Holyrood’s delay in taking up welfare powers ‘regrettable’

The Scottish Affairs Committee lamented the decision to put off plans to assume full control of disability benefits.

Holyrood’s delay in taking up welfare powers ‘regrettable’ iStock
Holyrood: The Scottish Affairs Committee lamented the decision to put off plans to assume full control of disability benefits.

Devolution of welfare powers is working well despite “highly regrettable” delays by the Scottish Government taking control of some benefits, the Scottish Affairs Committee has said.

The Westminster committee has also called on the UK Government to make the £20 Universal Credit uplift permanent, while warning that plans to expand the Scottish Child Payment could be in jeopardy if problems identifying eligible families were not solved.

Following its review of the welfare system, MPs lamented the Scottish Government’s decision to delay plans to assume full control of disability benefits, including pushing back the proposed replacement of personal independence from this year to 2024.

The report, published on Wednesday morning, stated: “The delays to the rollout of the devolved benefits until 2025 are highly regrettable.

“Although this delay can be blamed in part on Covid-19, the largest delays were announced in 2019 — a delay from 2021 to 2024.

“The committee regrets that the Scottish Government and Social Security Scotland have been unable to become fully operational within the originally proposed timeline.”

In addition to maintaining the £20 Universal Credit increase that was introduced during the pandemic, MPs recommended raising the amount of moneys claimants can earn from employment “to allow them to work their way out of poverty”.

The committee praised the working relationship between two governments on the devolution of more welfare powers but warned the “most pressing data sharing issue” related to the planned expansion of the Scottish Child Payment to children aged six to 16.

Giving evidence, the Scottish Government’s former social security secretary, Shirley-Anne Somerville, said the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) had not been able to provide the relevant details to identify who may be eligible in the older age groups.

She added that the Scottish Government “cannot deliver the Scottish Child Payment for six to 16-year-olds without data from the DWP”.

Ahead of the report’s publication, chairman of the Scottish Affairs Committee, the SNP MP Pete Wishart, said: “The Covid-19 pandemic has led to rocketing unemployment, resulting in more people in Scotland than ever before turning to the social security system.

“This has therefore been an opportune time to examine the full environment and eco structure of social security and welfare in Scotland.

“What we heard was that the devolution of benefits is working well, and we commend the Scottish and UK governments working together to make this a success.

“However, we also heard that it is incredibly complex to unpick what claimants can access under both systems.

“Communications must be improved, and staff appropriately trained to offer consistent advice to claimants in their time of greatest need.”

He added: “Worryingly, our committee heard how the support provided by benefits such as Universal Credit is simply not enough for families to feed themselves, and we urge the UK Government to review making the £20 weekly uplift permanent.

“Based on what witnesses told our committee, it is incomprehensible that sanctioning for failure to adhere to a claimant commitment during such a challenging year for people must stop immediately for at least the remainder of 2021.”

A UK Government spokeswoman said: “As the committee recognises, we are delivering on devolution and will continue to work closely with the Scottish Government as they move forward with devolved benefits.

“The UK Government has already provided billions in additional welfare funding to millions of families during this pandemic and Universal Credit will play a crucial role as we build back better.

“We know that the best route out of poverty is well-paid work, which is why our multi-billion plan for jobs is helping people across the country back into the workplace.

“We will consider the findings of this report and respond in due course.”

Director of the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland, John Dickie, said: “Social security plays a vital role in preventing child poverty and MPs are absolutely right to highlight how critical to hard-up families it is that the UK Government maintains the £20 uplift to universal credit.

“Cutting that support would push an estimated 22,000 children into poverty in Scotland alone.”

On the problems facing the Scottish Child Payment, he added: “The payment is already proving a hugely welcome source of support to families with children under six.

“With a quarter of Scotland children still living in poverty, rolling out the new payment is crucial to progress against our legally binding child poverty targets.”