Charities to play ‘crucial role’ in developing new social security powers

Alex Neil
Alex Neil

Charities and groups that work with people who receive benefits will play a crucial role in developing Scotland’s new social security powers, social justice secretary Alex Neil will say today.

The Scottish Government will today start a series of discussions on the Smith Commission recommendations with Mr Neil asking stakeholders and organisations to consider how new powers could be implemented and how they could help people in Scotland.

These new powers cover various caring and disability benefits and flexibilities over Discretionary Housing Payments, which are used to mitigate the ‘bedroom tax’. An outline vision for the powers to be devolved will be produced by the end of the year.

Mr Neil will say: “In the face of Westminster’s swingeing cuts, the Scottish Government, charities and groups need to rally together to oppose austerity measures and push for positive change.

“We are united in our opposition to the UK government’s proposed £12 billion benefit cuts and have called for clarity on how they could affect the benefits due to be devolved. I repeat that call today.

“Deeper cuts will present us with a real challenge, but today is about the positive future we want to create for everyone living in Scotland. By working together with our stakeholders to develop ideas on how we might use our new social security powers, and by listening to the people who rely on these benefits to cope with everyday life, I am confident we can develop policies better suited to the needs of the people of Scotland.

“This event is the first of many opportunities in the months ahead to listen to a range of views from people who work most closely with those affected by the UK government’s welfare changes and cuts.

“We will need the help of everyone here today and many more to create a fairer and simpler social security system - one that does not stigmatise people who claim benefits and treats them with dignity and respect.

“These values sit at the heart of our recently launched Fairer Scotland discussion and our vision for a Scotland where people are healthier, happier and treated with respect, and where opportunities, wealth and power are spread more equally.

“Across the length and breadth of our country we are encouraging people to discuss fairness and equality issues – whether it’s social security, childcare, fair work or health. Today marks an important moment in our journey to improve the lives of everyone in Scotland.”

Nicola McEwen, professor of politics from the University of Edinburgh, will speak at the event in Edinburgh.

She will say: “The new welfare powers in the Scotland Bill will pose significant financial, political and bureaucratic challenges. But they also present an opportunity - to rethink the principles underlying social welfare, to be creative in the design and delivery of benefits, and to reflect upon where the balance between the provision of benefits and social care should lie.”

Julia Unwin, chief executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation will also take part in discussions.

She will say: “The next phase of devolution presents an opportunity to introduce greater powers and incentives to invest in poverty-reducing approaches, with the savings from improved outcomes retained by the Scottish Government, and the costs of additional spending met from within the Scottish budget.”

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