Social Security Bill ‘does not allow for adequate parliamentary scrutiny’

Scottish ParliamentChanges are needed to ensure that the Scottish Parliament can scrutinise the detail of how Scotland’s new social security system will operate, according to a report issued by Holyrood’s social security committee.

The committee’s report follows consideration of the Social Security Bill, which paves the way for the Scottish Government to take over the running of 11 benefits including Disability Living Allowance, Winter Fuel Payments and Carer’s Allowance.

Introduced as a result of measures contained in the Scotland Act 2016, the Bill also contains seven principles on which the Scottish social security system will be based.

However, under its proposals, much of how the new system will operate in practice is left to the Scottish Government to set out regulations. MSPs on the social security committee said they received “considerable evidence” suggesting that the balance between what is in the Bill and what will be in regulations “has not been appropriately struck” and called for this to be “carefully addressed” by the Scottish Government as the Bill proceeds.

The committee added that it does not believe that the Bill currently allows for adequate scrutiny of the detail. It has asked the Scottish Government to come forward with proposals and has recommended the creation of an independent Scottish Social Security Advisory Committee.

While the report welcomes the statutory principles that will underpin the Scottish social security system, it noted there was uncertainty about their legal status, which could lead to confusion. The committee has asked the Scottish Government to clarify this status and amend the Bill where appropriate.

Committee convener, Clare Adamson MSP, said: “The Bill before us is a landmark piece of legislation. It puts in place the framework for Scotland’s new social security system which will affect more than a million people. This is why it is so important that we get this Bill right.

Whilst the committee was unanimous in agreeing the general principles, in some areas majority decisions were reached.

“Our committee has heard about the positive and inclusive approach the Scottish Government has taken to the Bill and this is to be welcomed. But how this Bill will work in practice is just as important, which is why we have asked the government to consider again the balance between measures on the face of the Bill and those which will be in regulation. For something so important, it is crucial the Parliament and others have a chance to scrutinise plans.

“The inclusion of the principles will put dignity at the heart of the Scottish system and this has rightly been warmly welcomed. In order to ensure this remains at the heart of the system, we would ask the Scottish Government to clarify the legal status of the principles so that those using the system can have confidence in how they operate.”

The committee also recommended that the right to independent advocacy under the Scottish social security system should be set out on the face of this legislation. A further recommendation of the committee would place a duty on Scottish Ministers to ensure that individuals are given what they are eligible to.

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