Legislation to set up a Scottish social security agency passed its first hurdle at the Scottish Parliament yesterday as MSPs unanimously agreed the general principles of the Social Security (Scotland) Bill.
During the debate, cross party consensus was given for an additional principle in the Bill recognising that social security has a role to play in the eradication of poverty
The Bill now moves on for consideration at committee level, before further votes in the Holyrood chamber later in 2018.
The legislation lays the foundations for the delivery of 11 social security powers which are being devolved to Holyrood, including disability living allowance, personal independence payments, carer’s allowance and winter fuel payments.
Meanwhile another milestone in planning for Scotland’s new social security system has been reached between the Scottish Government and local authority body COSLA.
A joint delivery agreement has been set up to provide a framework for when the new social security agency is located in council buildings around Scotland.
The agreement is designed to ensure consistently high-quality services across Scotland and build on links between support services when people are accessing social security and local council services.
It follows Scottish Government visits to all 32 local authority areas and comes ahead of the introduction of the first Scottish benefits from next year – Carers Allowance Supplement, to be followed by Best Start Grant, and Funeral Expenses Assistance.
Social security minister Jeane Freeman said: “We are determined to create a social security system for Scotland that is fair and treats people with respect, and part of that means making sure people can use services as close to home as possible.
“By working with colleagues in COSLA, local authorities and other partners such as health, we are making sure people can use our new social security system in existing premises in communities around the country.
“We are also working with a significant number of organisations and partners to identify other opportunities for locating agency staff with existing services to complement the support that’s already out there, so that people can get the help they need as close to home as possible.”
COSLA President Alison Evison said: “The devolution of elements of social security to Scotland provides a significant opportunity to ensure services to claim essential support are easily accessible.
“This agreement lays down the principles around planning these services – Scottish and local government will work together to ensure face-to-face support is embedded in communities across Scotland in ways which complement existing services and support.
“Local government, along with our community planning partners, understands what is needed in the communities we serve across Scotland – it is right that this knowledge and expertise contributes to how things are developed so those who need assistance claiming support can access it.”
The new social security agency will have its headquarters in Dundee and Glasgow, with 1,500 jobs split across the two sites, and should be fully operational by 2021.
Welcoming parliament’s endorsement of the Bill, Citizens Advice Scotland spokesman Rob Gowans said: “It is an important opportunity to create a new social security system that works for Scotland.
“But we believe that a number of important areas should still be added to the Bill, including support for the role of independent advice, and improvements to the re-determination and appeals system. We will continue to work constructively with ministers to ensure these issues are addressed.”