years since the Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018 was passed—including in the face of a pandemic, when priorities rightly shifted—our Government has taken on the major feat of disentangling a complex benefits system. We must remember that this is a system so complex that, only a fortnight ago, the UK chancellor advised us that “computer says no” to uprating benefits more than once a year, because the antiquated system was simply an insurmountable obstacle to doing it in any other way; and that, although today he has been dragged kicking and screaming to agree an inflationary uplift to benefits, that will not happen until—surprise, surprise—next year.

Not only have we disentangled a complex and onerous system that had bits of paper warehoused all across the UK; we now find that our new Social Security Scotland agency is delivering 12 benefits, of which seven are entirely new and available only in Scotland—a feat that Audit Scotland has rightly described as

“a significant achievement ... in challenging circumstances”.

Those new Scotland-only payments, including the game-changing Scottish child payment, are payments that third sector partners across the rest of the UK are desperate to see replicated in their own countries. Sadly, the political will at the UK level is more interested in capping benefits than in investing in its people, while our Government chooses to mitigate the hated benefit cap that plunges predominantly women and children into abject poverty in ideological, austerity-created welfare warfare, which also involved women being told that a third child would be supported only if conceived as a result of rape.

UK-wide, that system plunged 400,000 children into poverty overnight, by removing the £20 universal credit uplift. That is shameful. I wonder whether any member on the Tory benches has made representation to their UK Government colleagues to reverse those callous welfare cuts. Analyses show that doing so would lift an estimated 70,000 people in Scotland, including 30,000 children, out of poverty by 2024.

Contrast that with our approach in this place, which decided that our agency was to be built with fairness, dignity and respect at its heart, and core principles that include seeing social security as an investment in the people of Scotland and as a human right that is essential to the realisation of other human rights and will contribute to the reduction of poverty across our country.

Right back at the beginning of that first new public service to be created since devolution, I remember, as part of my work as the community wellbeing spokesperson of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, being moved to tears as I heard from those who were involved with the experience panels about how much trauma was invoked by a brown envelope through the door. As someone who was previously in receipt of the said brown envelopes and who also supported many folk to navigate the often complex and cruel world in which brown envelopes become the stuff of nightmares, I was relieved to see such a level of engagement with lived experience shaping the way in which our new agency operates.

Jeremy Balfour (Lothian) (Con)

We have a brand-new system, yet, early on, 2,000 people who receive the Scottish child disability payment had to wait four days—a whole weekend—to receive their money. Is the member surprised about that, and does she think that the system is working well?

Elena Whitham

We will always see some hiccups. I will point out to members that we are how many years down from the roll-out of PIP—we are 13 years in—yet it has still not been fully rolled out. That is why there are people on the disability living allowance and other legacy benefits. Also, as my colleagues are saying from sedentary positions, there is a five-week cruel wait before people get their first universal credit payment.

Our social security agency has been built for us all, and it was imperative that we took the time and made the effort to ensure that we did not replicate or bake in the shortcomings and inequity of the UK system. It is also incumbent on us all to work hard to make sure that we maximise benefit uptake. We want to figure out how to get past the practical issues of data sharing to ensure that families get everything that they are entitled to. I will repeat the minister’s call for members across the chamber to please get that information out on their social media channels and make sure that everyone knows what they are entitled to.

As Convener of the Social Justice and Social Security Committee, I recently travelled to Social Security Scotland in Dundee with my committee colleague Emma Roddick, to hear at first hand about how the transfer of the adult disability payment was progressing. I was struck by how impassioned the staff were and how they appreciated the time that was afforded to them with the phased roll-out, as that enables them to be fleet of foot in the face of challenges and respond accordingly. They spoke about culture and practice being developed, which gives me the confidence that our guiding principles are playing out in real time. That was confirmed by the recent study that showed that 90 per cent of Social Security Scotland’s customers rated the service as good or very good.

It was the application form for ADP that resonated most with me on that day. That is not tinkering around the edges. That form could not be further removed from the application form for the personal independence payment: it has been crafted with lived and worked experience in mind and dignity at its heart. Both Emma Roddick and I were emotional, as we both know only too well the positive impact that it will have on those of us in Scotland who find ourselves eligible for such a payment. Indefinite awards and no dehumanising private sector assessments also signal a brand new approach.

So, despite the ludicrous Labour assertion that we are doing nothing with our powers, eligible families in Scotland will receive more than £10,000 by the time their first child turns six, and £9,700 for subsequent children. As the minister said, contrast that with only £1,800 in England and Wales, and only £1,300 for subsequent children. We are doing that with one hand tied behind our back. Just imagine what we could do with all the powers of a normal, everyday independent country.

15:42  

Alexander Stewart (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

It seems that every time that Scotland’s social security benefits are debated in the chamber, the Scottish Government is able to report a small amount of progress on the issue, but that is never the amount of progress that it should be reporting. Despite the progress that we have seen over the past year, which I welcome, it remains the case that the Government will not have finished taking control of all devolved benefits until nearly a decade after it first received some of those powers.

For context, I wonder whether the member wishes to reflect on the roll-out of universal credit, which was legislated for in 2012, and is still being rolled out. Let us be reasonable here.

Alexander Stewart

The minister cannot mix and match the process, which is what he is trying to do.

Over the period, we have seen the estimated costs of Social Security Scotland more than triple compared to original estimates. Given that, it is disappointing, though perhaps not surprising, to read the Scottish Government’s self-congratulatory motion, which ignores many of the delays since the devolution of some of those powers in the Scotland Act 2016. That follows last week’s claim from the Government that it has been “ambitious” in its delivery timeline for those benefits. That claim is stretching the facts and is a little bit rich, to say the least.

As we have already heard, Audit Scotland’s report on the Scottish Government’s progress in delivering devolved benefits was helpful, and it highlighted some of the key developments over recent years. Although there have been some key developments, there have not been enough. For example, the report highlights the potential benefits that we will see from the Scottish child payment, the roll-out of which is now speeding up, but there have been many delays in that process.

It is welcome that preparation is under way for the expansion of the Scottish child payment. The report highlights the importance of meeting the proposed timescales but says that it will be extremely challenging to do so due to data sharing issues.

Will the member take an intervention?

Alexander Stewart

I would like to make some more progress.

I hope that engagement continues between Social Security Scotland and the DWP. It is vitally important that both of them can continue to provide support and ensure that there are no further delays to the roll-out, because, if there are no delays, the Scottish child payment will be game changing. We acknowledge that. We all want the benefits to be delivered to individuals, but the roll-out could be going faster. We have already talked about IT issues and offices in relation to the roll-out. All of that comes into the equation.

The Audit Scotland report talks about the launch of the child disability payment and the phased roll-out of the adult disability payment. The launch of those benefits might have taken far longer than was originally hoped, but now we must ensure that the transfer of the 300,000 people who are currently in receipt of PIP goes smoothly.

One disappointing feature of the adult disability payment that has been highlighted is that the eligibility criteria will remain the same as those for the benefit that it replaces until at least 2025. The Scottish Conservatives are clear that the devolution of powers should have meant the beginning of a distinctly Scottish approach to social security. The opportunity should have been taken to use those powers to be much more flexible. The decision to keep the eligibility criteria for PIP and ADP the same for so long can hardly be said to be the Government making use of those powers.

I have raised concerns previously about the total removal of personal assessments as part of the application process for ADP. Although that decision might have noble policy intentions behind it, it remains the case that there will be unintended consequences. Certain individuals may struggle to provide sufficient medical data to support their applications, with the consequence that there may well be a risk regarding information. I hope that potential pitfalls such as those are considered in relation to cases transferring from PIP and that that continues in the coming years.

There is much more to be done in order to fully capitalise on Scotland’s devolved social security powers. One group that is important in that regard, whom we have talked about in the past, is carers. The pandemic has presented an opportunity to view the needs of carers in a new light and consider how best they can be supported. Conservative members have long advocated for policies such as the extension of carers allowance payments for up to six months after bereavement, and we will continue to make the case for further support for carers. The introduction of the carers allowance supplement was an example of how devolved powers can be used to help carers, and I hope that the Scottish Government uses the powers that it has to support them.

Social security in Scotland is finally starting to approach the stage that it should be at, and we want to see it progress. In the years to come, we need to see far less delay and far more of the ambition that the Scottish Government talks about. This Parliament has received significant social security powers, and we welcome that, but it is now up to the Government to do more, to step up and to deliver on the massive potential that these powers will bring to support individuals the length and breadth of Scotland and secure their prosperity for the future.

I support the amendment in the name of Miles Briggs.

15:48  

Carol Mochan (South Scotland) (Lab)

I start by highlighting my disgust at the hostile and cruel welfare system that is overseen by the Tories at Westminster. Their treatment of working people, their lack of compassion and help for those most in need and their intrusive and discriminatory assessments are representative of a Government that is not fit for office—a Government that is not fit to represent the people of this country.

I must say that the Scottish Conservatives, too, have responsibility for the actions of the UK Government in relation to welfare and social security. Their lack of opposition to—and, in some cases, their involvement in—a Government that has overseen brutal cuts to social security is shameful.

However, as colleagues have, I stress that we must work across this Parliament to tackle the impacts of the cost-of-living crisis, ensure that more people are not forced into poverty and alleviate the pressures faced by working families every day.

It is welcome that, after significant pressure from the Labour Party, the SNP finally showed some political will to introduce a windfall tax, and it is interesting that, after Labour pressure, a range of measures has been announced by the Treasury today to tackle the cost of living crisis. That was after weeks of indecision and inaction. However, we must not ignore the fact that those measures will come too late for many and will not be enough for others.

We should also not ignore the fact that the Scottish Parliament is a powerful Parliament. It has shown that it has the power to deliver a Scottish child payment, and it is in the Government’s power to increase that further still by April next year. However, it remains clear that, despite increases in recent years, too many families that are eligible for the payment are not yet receiving it. I say to the minister that experts must be listened to. If the Scottish Government does not increase the speed at which eligible families are in receipt of the Scottish child payment, targets will be missed and more children will grow up in poverty.

Elena Whitham

Does Carol Mochan appreciate the fact that we know that about 77 per cent of eligible children—or maybe even more than that now—are in receipt of the Scottish child payment? Has Labour undertaken analysis of the fact that, if we further increase the Scottish child payment, at some point in time that will have a knock-on effect on eligibility for universal credit from the DWP? That is a worrying factor for families throughout the country.

Carol Mochan

I have shown that I support measures that the Scottish Government has implemented. However, we know that the child payment has helped just one in four children. We need to do more to ensure that we reach all children who live in poverty.

Child poverty is one of the biggest challenges that we face as a society. More than one in four children live in poverty. I accept that there is additional support for children and their families and, as I have said, I welcome the current increases, but this is not a time for self-congratulatory motions, which seem to come more and more from the Scottish Government. That is what it feels like. It is a time to keep moving forward, to keep making progress, to be more radical, and to end child poverty. That has to be the Parliament’s aim. It is our job in opposition to hold the Government to account on that. That is what my job is, and that is why I speak to those motions.

Michelle Thomson (Falkirk East) (SNP)

Carol Mochan is making a powerful speech, and all credit to her for the sentiments that she expressed at the beginning of it. However, one concern for me is that, consistently in the Parliament, people fail to appreciate or acknowledge the macroeconomic powers that reside at Westminster, where there is a clear correlation between the ability to borrow on the open markets, for example, and the ability to fund improvements. Will Carol Mochan reflect on that? If she agrees with me, what powers would she like to see directly in the control of the Scottish Parliament? Will she ask Westminster for them?

Carol Mochan

I do not want to get into that particular point. What I want to say is that, in my view, the Scottish Parliament is a powerful Parliament and, while we debate these points, we should be doing everything that we can to move things forward, particularly with regard to child poverty. We know what changes we can make if we act now. I want to talk about what we can do in the Scottish Parliament, and I have repeatedly said that. My colleague Pam Duncan-Glancy has also said that we want the Scottish Government to do what it can do and do it at pace. That is what we would like to see.

I want to talk a little about the carers allowance supplement uplift and the delivery of the Scottish carers assistance payment. The pandemic has only increased the difficulties for carers, and it is clear that we need to move forward with that benefit, which we know can be put in place. I ask the minister to give some feedback on what the Government intends to do for carers support, because we know that carers are struggling at this time. [Interruption.]

I know that my time is limited, so I will move on.

Ms Mochan, we have time for interventions.

Carol Mochan

We acknowledge that the Government has said that the current carers allowance links closely to universal credit and income support payments and, as such, we understand that the introduction of the Scottish carers assistance payment will take time, but it is only right that, where possible, protection remains in place to support carers through this incredibly difficult and stressful time. As I have said, I hope that the minister will make some remarks about that so that we can offer support to carers.

I will be the first person to stand up and oppose the Tory UK Government’s cuts to benefits and social security, but it is clear that, in Scotland, we can and must do more, and my party will call out any hypocrisy from the Scottish Government. We will also be relentless in our calls for it to do more and do it more radically, to go that step further and to put in place protections for the most vulnerable in our society.

I repeat: this is not a time for the Scottish Government to pat itself on the back. It is a time to get out of the blocks, get on the job, look to make sure that we eradicate child poverty in Scotland, protect unpaid carers when we can, and enhance the lives of some of the most vulnerable in our community.

15:56  

Bob Doris (Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn) (SNP)

There is one clear aspect of consensus in relation to the update on delivery of social security benefits in Scotland: we all agree that social security is a human right and that it is an investment in people. That is the only part of the Government motion that would not be deleted by Opposition parties in their amendments. There is, right at the heart of the matter, a principle that we can all agree on. We should always strive to find consensus where we can.

There is another key aspect of the Scottish Government motion on which I think we can find consensus. It is the key indicator of the priorities that have been set by the Scottish Government. The motion

“acknowledges the Scottish Government’s record investment of £3.9 billon in benefit expenditure in 2022-23, which is £360 million above that received by the UK Government”—

something that the Conservatives also acknowledge. That investment provides

“meaningful social security support to over one million people, including low-income families and households, disabled people and carers.”

That is a testament to the priorities of the Scottish Government and the consensus in this Parliament. In a mainly block-grant Parliament, that is a fundamental indicator of the priorities that have been set by our Scottish Government, which is seeking to protect the most vulnerable people in society. We have consensus on that.

It is clear to see where expenditure is being invested. We should remind ourselves that campaigners called for a Scottish child payment of £5 a week. The Scottish child payment is now £20 a week and is soon to be £25 a week. It is being rolled out to children in low-income households right across Scotland. This year alone, that is an investment of £225 million that is going to some of the poorest families right across this country. That is a testament to the priorities of the Scottish Government.

I was disappointed to see such a sweeping deletion of the Scottish Government motion in the Labour Party’s amendment—in particular, because the amendment unfortunately seeks to remove reference to very strong cross-party success on delivery of disability benefits reform, which was led by our Scottish Government but moulded by the Parliament. I think that Miles Briggs reflected on that somewhat.

Pam Duncan-Glancy

I understand Bob Doris’s disappointment at the deletion of substantial parts of the motion, but many, many disabled people and carers are still on inadequate benefits. The eligibility criteria have not been changed and do not address things such as the 50 per cent rule or the 20m rule. That is why we could not support the Government’s motion.

Bob Doris

I will shortly say more about what we are doing for people who are living with disability, but Pam Duncan-Glancy mentioned carers. This Scottish Government has increased the carers allowance supplement by 13 per cent. That is a real commitment to carers; I think that it is reasonable to put that on the record.

Will the member take an intervention?

Bob Doris

I will not, at the moment.

The introduction of the child disability and adult disability payments to replace PIP is widely acknowledged to be more humane, compassionate and dignified in terms of the application and assessment process than the UK DWP regime.

In particular, our partnership approach in the Scottish Parliament around clinically determined definitions of terminal illness, fast-tracking of awards and the introduction of indefinite awards will dramatically change the lives of many of my constituents, and many of all members’ constituents, for the better. I know from my constituency case load the corrosive, destructive and devastating impact that the current process can have on individuals and families.

The changes, which were agreed by Parliament, will make a real difference. Our Parliament, led by the Scottish Government, should rightly be proud of them. Of course, we will have to evaluate their impact. We have our social security experience panels and I know that the Scottish Government wants to monitor the success of implementation of the new disability payments.

I absolutely get that Opposition parties will wish to push the Scottish Government further on the cost of living crisis, but saying, as some members have done, that the Scottish Government has done little for the poorest people in society bears no relation to the reality out there. We have the Scottish child payment, which I have spoken about, the mitigation of the bedroom tax, the mitigation of the benefits cap and the uprating of Scottish benefits by 6 per cent. In this year alone, that represents an additional £760 million in the system for the poorest people in society because of decisions that this Government has taken. That is not “little”; it is substantial—but, of course, we always want to seek to do more.

Carol Mochan

I thank Bob Doris for his last statement about wanting to do more. That is the point that we are trying to make. We are talking about the Scottish child payment and the carers payments because people with experience are telling us that not enough is being done. There are opportunities for this Parliament, with the powers that it has, to do more. As politicians, we need to stop patting ourselves on the back and instead ask what more we can do.

Bob Doris

I thank Carol Mochan for that intervention. To be fair, I point out that the tone of my speech is that we can thank Parliament, rather than the Scottish Government, for the progress that we have made. However, I do not think that it is good enough for Opposition politicians to rubbish the substantial progress that has been made in order to make a party-political point. It feels a little bit like that in relation to the Labour amendment. However, I acknowledge that we should always try to do more.

We have heard today about the low-income winter heating assistance that will be delivered later this year. The £20 million investment will provide £50 per household to 400,000 low-income households. I suspect that, later this year, there will be calls for that to be £100, £200 or £300. I get it—that is politics—but it would have to be paid for.

Likewise, on the carers allowance supplement, we have heard already—I put it on the record—about the 13 per cent increase that the Scottish Government has provided, and we know that there have been two additional payments during the coronavirus pandemic. However, again there are demands to go further. I get that, but it would have to be paid for. It is not enough just to cost things; members have to say where the money will come from. The Opposition parties are singularly silent on that.

I will finish with two points, Presiding Officer, if I can have a little time, given the interventions that I have taken.

The first point is on staffing. I know from speaking to many people that one thing that is happening with staffing is that people who are sick and tired of the DWP system are making active choices to move from the DWP to Social Security Scotland. They are bringing their skill sets and releasing their energies to provide the type of social security system that we actually want. I say to those people that they are very welcome. They are gaining jobs with Social Security Scotland, not losing them under DWP reforms, including, in my constituency, in Springburn.

Finally, I say to the Labour Party that I do not know where the money for what it asks for would come from, but I am going to mention to the Scottish Government something that I would like to happen. As the cost of living crisis really squeezes the most vulnerable people, putting money into the pockets of those people as quickly as possible is the right thing to do.

There are lots of charities and third sector organisations across my constituency, and all members’ constituencies, that will be considering what support they can be provided with so that they can provide emergency food support, fuel support and wraparound support. Not everyone will access all the benefits that they are entitled to and, given such tight budgets, not everyone will budget accordingly to try to make ends meet—nor should they have to.

That immediate emergency support for trusted anchor organisations across our communities is vital. I do not know where the money will come from, but whether it is the Scottish Parliament or the UK Parliament, someone has to find it. We have to get the money out there and into our communities to help the most vulnerable people.

I call Maggie Chapman. You have a generous six minutes.

16:04  

Maggie Chapman (North East Scotland) (Green)

Assuming control of a wide range of social security payments is one of the most challenging tasks that this Parliament has ever undertaken. UK Governments have spent years trashing our social security safety net by cutting payments, attacking benefit claimants, putting hurdles in the of way of being able to appeal, and making vulnerable people endure humiliating assessments. Those UK Government attacks on the system triggered a United Nations investigation, which concluded that changes

“since 2010 amount to retrogressive measures in clear violation of”

the UK’s

“human rights obligations.”

Therefore, rebuilding the social security system in Scotland with the powers that we have is a huge task, but it is one to which this Parliament must rise.

The biggest challenge is the introduction of new payments for disabled people. They account for about half of the expenditure for all the benefits that have been devolved, and they are claimed by as many as one in 10 Scots. They have also been some of the most brutally cut, with some people losing as much as £7,700 as they were moved over to PIP, with women being more likely than men to lose entitlement.

A better way of assessing applications is an important part of restoring fairness to the disability benefits system. Face-to-face assessments for PIP, which rarely proved to be necessary before PIP, were part of a deliberate and callous strategy to cut support for some of our most vulnerable people.

As a result of years of campaigning by disabled people, Scottish Greens won a change in the law in the previous session. Conducting face-to-face assessments is now prohibited if the necessary information already exists. The onus is on the Scottish Government to collect that information, and there is hope that where that is not possible, the new client consultations will be a less intrusive and more supportive way of assessing entitlement.

That will improve the experience of the new system, but it will also have a bearing on the amount of support that is paid out. The Scottish Fiscal Commission estimates that, by the end of this parliamentary session, £529 million more will have been paid out in adult disability payments than on PIP, with an additional £40 million knock-on impact for carers. The SFC attributes that to the changes that ADP has introduced, including changes to how it is assessed. We are now two months into the new system, and we should be seeing the early impacts of the changes. It would be helpful if the minister could update us, in closing, on what impacts he has seen so far.

However, it is simply not enough to change the way the payment is assessed. PIP did long-standing damage to the rights of disabled people by removing the lower-rate care component and changing the mobility rule to 20m. In its report on the 20m rule, the MS Society reports that moving to PIP negatively impacted the mobility of 65 per cent of multiple sclerosis sufferers and the financial security of almost 80 per cent of them. That is what makes the Scottish Government’s review of disability benefits so important. Quite rightly, the mobility element of ADP must be prioritised as part of that.

The review will be independent, but it must also have the broadest possible terms of reference, and it must be that no positive changes to the criteria will be off the table. In its paper on the review, the Scottish Government says that getting ADP up and running

“isn’t the limit of our aspirations for improving disability assistance in Scotland.”

That is good to hear, so I hope that the Government works with disabled people to make those aspirations a reality.

Rolling out the new system will not be complete until everyone who is entitled to claim is able to do so. The UK Government passed on to the Scottish Government some payments that were being claimed by less than half of those who were eligible. Some, such as personal independence payments, did not even have published take-up statistics.

When it is increased to £25, the extra £1,200 per child that families will receive through the Scottish child payment will be key to achieving the child poverty reduction targets that this Parliament has set itself, but current projections are that too many families will miss out—as many as 23 per cent of eligible families, according to the Scottish Fiscal Commission.

The cost of living crisis makes it even more crucial that every penny is going where it should, but that is not an easy task. For years, successive UK Governments have taken every possible opportunity to stigmatise those who need the help of the social security system. The Scottish Government’s direction on this is encouraging—reframing of social security as an investment in society, not a drain on resources, is absolutely right.

The £10 million of investment in income maximisation services over this session of Parliament is also welcome, but I encourage the Scottish Government to see what more funding might be available, given that the return for every £1 that is invested in money advice can be as much as £20. It is good to see that progress is being made on benefits automation, with the best start school and nursery grants being paid automatically to Scottish child payment recipients from later this year.

I was proud to work with the Scottish Government to ensure that more support is available to those who have been hit by the UK Government’s cruel benefit cap. That work will start later this year; I would appreciate an update from the minister on what is being done to make people aware of the extra support and how we can get it to them.

Our social security system is the sign and signal of our care for one another. It should be, and is, based on welcome fundamental principles of social security being a human right and a collective investment. Are we there yet in fully realising those principles? No. Do we need to keep looking at options for increasing benefit eligibility? Yes. With an additional £760 million of expenditure over this session, an end to heartless face-to-face assessments and progress on automating benefits, we are definitely moving towards a more compassionate social security system, of which we should all be proud.

16:11  

Natalie Don (Renfrewshire North and West) (SNP)

I am extremely proud of the route that Scotland is taking with our delivery of social security benefits. We have a compassionate and humane system that has dignity, fairness and respect at its core and that sees social security as a human right, not a burden. The minister laid out some detail of the 12 benefits that Scotland has power over, seven of which are brand new and unique to Scotland, such as the Scottish child payment, which is the most ambitious child poverty reduction measure in the whole of the UK.

As well as creating new benefits, we are delivering a new approach in which social security in Scotland is shaped by people with direct experience of the current UK benefit system, in an effort to ensure that people are at the heart of our approach. The very recent Audit Scotland report, which has been mentioned today, found that there has been a “conscious focus” on the needs of claimants and that people have been positive about their experience of engaging with Social Security Scotland.

For example, in commenting on the system, one claimant said:

“My overall experience, I would say, was compassionate”.

Another said:

“No need for improvement as they are doing a 1st class service.”

I have never in my life heard anyone describe the UK welfare state as a “1st class service”; it is more like a misery.

I have sat in this chamber for over a year and listened to the slurs from those on the Conservative benches, telling us that we need to do better and that we need to do more to alleviate poverty. How any Conservative MSP can have the brass neck to say that is beyond me. How long has the UK Government had to make life better for people in this country? How many times do Conservative members have to be told that the UK welfare system is inadequate and failing their constituents?

The Social Justice and Social Security Committee, in gathering evidence in its debt inquiry, has heard that universal credit waiting times are one of the biggest contributors to people falling into debt—universal credit being a policy that was written on the back of a fag packet by an out-of-touch minister in London. The UK welfare state used to give enough money so that people could just about scrape by; now, it does not even do that. The Conservative Party’s response to the cost of living crisis has been deemed to be “woefully inadequate” by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, and that is putting it kindly.

Really, it is an absolute riot. For a start, the Prime Minister should resign. Perhaps my Conservative colleagues could grow a spine and stop supporting illegal parties, sleaze and corruption, and they could stop with the complete hypocrisy when it comes to the UK benefits system, as it fools no one.

I will touch briefly on the amendment from the Scottish Labour Party, which, in essence, says that we have not done enough to alleviate poverty. That is confusing, because we have already heard today about all the new measures that Scotland is taking to ensure a more positive and humane system.

Will the member take an intervention?

Natalie Don

Not just now—I will finish this point.

That is what the Scottish Labour Party has become. Instead of lodging an amendment calling on the UK Government to devolve all social security powers to Holyrood, it seems that it would rather that those powers stayed with the Tories at Westminster while it tries in vain to attack the Scottish Government. It would rather that the powers on the six-week assessment period for universal credit and on the rape clause, and other powers that mean that children in this country have to use food banks, remained in the clutches of the Tories at Westminster.

Will the member take an intervention?

Natalie Don

Not at the moment, thank you. I need to make progress.

The Scottish Labour Party has absolutely no credibility when it comes to social security. It is little surprise that it was once again rejected at the ballot box. Until its members realise that the only way to truly tackle poverty is for our Parliament to have all the powers of any other independent country, anything that they say in this place about how Scotland should tackle poverty is a token gesture at best.

I want to take a moment to highlight an issue regarding people who have to go for PIP assessments. The UK Government has created a system that makes people have to think of how they are on their worst day, because if they describe anything less than that their money is harshly and unjustifiably taken away from them. How warped is that? Anyone who has ever experienced that, or who has helped someone to fill in the forms or take the assessment, will know that it is a degrading and distressing process.

Scotland is taking a different approach. The roll-out of Scottish social security benefits is proving to be a success, but I remind members that that is despite our having limited powers and despite our having a Tory UK Government that has presided over a benefits system that punishes, degrades and damages those who need support the most. The UK benefits system is renowned for its harshness and degrading nature, and the UN has condemned its callous approach. People in poverty in the United Kingdom in the 21st century have died. That falls at the feet of the UK Government’s welfare system and of an austerity agenda that targets people who are trapped in the cycle of poverty that the system has created.

Will the member take an intervention?

Natalie Don

Not just now. I really need to make progress. I am sorry.

The Scottish Government has achieved more with its social security system in four years than has been achieved in decades under Labour and Tory Governments down south, and—this bears repeating—we do not have all the powers. The concrete boots of the Westminster Government that we, in Scotland, currently wear must be taken into consideration when discussing our social security system. We are undertaking a complex process the like of which has never been seen before. It is true that there may be challenges and that some aspects can be improved, but we are just at the beginning of creating a wonderful system for all our constituents.

I am confident that the system will only continue to improve, but it is high time that the Scottish Conservatives, and members across the rest of the chamber, got real and addressed the elephant in the room: we will never be able to fully build the truly transformative system that we need in this country without all the powers of independence. If we had all the powers over social security, we would not have to worry about the UK Government undermining, at every step of the way, the good work that is going on in our country.

16:18  

Foysol Choudhury (Lothian) (Lab)

The motion that is before us is, frankly, disappointing. The Scottish Government could have given us a measured assessment of its progress towards implementing devolved social security powers and an honest appraisal of the challenges that lie ahead in implementing those benefits. Instead, we have been presented with a torrent of self-congratulation for a job that is not even half done.

The Scottish Labour amendment notes the grand scale of the rhetoric on devolved benefits from the Scottish Government in years gone by. On reading the SNP’s motion, we might think that the debate would involve a lap of victory by the Scottish Government rather than discussion of a report on its early progress. However, there is much more to be done, and many uncertainties will need addressing along the way.

The recent Audit Scotland report raises several notes of caution, including on staffing levels for adult disability payment. In stressing how many unknowns there are and how adaptable Social Security Scotland will have to be if it is to administer that benefit effectively, the report says:

“The resource implications of how Adult Disability Payment is administered will only become clear once it is fully rolled out with case transfers under way.”

That is not a small consideration. Social Security Scotland will have to be able to respond extremely rapidly if cases exceed expectations or if other problems arise. Although we all hope that the process will be smooth, the challenge should not be underestimated, yet the motion before us makes no mention of that challenge.

On the extension of the Scottish child payment, the Audit Scotland report highlights “significant risks” in the Scottish Government’s approach to bridging digital infrastructure gaps with the Department for Work and Pensions. Although the report acknowledges that efforts are under way to manage the risk, we can all think of examples of new government IT systems—at all levels of government—that had significant problems in their early days.

The Audit Scotland report also highlights the problem of a replacement being needed for the DWP payments platform after the Scottish Government’s now-extended agreement to use it expires in 2024. The first thing that the Scottish Government did on getting this devolved service was to hand it back to Westminster to run, and we are supposed to believe in its capability to manage an independent Scotland. The report says:

“This is a critical aspect of Social Security Scotland’s digital infrastructure, and a long-term solution will need to be put in place to provide suitable payments functionality for Social Security Scotland beyond this point.”

It is another big project with another mysterious timescale and another unknown cost.

That leads me to my final point. As was mentioned by my colleague Pam Duncan-Glancy, by 2025, there will be a £760 million black hole in social security funding.

Will the member take an intervention?

Foysol Choudhury

No. I am sorry, but I want to make progress.

The Audit Scotland report says:

“The Scottish Government needs to plan for how it manages the long-term sustainability of this expenditure and be clearer about how it will improve outcomes for Scottish people.”

How often must we, in this place, hear that the Scottish Government needs to be clearer with Scottish people?

We must not underestimate the challenges that we face. These are difficult processes that can literally mean life and death to people who are affected by them. They must be given an honest and realistic appraisal. The Scottish Government is taking on a vitally important part of the state. It has made repeated claims that it can run the benefits better than Westminster, but it seems, from looking at the motion that is before us, that it risks complacency. We all know that the SNP can talk the talk but, on an issue as important as this, we need it to learn the lessons of its past failures. Cracks in a social security system cannot just be painted over like an unfinished ferry. We need the SNP to understand that, this time, the consequences for underdelivering could be truly catastrophic.

Unfortunately, the Scottish Government’s motion shows little sign of its understanding the gravity of the situation, so I will support Scottish Labour’s amendment.

16:23  

Emma Roddick (Highlands and Islands) (SNP)

I have heard the word “self-congratulatory” thrown at the Scottish Government a few times this afternoon, as if it is an accusation of something horrific, and I want to take a moment to respond to that. It is perfectly normal to celebrate achievements, and I sincerely believe that the achievements of the minister are worth celebrating.

More importantly, there should surely be some recognition that this debate and motion do not serve the Scottish Government only by highlighting the progress that it is making; they tell the public that the benefits exist and that the Scottish Government wants people to claim them if they are eligible. The Government wants to help people to receive financial support. That is not a given; it is not the message that other Governments in this country have sent disabled people in the past. Today’s motion is incredibly meaningful and goes beyond what Labour and Tory members have been trying to reduce it to.

This is personal to me: I am a disabled person, I am in receipt of PIP and I have been through the application process and helped countless others through it and with their appeals, often with plenty of tears.

As our committee convener, Elena Whitham, said in her speech, I visited Social Security Scotland in Dundee very recently. She was right: it was truly emotional for me to see just how differently things are already being done. Rather than disabled people feeling that the process is trying to catch us out, we will be faced with accessible language, illustrations and helpful prompts to ensure that we give assessors all the relevant information that they need. Instead of people having to seek out a citizens advice bureau advisor with a points cheat sheet, help is built into the application itself. Rather than a private contractor being encouraged to turn down requests for assistance, assessments—when needed—will be done in-house in a way that works for applicants.

There will be no more forcing people who have chronic pain and mobility issues to come in for an assessment just so that someone can peer through the window at them and make sure that they really are in agony. As someone who was dragged across town to be stared and sneered at and asked by an Atos Healthcare assessor why, if I felt suicidal and had been depressed for so long, I had not been successful in killing myself, I cannot overstate the difference that that will make to people’s lives.

The word “trauma” has already been used a few times in the debate, and it is true that the DWP’s approach has been traumatising. It has made people feel worse, and it has caused immeasurable pain and suffering. The changes that have already been made will have a huge effect on the experience of claimants and, in particular, on those with mental health issues, chronic conditions or a terminal illness.

We have to be realistic and fair in the debate, and it is a shame that so many members have chosen not to be. Massive improvements have been made and huge strides have been taken in social security and social justice in Scotland thanks to the SNP Government’s approach to implementing the new system. It is not a small thing that people are now being treated with respect rather than suspicion when they come forward for help. It is not a minor change that disabled people will no longer have to seek out a CAB advocate to tell them what they need to mention on their form. It is not nothing that we are building, at pace, a fairer system for Scotland.

However, it is an inescapable truth that much of our hard work and much of the impact of decisions to prioritise spending on social security in Scotland is reduced to mitigation, which is purely due to our being tied to a Conservative UK Government that wants to reduce, rather than increase, welfare spending. The Scottish Government gives money directly to families that are in poverty, trusting parents to spend the money where it is needed and tackle child poverty, while the UK Government sticks a cap on how many kids we can help to feed. The Scottish Government doubles the Scottish child payment, adding a tenner a week, and the UK Government takes £20 off the same families that receive it.

The Scottish Government mitigates and mitigates, spending millions of pounds ensuring that Scots are not affected by the hated bedroom tax, and pouring money into the Scottish welfare fund to give crisis funding to people who have been left behind by the UK Government. We have heard today that the Scottish Government is acting with one hand tied behind its back. It is acting while money is taken out of the pockets of the people it is fighting to pull out of poverty.

Pam Duncan-Glancy

When Rishi Sunak, much too late, gave people a very inadequate £150 for their council tax and that funding came to Scotland through Barnett consequentials, the Scottish Government made exactly the same choice. Will Emma Roddick explain why, when the Scottish Government had the same amount of money, it made the same decisions as the Tories instead of targeting the money at families who needed it the most?

Emma Roddick

That is one specific example. If that was the only thing that the Scottish Government was doing to help people in poverty, I might agree with Pam Duncan-Glancy. However, as I have just mentioned, plenty of other things are going on to help people, including the introduction of brand-new benefits, and plenty of those things are targeted at families who are experiencing poverty and, more importantly, whose children are growing up in poverty.

When we tell the UK Government that, it says, “Well, you have the powers now.” Sure, we have the powers, but the UK Government is keeping the money and it will not let us borrow our own or devolve more fiscal powers, which would make a world of difference when designing a new system.

My colleague Natalie Don put it well when she talked about powers and the UK undermining us every step of the way. The two-tier system does not work. It does not work to have separate Governments with conflicting ideologies dealing with two ends of one system. Social security makes the point more than anything else that this union does not work. For real change, and for the progressive, not conservative, policies that Scotland votes for, we need independence. We are swimming against the tide in trying to do what is right for the people of Scotland with limited fiscal powers. We might think that Labour would join us for a moment in trying to do that, but listening to Labour members today, we can hear that there is no difference between the direction it takes here and that taken by the Tories down south.

The difference is huge. When many disabled people and people living in poverty across the Highlands and Islands and the rest of Scotland get their Social Security Scotland letters, they will feel as emotional as I did when I was in Dundee.

Will the member take another intervention?

I can give you the time back, Ms Roddick.

Pam Duncan-Glancy

My colleagues and I have said in our speeches that we welcome the change in direction in relation to assessment processes, although, as I said earlier, the bar was not high. The reality is that people in Scotland are still living in desperate states, so it is not the case that the impact on people will be different just because we take a different direction. That is why, in our amendment, we support doing things differently to put money in the pockets of the people who need it the most.

Emma Roddick

It is disingenuous to suggest that the changes in policy that the Scottish Government is making will not have an impact. It is easy for members to shout, “More, more, more” when they do not have to write the budget. Last year, Scottish Labour’s manifesto contained a policy to double the Scottish child payment, and the Scottish Government has done what Scottish Labour said it would do if it were in the Government’s position now. Reacting to a Government delivering again and again, as far as possible, on what the Labour Party wanted to happen by taking issue with celebrating progress, or by describing it as little action, is contrary behaviour that my mum would have described as “thrawn”.

Will the member take another intervention?

Emma Roddick

I think that I am done with interventions.

Our system is fit for the future and focused on delivering benefits to people, not on gatekeeping and trying to cheat folk out of what they are entitled to. It is worth all of us telling people how different things will be and how differently they will be treated. We all have a duty to get that message across and to be genuine, not to awfulise any creases that will be ironed out.

We move to closing speeches. I call Mark Griffin, who joins us online, for a generous six minutes.

16:32  

Mark Griffin (Central Scotland) (Lab)

Thank you, Presiding Officer. I am sorry that I cannot be in the chamber today, but I have a sick child at home. That means that I cannot take interventions, which might detract from the debate. I am also sorry because of the generous allocation of time that you have given me.

Today’s debate has been somewhat familiar. The Government members have, as always, much to congratulate themselves on, while the rest of us are still waiting for the real delivery to happen. The Government rightly congratulates itself on banning private sector assessments, on introducing lifetime awards and on, I hope, moving towards—[Inaudible.] payments at some point. I have to reflect that a lot of those things came about because of Labour amendments to the original Social Security (Scotland) Bill and pressure from Opposition members.

Every year for half a decade, it has somehow seemed to be the biggest year for the new system, but I guarantee that what disabled people, carers and families who are struggling to put food on the table want is to be able to go about their lives and have a system on which they can rely. They want a system that is complete so that they can realise the human right of social security and investment that the motion talks about. As Pam Duncan-Glancy said, what we have is three in four families not getting the child payment, disabled people still being subject to the 20m rule, and carers not knowing when their benefit will be fully paid by the Scottish Government.

Social security is the money that insulates the poorest in society from financial shocks and that protects people from being driven into poverty. It is a lifeline and a right. However, the safe and secure transition that was promised before real changes are made is taking far too long, and that is costing people up and down Scotland.

The irony is that those delays are simultaneously compounding the understaffing and the black hole in funding, which, as Foysol Choudhury highlighted, now tops £700 million, with vital resources being expended on pricey information technology contractors and DWP bills instead of being directly invested in the people of Scotland. Since the programme began, the opportunities to discuss those delays and the financial costs of establishing the system have been far too few, especially when we consider the cost and complexity of the system.

I echo the comments of Miles Briggs and Willie Rennie, who talked about the costs of establishing the system, which have more than doubled since we passed the 2018 bill. Barely weeks before the pandemic, the Government published a long-overdue updated business case, which outlined costs in excess of £2 billion to 2025. That business case included the admission that the DWP would pocket £400 million to run the benefits while we waited for the Scottish system to come on stream. A further update should have been published ahead of this debate.

Fundamentally, the Scottish Government has underestimated the complexity of the task and has been unable to specify or control the causes of the substantial delays and additional costs. Audit Scotland’s recent report on the subject included some bleak warnings. It said that timescales were challenging, that substantial risks remained and that hard-working staff were having to juggle temporary and manual processes. It noted that the Scottish Government had extended its deal with the DWP to use its payment system and that the number of contractors had doubled.

Members across the chamber have spoken about their desire for a human rights approach to be embedded in the forthcoming disability and carers benefits, but I seriously doubt that we can achieve that by mirroring the UK eligibility rules. Ominously, Audit Scotland reported that a swathe of benefits are still classed as “being replanned”, including employment injury assistance. Members will know from previous speeches that I have made that I am pursuing a bill to establish a scrutiny and research council for such a benefit, because a simple rebrand would not deliver a human rights-based approach or the dignity, fairness and respect to which we aspire. Changes are required now. While we continue to wait for the Government consultation, I hope that I can meet ministers to discuss aligning our work before I lodge my bill, later this year.

The genesis of that bill lay in asking trade unions whether Covid should be an industrial disease. Given how many people caught Covid at work simply as a result of doing their jobs—which, in too many cases, virtually destroyed their ability to work—the answer remains an overwhelming yes. I would be delighted if the minister, in closing the debate, would confirm that people with long Covid will be entitled to employment injury assistance.

Unless there is a fundamental change in employment injury assistance, the Parliament will soon be asked to accept regulations for a devolved benefit with an equalities impact assessment that will say that only 7 per cent of applications for that entitlement would come from women.

I hope that it is clear that that would be entirely unacceptable to this chamber, but that would be the case if a lift-and-shift approach was taken. Taking such an approach would risk embedding a system that promotes inequalities and fails to reflect modern Scotland.

That number is so low because, ultimately, women are denied entitlement to the Westminster benefit because it is a benefit for the injuries and diseases that men got at work in the previous century. As a result, cleaners with respiratory and skin diseases are not recognised by the current scheme. Breast cancer that is caused by shift work, which is the top occupational cancer in women, is not recognised. Even asbestos-related ovarian cancer, which is the most common gynaecological cancer in the UK, is not recognised. Women are entirely missing from that scheme and it seems that they will have to wait for further replanning.

Despite the rhetoric, the promised transformational changes to benefits, which offered dignity, fairness and respect, are not yet being delivered.

16:40  

Jeremy Balfour (Lothian) (Con)

I will follow in Willie Rennie’s footsteps by starting with some positive comments. There is a consensus in Parliament that we want the devolved social security benefits to work. We saw that when the bill went through and have seen it in committee. I wish the minister well—I see that he has taken off his jacket and rolled up his sleeves—and we will support him when things are going well, but we will also critique when things are not going well. That is the role of the Opposition.

The devolution of some areas of the welfare system presented a welcome opportunity to create a uniquely Scottish approach to social security, underpinned by the broad shoulders of the UK welfare state. For Scotland, having two Governments working together gives us the ability to enact local policies with the backing of the larger national purse.

Unfortunately, once again, the powers handed to the SNP Government have been squandered, resulting in our social security system falling far short of its potential. As others have said, the motion that we have debated today amounts to nothing more than this Government giving itself a massive and entirely misplaced pat on the back. Either SNP members are burying their heads in the sand and ignoring their shortcomings or they really believe that a record of delay and inefficiency is the best that we in this country can do.

Let us make no mistake: Social Security Scotland has not had a smooth start. Every estimate that the Scottish Government made has been drastically wrong. Miles Briggs pointed some of them out. The SNP said that it would cost £307 million to set up the agency, but the amount ballooned to £651 million—more than 100 per cent over budget. The SNP claimed that Social Security Scotland would require 1,900 people to operate, but, again, that number has almost doubled—to 3,500. The SNP makes the same mistake again and again, presenting favourable numbers that inevitably end up being shown as fantasy.

The list of problems does not end with the setting up of Social Security Scotland; it is an on-going issue. Admin costs at Social Security Scotland have gone from £36 million in 2019-20 to £130 million in 2020-21. Staff costs have almost doubled in the same period, while other admin costs increased from £13.8 million to £88 million. Those are not small margins of error. We are talking about millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money, which should be going into the pockets of those who need it, not being wasted on a bureaucracy that the Scottish Government has created and encouraged. That is unacceptable.

Will the member accept an intervention?

Jeremy Balfour

In a moment.

That sort of gross mismanagement would not be tolerated in any other sector and could even lead to people being fired, but, in this SNP world, the Government not only tolerates it but is so proud of its record that it comes to Parliament today to showcase it and to ask Parliament to support a motion saying how wonderful it is.

Those cost overruns and missed targets would be more understandable if claimants were receiving a high-quality service. Instead, they are being let down by a Government that is more focused on soundbites and headlines than on truly providing for those in need.

Ben Macpherson

Does Mr Balfour acknowledge the positive client feedback that Social Security Scotland has had? More than 90 per cent see the service as good or very good. Does he also acknowledge the fact that, because Social Security Scotland delivers seven benefits that are not available elsewhere in the UK, additional resourcing and investment have been required? We are doing more and we need to invest, not only to build a system for the future but to ensure that we deliver in the here and now.

Jeremy Balfour

I will address that. Across the board, processing times are unacceptable. It is taking far too long to get money into people’s hands and, sometimes, money is not even reaching their bank account at the right time.

Let us look at the figures. They are not my figures; before the minister stands up and says that they are, I point out that they are figures from Social Security Scotland. In December 2021, only 1 per cent of Scottish child payments were processed within 10 days and only 5 per cent of funeral support payment applications were processed within 10 days—the average was as high as 18. Only 4 per cent of young carer grant claims and 2 per cent of best start grant applications were processed within 10 days.

Here is the hard-hitting figure that affects real individuals: over the Easter weekend, more than 2,000 Scottish child payments and child disability payments were delayed by more than one working day. That represents 20 per cent of all claims. The payments were due on Thursday 14 April but were not received until Tuesday 19 April because of the holiday weekend. That meant that families went without the expected money for four days.

Alasdair Allan (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP)

Jeremy Balfour mentions delays over weekends and so forth. This has been pointed out already in the debate, but I take it that he is aware that the delay associated with applying for the UK’s universal credit is five weeks before the first payment is made.

I say gently to Alasdair Allan that we are talking about benefits related to disability. I have been—[Interruption.] Does the cabinet secretary want to make a point?

Yes. Are you saying that five weeks is okay because the benefit is delivered by the UK Tory Government? Is that seriously what you are saying?

Speak through the chair, please, cabinet secretary.

Jeremy Balfour

I am saying that we are debating benefits that have been devolved to the Scottish Government to look after. I have been in receipt of PIP for 25 years, and the payment has not been late into my account on one occasion. You have been running a system for months and have already failed.

The figures that I have given are not only statistics; they represent real people who are going through real hardship and need real help. How do you think it looks to them that the Government is celebrating its performance?

Will Jeremy Balfour give way?

Jeremy Balfour

No. I am sorry, but I have run out of time.

The Government is celebrating a performance that shows crippling inefficiency and has left people waiting.

There can be no doubt that Social Security Scotland is not fulfilling its full potential. I do not blame it; I blame the Government. Something has to change.

I support the amendment in the name of Miles Briggs and implore others to do so. We will be critical friends. We want the devolution of benefits to work, but you need to stop saying that you have got it right when you have simply failed on so many occasions.

I gently remind colleagues that the only “you” in the chamber is the chair. Please address remarks through the chair.

16:48  

Ben Macpherson

Next week—next Wednesday, to be precise—is the fourth anniversary of royal assent for the Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018, which the Parliament, to its great credit, passed unanimously. One of the important aspects of that act was that we legislated for the principles on which we would deliver devolved social security. One of those principles states clearly:

“social security is an investment in the people of Scotland”.

That has been acknowledged in the debate. It has been great to hear the reflections of colleagues from Carol Mochan to Maggie Chapman, Bob Doris and many others. We talked about the change in culture that we are leading after decades of social security being talked down in the public consciousness and by Governments elsewhere. In particular, I refer to the Conservative Government, including the coalition with the Liberal Democrats, but it all started in the new Labour era, when Tony Blair said that welfare should become

“a hand-up not a hand-out”,

as if a handout was a bad thing to happen.

That is an important place to start, because the ideological opposition to welfare has got us to a point at which we have to make so many interventions to get back to eradicating poverty in our society and making a bigger difference so that we can fulfil everyone’s potential. To the Parliament’s credit, we agreed on the shared principle that investment in the people of Scotland is what social security is all about.

We need to continue to build on that. That is what the debate has been about: reflecting, listening, and aiming to do more. That is because we are leading on these islands. Whatever members’ views on the constitutional position, we are collectively reinvigorating the concept of social security as an important and necessary aspect that should not be stigmatised. In that framework, people, rightly, are asking Government to do more.

People are asking the UK Government to do more. Today, I was glad to see that the chancellor used some of his vast powers to tackle the cost of living crisis, through a windfall tax, which I, as Minister for Public Finance and Migration, called for in this chamber a couple of years ago. [Interruption.] I am not taking personal credit for that; I am just saying that it is an idea that has been around for a while, and that we are glad that it is finally happening. We will see whether it has any benefit for Scotland, as we are not clear on that at the moment.

There have also been interventions through the universal credit and pensions systems, and for those on disabled benefits. We welcome that, but it is inadequate in the longer term, and we were disappointed that further investment, through an uplift to universal credit, has not been delivered.

We will therefore continue to push the UK Government into doing more. It is unwinding on all the problems that it has created for itself by not investing in social security and by delivering vast cuts to the public purse and household budgets for a significant time.

A number of members, including Willie Rennie and Carol Mochan, talked about how they want the Scottish Government to do more—and we will. I laid some of that out in my opening statement. However, we are working within a limited budget. The Parliament has some taxation powers, but those are limited, so, as a collective and a democracy, we have to make choices, and to be serious in those choices. Given a fixed budget, if we want to invest in one area of support, where does that resource come from? In what is a really serious time ahead, we need to raise our collective game on those points as we go towards the next budget process.

Pam Duncan-Glancy

The Labour Party has come to the Government with suggestions in two specific areas about how it could use its money, and where it could get money from, to reach children over six, so that they could get the Scottish child payment—at the doubled rate—or to put £400 into the pockets of the families who need it the most. Those were examples of how you could have used—forgive me for saying “you” for about the 12th time, Presiding Officer. Those were examples of how the Scottish Government could have used its powers to put money into people’s pockets. However, the Government has refused to heed our calls. Why is that?

Ben Macpherson

As Pam Duncan-Glancy knows, I very much respect her constructive suggestions, which were made in good faith. However, from memory, I think the process that she engaged in—she will correct me if I am wrong—was not in synergy with the budget process. We have to be clever and focused, as we go into that process, to make sure that we utilise resources effectively over the period.

Part of that is about carers. Carol Mochan asked for more detail about our timetable for delivering the Scottish carers assistance benefit that I talked about in my opening remarks. As I have said, the consultation on that closed in recent days, and I will come back to the relevant parliamentary committee on the proposals and how we will deliver them.

Miles Briggs

On budget scrutiny and future budget projections, we know that it is being projected that £760 million will be needed to fund these welfare policies by 2026. Willie Rennie, Mark Griffin and I have raised that point. When is the Scottish Government going to lay out where that money will come from and what budgets will potentially be cut? More than £250 million has been cut from local authority budgets, for example.

Ben Macpherson

Miles Briggs has raised an important point. The budget position will be set out through the medium-term financial strategy and the positions that the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy will take and set out to the Parliament in the period ahead, and, collectively, we will have to make decisions about our budget. However, the Scottish Government is committed to providing the social security benefits for which we have made provision and that we have set out in our programme. The question for the Parliament will be, as always in a fixed-budget Parliament, how we balance the budget. Of course, the big flaw in Miles Briggs’s argument is that the Conservatives never come with a balanced position; it is always “spend more and tax less”. The Conservatives just do not have a sensible or credible position.

In due course, I will set out how we will finish the programme of devolved benefits. I have been able to update the Parliament about that today, where possible, and we will publish another programme business case by the end of the year. As I said, we also have to work with the DWP. We are not yet in a position to be able to provide full clarity about that, but we will update the Parliament in due course.

I am somewhat dispirited that a number of members have accused the Scottish Government of back patting. Acknowledging the difference that a Government has made is not back patting: as Emma Roddick emphasised, it is an effective mechanism to raise awareness of benefits and to help our constituents. There is more to do, which we appreciate and acknowledge. However, a lot has been done. The child disability payment has already helped 3,000 more children at a cost of £3 million. The young carer grant has helped 4,000 people, at a cost of £1.6 million. We made 20,000 payments in the past year for the child winter heating assistance, which is one of our new benefits. The carers allowance supplement has paid £188 million to 126,000 carers since 2018. That support is not available elsewhere in the UK. The Scottish child payment is supporting more than 100,000 children as we speak, and, when we roll that out and extend that benefit, we will be supporting 400,000 children across Scotland. That is using our powers. That is making a difference. [Ben Macpherson has corrected this contribution. See end of report.]

We are mitigating the effect of the bedroom tax at a cost of £350 million—money that we should not have to waste. We are going to be mitigating the benefit cap at a cost of £10 million. I am very happy to update Maggie Chapman about that, and we will be working with local authorities and the third sector to raise awareness about how to do that.

For those who have criticised our adult disability payment, I would say that they should listen to what Elena Whitham and Emma Roddick have said about the difference that they saw when they went to Social Security Scotland to learn about that benefit. An invitation was extended to Conservative and Labour members; they did not take that up, but we look forward to welcoming them—[Interruption.]

Miles Briggs

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. The minister should apologise, because committee members who could not attend, including myself, then went to a briefing with Social Security Scotland. I think that the minister needs to correct the record.

Although that is not a point of order, it is now on the record.

I can clarify that we would be very happy to invite members of the committee again.

The minister is saying that we have not been to Social Security Scotland.

Ben Macpherson

Members have been, but they have not been to the follow-up session, where they would have been taken through the application form for the adult disability payment and would have seen the difference that that has made.

Some Conservative members made statements about the fact that they did not feel that the eligibility criteria were correct. A very simple way to change that would be for the UK Government to change the eligibility criteria for PIP across the UK. We are not going to create a two-tier system, and members know that we are seriously considering, through our independent review, what changes could be made.

I know that there are different views in the chamber on Scotland’s constitutional future, but we are responsible for building a system that will serve the needs of Scotland, whatever the outcome of the next referendum on independence. However, I also know that there would not be a Scottish social security system if it was not for all the people who campaigned for a yes vote in 2014, and I want to acknowledge their contribution.

There is much more that we want to do with the powers that we have and new powers that we think this Parliament should have. However, our focus right now is on making the biggest difference that we can with the powers and resources that we have.

I make a plea to Parliament to work together, be constructive and give our constituents as much support as we can in this time of need. We are happy to accept criticism, but creating cynicism for political point scoring is just unhelpful in this situation. We need Opposition parties to stop talking down Social Security Scotland and get behind the shared project in actions as well as words, in order to help their constituents. We have made remarkable progress and, together, we will do a lot more. Instead of thinking about the next headline or election, let us unite and help the people we represent.