IT’S beyond doubt that the social security system needs reform. In Scotland we want to create a fairer and simpler system that does not stigmatise people who claim benefits, but treats them with dignity and respect.
We have pushed these as priorities and argued that the Scotland Bill needs to be strengthened to help lift people out of poverty. Our message is clear: we want to create a fairer Scotland.
But there are huge challenges ahead. The Scotland Bill’s proposals for welfare devolution currently fail to deliver on the recommendations of the Smith Commission and ignore the key recommendation that the Scottish Parliament should have powers to create new benefits in devolved areas.
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Any serious attempt to tackle inequality has to focus on in-work power and powers over the minimum wage, employment policy and benefits which would allow us to build a coherent approach to training, education and support for people out of work or experiencing in-work poverty.
Instead, we are faced with deeper cuts which will impact on some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
Just last week we learned that 210,000 children are living in relative poverty in Scotland after housing costs have been paid. Stripping back the welfare budget could be even more devastating. Equally, cutting tax credits without increasing earnings will impoverish more families.
The Scottish Government and groups and charities that work with people who receive benefits are united in our opposition to Westminster’s proposed £12 billion cuts and we are working together to use our new powers to develop policies better suited to the people of Scotland.
One of the worst parts of Westminster’s changes to the welfare system is that it is being done without reference to those who rely on social security. People are not being asked how they can be helped to play their full part in our society, what would help them get back into work, what their care requirements are or what they need to live independent lives.
The Scottish Government will not follow that approach. That is why we held a discussion last week with stakeholders over the proposed new powers, and we will be listening to the people affected by the UK Government’s welfare changes and cuts, and getting their views.
Once the UK Government confirms whether it will deliver the full social security and employment powers, and whether it will listen to the Deputy First Minister’s proposals for additional powers, we will set out how the Scottish Government can take a more comprehensive approach to social security and getting people into work.