In general, we welcome the broad direction of travel of social security in Scotland, in particular the emphasis placed on ensuring each individual is treated with dignity and respect. Our members recognise the scale of the challenges facing the Scottish Government with the devolution of many welfare powers and the proposed creation of a new Social Security Agency.
SCVO and our members believe we must learn the lessons from the current Department of Work and Pension’s (DWP) approach to social security, which is clearly failing many individuals. Contrary to current practice, our members advocate a genuinely person-centred approach, which values everyone’s contribution to society and sees social security as a vital component of tackling inequality. As part of this, we believe, going forward, there must be more joined up thinking between social security and employability programmes.
Human Rights Approach
SCVO and our members welcome the commitment to ensuring dignity and respect are at the heart of the new social security system and social security agency.
A Social Security Charter should form the basis for an open and transparent system where individuals feel able to articulate and claim their rights, not least the right to claim social security. Enshrining a rights-based charter in legislation – as well as encouraging and providing access to independent advocacy, and offering a full explanation of rights at the first point of contact – will go a significant way to creating a rights based system.
Essential to creating a dignified approach is to provide meaningful choice and control over how individuals engage with the system. This means avoiding a digital by default option, offering instead a variety of options for how individuals interact with staff, including face to face meetings. It is also crucial that payments for joint claims are automatically split between two partners, and to ensure that details of a person’s interaction with DWP is not disclosed to their partner without their consent.
Alignment with other services
In order to realise the truly transformational opportunities presented by a supportive social security system, we need a greater alignment of other services than that outlined in the consultation. Some of our members recognise the need to have a social security agency which is fully functional from day one. However, this should not prevent greater integration between the social security system and health and social care.
Effective, responsive employability support is key to the overall success of the social security system in promoting dignity and respect. The devolved employability service must improve on the poor outcomes achieved by current provision and must genuinely improve the employability prospects and wellbeing of individuals with specific barriers to employment. Early indications from the Scottish Government have been positive, including announcements around a move towards a voluntary programme, free from sanctions.
While these steps are important in realising the human rights of those receiving support and improving outcomes, there must also be efforts to harness the knowledge and expertise of the third sector across the design and delivery of programmes. We hope that the procurement process will be inclusive and that there will be an up-front-service fee to enable voluntary sector involvement. The present system of merely contracting out to third sector providers has stifled the potential of our sector in this area.
SCVO has also been clear that there needs to be an assessment of how Scottish society values contribution. At present, volunteering is not seen as an important means of contributing to society; nor is it given appropriate kudos as a means of obtaining valuable skills, experience and building self-confidence. While we acknowledge that the UK Government continues to control the parameters of benefits, the Scottish Government should assess how volunteering could become a key pillar of support services, without jeopardising the benefits of individuals.
There must be real engagement with the fair work agenda, beyond considerations of the living wage and zero-hour contracts. Fair work should mean flexible working and in-work support for individuals with specific needs, ultimately improving the opportunity for all to achieve sustainable, decent work. There should be consideration of progression routes, particularly given the importance of progression to overcoming in-work poverty. We would like to see a move away from work first methods, focused solely on job outcomes, to a ‘work in life’ approach that looks at work within the context of individual’s life circumstances.
Delivery of social security
The creation of a new social security agency offers a great chance to reflect on current DWP practices and create a better, more person-centred system. As well as developing a system which values everyone and does not force them into taking unsuitable and unsustainable jobs, we need a social security system which is transparent, with open lines of decision making and accountability.
We must move away from the current de facto culture within the DWP of guilty until proven innocent. Two clear steps the Scottish Government should take to show it is serious about creating a better system is by doing all it can to prevent individuals from being sanctioned and, when appeals to adverse decisions are being made, provide financial support equivalent to benefit levels.
An obvious area where the DWP is failing individuals is through the tendering of key services to unaccountable, profit-driven companies. As well as the inhumane ATOS assessment process, charities and campaigners have long criticised other tendered contracts, such as the poorly administered Concentrix contract which has created a great deal of stress and hardship through unfair decision making. The difficulty faced by the Work and Pensions Committee in trying to hold private companies to account over their actions is unacceptable. We need an independent board to scrutinise the work of the new agency, with a broad range of civil society representatives on it.
The ultimate test of the service, of course, lies with the lived experiences of individuals interacting with the system. This consultation must herald the start, and not the conclusion, of meaningful dialogue with service users and support organisations. SCVO, with its links to a range of frontline organisations, is in a unique position to facilitate such dialogue
SCVO welcomes the Scottish Government’s progressive approach towards the creation of a compassionate, effective and dignified social security system for Scotland. We are firmly of the view that only by pursuing a human rights-based approach to policy development and delivery will we see realised a system with dignity and respect at its heart.
Central to achieving this would be the establishment of a Social Security Charter which empowers people to articulate and claim their rights – whilst also providing adequate advocacy and independent support to both those in receipt of social security payments as well as those who may be entitled to receive support.
Whilst we welcome the cautious approach to ensuring the safe and secure transfer of powers, we believe that, going forward, more emphasis must be placed on aligning other services – particularly health and social care and employability – with the new social security system in order to deliver a joined up service which unlocks latent potential and will help to combat the entrenched inequalities that currently blight our communities and the lives of too many of Scotland’s citizens.
Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations,
Mansfield Traquair Centre,
15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh EH3 6BB
Tel: 0131 474 8031
The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) is the national body representing the third sector. There
are over 45,000 voluntary organisations in Scotland involving around 138,000 paid staff and approximately
1.3 million volunteers. The sector manages an income of £4.9 billion.
SCVO works in partnership with the third sector in Scotland to advance our shared values and interests. We have over 1,600 members who range from individuals and grassroots groups, to Scotland-wide organisations and intermediary bodies.
As the only inclusive representative umbrella organisation for the sector SCVO:
- has the largest Scotland-wide membership from the sector – our 1,600 members include charities, community groups, social enterprises and voluntary organisations of all shapes and sizes
- our governance and membership structures are democratic and accountable – with an elected board and policy committee from the sector, we are managed by the sector, for the sector
- brings together organisations and networks connecting across the whole of Scotland
- SCVO works to support people to take voluntary action to help themselves and others, and to bring about social change.
Further details about SCVO can be found at www.scvo.org.uk.
 SCVO opposes the term ‘claimant’ charter as it has too close a connection to ‘claimant commitment’ and therefore the unjust and unfair sanction regime. ‘Social Security Charter: Rights and Responsibilities’ would, in our view, be more appropriate.