THE word “benefits” could be struck from the social security system as the Scottish Government attempts to bring ‘dignity, fairness and respect’ to recipients.

A clutch of welfare powers will be devolved to Holyrood under the terms of the Scotland Act, with MSPs gaining responsibility for expenditure worth around £2.7 billion, making up 15 per cent of the overall social security spend north of the Border.

The change gives them limited powers over winter fuel payments, carer’s allowance, disability living allowance (DLA) and its replacement, the personal independence payment (PIP).

Provision for the victims of industrial injuries will also be transferred, as will maternity grants and discretionary housing payments.

The complex process is set to take years, with a new Scottish social security agency established to manage the payments.

Launching a major public consultation on the formation of the new system yesterday, ministers said the process provided a chance to reform attitudes to welfare as well as its provision. This includes scrapping the use of the word benefits altogether in favour of an alternative such as “payments”.

Social security minister Jeane Freeman said the idea was one of several designed to ensure “dignity, fairness and respect” are “not just fine words” but become embedded in the culture of the new agency.

She said: “There is value in talking about whether or not we still want to use the word ‘benefits’. There is an implication that the rest of us are doing something nice for someone else. Social security is an investment we make collectively in ourselves and each other. There are some things we can do to effect quite quick cultural change and part of that is around language and thinking.”

Freeman spoke after meeting service-users at the Macmillan Hub in Govan, Glasgow, where people with cancer described their experience of the current welfare system.

Social security secretary Angela Constance, who also attended the launch, said: “This is the biggest and most complex programme of change probably in the history of devolution.

“We are at an important point in the history of Scotland. We really want to get it right.”

Discussing the terminology, she went on: “We have deliberately talked about ‘social security’ instead of just ‘welfare’. One in four people in Scotland is in receipt of a carer’s allowance or some sort of disability benefit. That is a large proportion of the public. We need to recognise that social security is potentially for everyone.”

Constance said the Scottish Government remains committed to delivering key SNP manifesto pledges, such as increasing the level of carer’s allowance to match jobseeker’s allowance and replacing the Sure Start maternity grant with an expanded maternity and early years payment now called the Best Start Grant.

However, the ministers stressed that many decisions still need to be taken and urged the public to share their ideas.

Constance said: “We have already committed to bringing forward Scotland’s first social security bill before the end of the first year of this Parliament, and evidence gathered during this consultation process will inform the development and drafting of the bill. We are well aware of the scale of this task.

“It is important that we gather views from as wide a range of people as possible in order to help shape the future of social security.”

Tressa Burke, of Glasgow Disability Alliance, said: “The term ‘benefit’ often feels like disabled people are getting a special favour. It goes back to the Poor Law time when disabled people were on the streets and didn’t have any rights. We wholeheartedly welcome [this new] approach.”

Tories’ welfare model ‘cavalier’ says academic

THE Scottish Government’s drive to put “dignity and respect” at the heart of the new social security system comes after an academic report found the basis of Westminster policy to be “cavalier” and “misleading”, writes Kirsteen Paterson.

Written by Professor Nicholas Watson of Glasgow University and two others, the paper says the biopsychosocial (BPS) model of health used by successive UK governments “does not represent evidence-based policy”.

The model informed the work capability assessment, which has been linked to mental health problems and suicides amongst some claimants, and also played a “key role” in the toughening of criteria for some payments, including personal independence payments (PIP).

However, Watson – together with Professor Tom Shakespeare and fellow academic Ola Abu Alghaib, both of East Anglia University – says there is “no coherent theory or evidence” behind the model.

The paper, published by the journal Critical Social Policy last month, said the BPS, which was developed by a surgeon and former chief medical officer for the Department for Work and Pensions, is based on the idea that “negative attitudes” rather than ill-health prevent claimants from working.

The report says this has led to victim-blaming, negative media coverage, and “increasingly harsh and at times punitive measures targeted at disabled people” claiming certain payments.

Meanwhile, the work of the authors of BPS is described as “cavalier” in its approach to scientific evidence, with the founders said to have made “misleading” claims.