Jeane Freeman on setting up Scotland’s new social security system

Written by Jeane Freeman on 27 December 2016 in Comment

Social security minister Jeane Freeman writes for Holyrood on using Scotland’s new social security powers

Jeane Freeman, social security minister

Social security minister Jeane Freeman - Image credit: Scottish Government

Before the end of this parliamentary term, we will see the biggest shift of powers to the Scottish Government in over a decade.

The new social security powers will devolve 11 benefits to the Scottish Government – benefits that affect one in four of us – including Carer’s Allowance, Disability Living Allowance, Personal Independent Payments and Funeral Payments.

Our priority is the safe and secure transfer of these benefits and to deliver them we need to establish a new social security agency.


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One that will exemplify our founding principles of dignity, fairness and respect in everything it does, from how it communicates with those it is there to help to the basis of decisions and the openness of its processes and procedures.

For us the starting point in this large-scale exercise was to listen to those with direct, lived experience of the current UK system. So over the past few months, we have held a genuine Scotland-wide consultation reaching many hundreds of people and with events in every local authority area.

The end result has been over 500 written responses and a majority of these from individuals.

The cabinet secretary, Angela Constance, and I have travelled around the country listening to and learning from people in receipt of one or more of those 11 benefits, expert welfare advisers and folks involved in delivering support in local authorities.

We have heard about many, many experiences that have been demeaning to our fellow citizens and seen evidence of many decisions that appear to have little in the way of concrete evidence to support them. And we’ve heard, too, of the many ways the system can be improved.

What has been clear is that our firm belief that social security is an investment we collectively make in ourselves and in each other is very widely shared.

That people aren’t looking for special treatment or special favours – they simply want to be treated with respect, to be listened to fairly and to have decisions made that are clearly communicated and the reasons for those decisions fairly stated. They want what any one of us would want, for ourselves and for our families.

The job we have to do is to build a new Scottish public service from scratch. That is both large and complex. 

Those 11 benefits represent about 15 per cent of the UK spend on welfare. We have to unpick, simultaneously, those 11 benefits from an integrated UK system that has developed in a piecemeal fashion over the past 50 years. 

We then design and build a new Scottish social security system and ‘plug it back in’ to the UK welfare system, which will still carry on delivering a range of benefits in Scotland and which will itself be undergoing further reform at the hand of the UK Government.

The approach we took in the consultation will continue, because we believe that is the best way to meet this challenge. We will build our new public service from the ground up. 

So, in the new year, we will run a recruitment exercise for 2,000 volunteers to join our experience panels to help us design and test our approach and the system that will deliver it. The volunteers will be individuals who currently receive one of those 11 benefits.

At the same time, we will work directly with the expert welfare advisers and those with payment delivery experience and with the Disability Benefits and Carers’ Expert Advisory Group, to bring strategic oversight to our work so that we can make sure our Scottish social security service is integrated with the UK benefit system and that we gain the maximum advantage from these new powers, the linkages we can make with our devolved employment programmes and the other support services delivered by local authorities and the third sector.

We will build a Scottish social security system that works for the good of people in Scotland, is fit for purpose and is properly accountable.

That accountability and scrutiny will start in earnest in our parliament when we introduce the necessary draft legislation to provide the framework for delivery by summer 2017.

 We will take the time to build this system well, to have our plans scrutinised by Parliament, to test and retest our payment system and to ensure that our founding principles can come alive in the service we deliver.

The number of payments we will make per week when full delivery is in our hands will be roughly equivalent to the number of payments that the Scottish Government currently makes per year.

Just under a million and a half of our fellow citizens will depend on us getting it right. The money they are entitled to, paid at the right amount, on the day it is expected and to the right person. Vital support, that we will be ever mindful of.

This is a golden opportunity for us all and I am determined that we will grasp it and build a social security system that Scotland is proud of.

Jeane Freeman is the Scottish Government minister for social security

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