Direction of travel

In July 2015 SCVO held a Fairer Scotland event, attended by many of our members and officials from Scottish Government. The key principles outlined at that event formed the backbone of the Fairer Scotland strategy and it is heartening to see the Scottish Government has taken on board some of our sector’s key points around treating individuals with dignity and respect and avoiding stigmatising language.

Fostering a human rights culture

The devolution of substantial social security powers, and the proposed creation of a new agency, offers a great opportunity to develop a human rights culture around social security delivery, something currently missing in Scotland. The Charter[1] 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, alongside enabling access to independent advocacy and a full explanation of rights at the first point of contact, will go a significant way to creating a rights based system.

However, to ensure individuals are treated with dignity and respect throughout the system, it is clear that there must be an accompanying cultural shift in how benefits are currently delivered in Scotland. At the moment, many individuals face unnecessary anxiety and stress regarding assessments, encounter a cruel and unfair sanction system, and feel they are not treated with respect. This hardship could be removed straight away for a large section of individuals with disabilities and health conditions through the creation of lifetime awards for those with stable or progressively deteriorating conditions. This could be initiated automatically by a GP or health professional, without an individual needing to apply.

Alongside this, we need a culture which recognises the right of everyone to claim social security and encourages individuals to do so. This would involve a genuinely person centred approach from staff, where advisors handle individual cases holistically and respond to the needs of individuals. This would include making sure they receive every form of support they are entitled to, including applying for all applicable DWP benefits.

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. Also it is 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.

The Scottish Government must provide the necessary leadership to create this culture of dignity and respect, with appropriate training to develop a solid staff understanding of the lived experience of individuals claiming social security. SCVO’s Right Approach campaign has shown the breadth and depth of human rights expertise within the third sector and there are a number of charities who would be willing to provide support and assistance in the shaping of this positive organisational culture.

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 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.

Employability

Effective, responsive employability support is key to the overall success of social security support 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 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 and 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 continue to control the parameters of benefits, 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 contracted by the DWP to account over their actions which have negatively impacted many individuals in vulnerable positions 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, would be happy to help facilitate such dialogue.

Consultation Questions

Part 1: Principled Approach

  1. Fixing the principles in legislation

Q: Which way do you think principles should be embedded in the legislation?

As a ‘Claimant Charter’? x
Placing principles in legislation? x
Some other way, please specify

SCVO is a member-led organisation and this consultation response is the result of many roundtables and conversations we have had with individual members regarding social security.

SCVO believes a charter could help to foster a human rights culture where individuals felt able to articulate and claim their rights. The charter would serve to communicate these rights and duties in straightforward language, and would provide for updates over time. These should be reinforced in legislation to give them further weight as is the case, for example, with the Tribunals (Scotland) Act).

Q: What should be in the Charter?

The Charter should outline the rights which everyone engaging with the social security should be entitled to, including: the internationally recognised right to claim social security, to be treated with dignity and respect, to receive a person-centred service with choice over how and when their entitlement is paid, to an adequate standard of living, to independent advocacy, to be treated in a fair and timely manner, to be kept informed at all stages, to choose face-to-face meetings if preferred to digital communication

The charter should also outline the duties and responsibilities of social security delivery staff (whether part of a new agency or another body), including: treat everyone with dignity and respect; provide timely, clear and concise communication; inform individuals of their full entitlements; act in a transparent and open way.

Q: Should the Charter be drafted by:

An advisory group?
A wider group of potential users and other groups or organisations?
Both x
Some other way, please specify

  1. Why do you favour this/these option/s?

It is crucial to ensure individuals and third sector organisations with direct experience of the social security system are at the centre of this process, alongside support organisations with a strong understanding of human rights.

Q: We are considering whether or not to adopt the name, “Claimant Charter”. Can you think of another name that would suit this proposal better? If so, what other name would you choose?

We oppose the title ‘Claimant Charter’ as feel it is too closely connected to ‘Claimant Conditionality’ and as such the unfair and unjust sanctions regime. We could call it ‘Social Security Charter: Rights and Responsibilities’, but we are open to other alternatives.

Q: On whom would you place a duty to abide by the principle that claimants should be treated with dignity and respect?(please tick the option you prefer)

The Scottish Government

X
The Scottish Ministers X
The Chief Executive of the Social Security Agency X
Someone else, please specify X

This should be a duty on everyone involved in designing and delivering the social security system in Scotland.

Q: Do you have any further comments on placing principles in legislation?

The legislation should ensure that future action cannot run counter to the charter.

  1. Outcomes and the user experience

Q: Are the outcomes (shown in the table on page 17 of the consultation) the right high level outcomes to develop and measure social security in Scotland?

Yes x
No

In general SCVO welcomes these commitments and principles, in particular the emphasis on dignity and respect and empowering individuals.

Q: How can the Scottish social security system ensure all social security communications are designed with dignity and respect at their core?

Sample communications for different scenarios should be tested in advance with individuals with experience of the social security system and with relevant charities in advance.

Q: With whom should the Scottish Government consult, in order to ensure that the use of language for social security in Scotland is accessible and appropriate?

Individuals with experience of the social security system and with relevant charities.

Q: Are there any particular words or phrases that should not be used when delivering social security in Scotland?

Welfare, claimant

Q: What else could be done to enhance the user experience, when considering the following?

  • When people first get in touch
  • When they are in the processes of applying for a benefit
  • When a decision is made (for example, about whether they receive a benefit)
  • When they are in receipt of a benefit

When an individual first makes contact, they should have their rights made fully aware to them, as outlined in the charter. They should be made aware of how the process works, clearly defining what aspects of the social security system remain reserved, and be offered the choice of means of communication including meeting face-to-face.

When they are applying for a benefit they should be made aware, in a clear and concise manner, of the likely timescale of the claim and the right to independent advocacy. They should also be reminded of their rights as outlined in the charter and be kept informed on a regular basis as their claim progresses. In addition, when applying for one benefit, they should be made aware of any other benefits they could be entitled to.

When a decision is made they should have it clearly outlined in writing, as well as communicated through the preferred means (face-to-face, over the phone or email), with a clear explanation of the reasoning behind it. They should have a full explanation of how they can challenge an adverse decision and their rights to independent advocacy.

When they are in receipt of benefit they should receive a clear explanation of what to do if their circumstances change and what conditions may make them ineligible to continue receiving the entitlement.

Q: How should the Scottish social security system communicate with service users?(For example, text messaging or social media)?

All methods of communication possible should be available for individuals to choose, but this should supplement and not replace the principle that important information and entitlement decisions must always be given in writing (and in an accessible form suitable for each individual).

Q: What are your views on how the Scottish Government can ensure that a Scottish social security system is designed with users using a co-production and co-design approach?

The Scottish Government must work openly with all relevant agencies with knowledge of the social security system to ensure access to the views of their employees and service users. They must provide timely information on any changes that they propose to make and allow for input from all involved and they must ensure that advocacy is provided for those who have difficulty being heard.

In addition, lessons must be learned from other ventures which have sometimes produced negative user experiences, such as the Scottish Welfare Fund.

Q: We are considering whether or not to adopt the name “User Panels”. Can you think of another name that would better suit the groups of existing social security claimants which we will set up?

Alternative names could be peer groups or peer networks.

  1. Delivering social security in Scotland

Q: Should the social security agency administer all social security benefits in Scotland?

Yes x
No

SCVO believes that a national agency should hold responsibility for the administration of social security, with clear lines of accountability and universality of approach. This agency should be designed to ensure a dignified and respectful user experience is at its heart. This means recruiting personnel who are fully signed up to the principles behind the Agency, and regular staff training is undertaken with service users to ensure the lived experience is understood properly and communication challenges such as literacy can be overcome. In addition, the agency should be designed to ensure users can access it as freely as possible, with conveniently placed local offices and a free telephone number to resolve inquiries. The recently discontinued Benefits Enquiry Line in Northern Ireland is an example of good practice to learn from.

SCVO advocates against the use of local authorities to administer the system due to fears of significant variations in service delivery and the potential budget conflicts in relation to disability benefits and social care spend.

Learning from the Department of Work and Pensions strongly indicates that the tendering of service delivery to private companies can have a significantly adverse impact on individuals and run counter to fostering a human rights culture centred on dignity and respect.

Q: Should the social security agency in Scotland be responsible for providing benefits in cash only or offer a choice of goods and cash?

Individuals should always be given the choice over how they receive their full entitlements. In relation to disability benefits it is vital that a Scotland-wide system of non-means-tested cash disability benefits is retained.

How best can we harness digital services for social security delivery in Scotland?

Resources should be provided for increasing digital skills amongst individuals. That said, there is a clear lack of digital skills amongst a significant proportion of the population and the new agency must avoid a digital by default approach, which has caused significant anxiety and stress for individuals in some of the most vulnerable situations.

In addition, the Universal Credit IT example has shown a policy of pursuing an expensive all purpose system within a short political timetable can be disastrous.

Q: Should social security in Scotland make some provision for face to face contact?

Yes x
No

Choice for individuals must be embedded throughout the system and this includes having the option of face-to-face contact for each stage of the process where reasonable.

Q: Who should deliver social security medical assessments for disability related benefits?

Clear learning from the lived experience of individuals is that current medical assessments are causing a substantial level of distress for many individuals and must be improved and reduced in number. The single face-to-face assessment is clearly failing as an accurate measure of someone’s perceived disability and the notion of using a profit-led company to administer the assessment is starkly at odds with the fostering of a human rights culture based on dignity and respect.

Where medical assessment is required it is important that whoever does an assessment has significant medical experience and a full understanding of the individual’s condition(s). Lack of such understanding is a weakness of the current system. In addition, different locations for assessments could be explored, such as in an individual’s home, reducing the fear and anxiety which they can generate.

Q: Should we, as much as possible, aim to deliver social security through already available public sector services and organisations?

Yes
No x

We believe the new Scottish Social Security Agency should be involved in the actual delivery of benefits, as well as providing governance and policy direction. The option of passing responsibility for delivery to local authorities, for example, is not supported by members due to the risk of unacceptable variations in practice across Scotland and the creation of potentially perverse incentives in relation to disability benefits and social care budgets.

The possibility of embedding delivery across a range of existing public services must ensure the same level or protection of rights, duties and responsibilities, outlined in the charter, are present across each delivery body.

Q: Should any aspect of social security be delivered by others such as the 3rd sector, not for profit organisations, social enterprises or the private sector?

SCVO strongly believes that the Scottish Government must avoid the use of profit-driven private sector organisations to deliver benefits and services. Many individuals who have undergone the disability assessments have spoken of the inhumane process they have been subjected to. In addition, as well as breaching human rights, the services delivered by private sector companies have made the system less transparent and decision makers less accountable. Use of such private sector companies would be in clear opposition to Scottish Government agendas of creating a Fairer Scotland and of greater transparency and accountability under the Open Government Partnership.

Third sector, not for profit and social enterprises, however, could play a vital role in certain aspects of the delivery system. Many are already working with benefit individuals in a dignified and respectful way, providing much needed support to individuals in vulnerable situations. They must be properly resourced and given the budget flexibility to cope with unexpected increases in demand.

  1. Equality and low income

Q: How can the Scottish Government improve its partial EqIA so as to produce a full EqIA to support the Bill?

We are heartened to hear the Scottish Government is liaising with both the Poverty Alliance and Engender to learn from the lived experience of individuals. In order to develop the EqIA the Scottish Government should ensure they speak to leading third sector organisations such as Inclusion Scotland and the Health and Social Care Alliance.

  1. Independent advice and scrutiny

Q: Do you think that there is a need for an independent body to be set up to scrutinise Scottish social security arrangements?

Yes x
No

There should be an independent body to ensure that voices from outside government are involved in the development of the social security system in the longer term, providing an extra level of accountability. This should become a statutory body to oversee decision making standards.

Q: If you agree, does the body need to be established in law or would administrative establishment by the Scottish government of the day be sufficient?

Yes x
No

The statutory Social Security Advisory Committee could serve as a model to ensure that the Scottish Government’s actions are subject to expert independent scrutiny. The selection process should ensure that a broad range of civil society are represented.

PART 2: THE DEVOLVED BENEFITS

  1. Disability Benefits(Disability Living Allowance, Personal Independence Payment, Attendance Allowance, Severed Disablement Allowance and Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit)

Q: Thinking of the current benefits, what are your views on what is right and what is wrong with them?

We refer to the responses from Inclusion Scotland, Glasgow Disability Alliance, Age Scotland, Age Concern, the Health and Social Care Alliance and other leading charities for answers to this and other questions related to disability benefits which we have not answered.

At SCVOs consultation event attendees expressed their dissatisfaction with the PIP scheme for numerous reasons, most notably the complexity of the process, and its inability to take account of fluctuating conditions such as HIV and mental health.

Participants were clear that the Scottish Government should be careful to avoid a move back to a medical model. Instead, participants argued for a ‘social model’ of disability which focuses attention on how to address barriers to participation in society.

There was support for automatic and life-time awards for certain conditions, due to the cost and unnecessary stress caused by continual assessments.

Q: In relation to the above how should the new Scottish social security system operate in terms of:

  • A person applying for a disability related benefit
  • The eligibility criteria set for disability related benefits
  • The assessment/consideration of the application and the person’s disability and/or health condition
  • The provision of entitlements and awards (at present cash payments and the option of the Motability Scheme)
  • The review and appeal process where a person isn’t content with the outcome

SCVO believes that there should be an end to the constant review of claims for disability benefits. Non-means-tested cash disability benefits should be maintained, and not reduced by care charges or ineligibility for other benefits. In addition, serious consideration should be given to lifetime awards for individuals with a progressively deteriorating or stable condition and consideration should also be given to using some conditions as a proxy for determining a level of need, in order to improve efficiency and consistency of decision-making.

Q: With this in mind, do you think that timescales should be set for assessments and decision making?

A key concern of the new Social Security Agency must be to reduce the unnecessary stress and anxiety currently being caused by the assessment process. With this in mind, timescales must be set which are realistic and not subject to delay or postponement without clear and justified reason. At present it can be over six months for some individuals between making a claim and receiving a decision which is simply not good enough.

In keeping with the aims of both the Fairer Scotland Action Plan and the Open Government Partnership, and in accordance with the general practice of good governance, individuals have the right to be kept informed of the progress of their claim – as should be outlined in the charter.

Q: Should the individual be asked to give their consent (Note: consent must be freely given, specific and informed) to allow access to their personal information, including medical records, in the interests of simplifying and speeding up the application process and/or reducing the need for appeals due to lack of evidence?

Yes x
No

Consent should always be sought as privacy is very important for individuals, in particular when new agencies are being set up and trust is yet to be established. In addition, the current joint claim process for Universal Credit allows an individual to view their partner’s timetable details, including when and where they have appointments, and this raises clear security and privacy issues which should be avoided.

Q: Do you agree that the impact of a person’s impairment or disability is the best way to determine entitlement to the benefits?

Yes x
No

This is a difficult area as there is a tension between creating a personalised system and avoiding an overly bureaucratic and complex system. There is likely to be some form of trade-off between accurately assessing the costs faced by a particular individual and developing transparent entitlement criteria that can be applied consistently and timely.

We refer to the views of Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) on which aspects of PIP and DLA should be retained and which should be discarded.

Q: What do you think are the advantages and disadvantages of automatic entitlement?

Automatic entitlements will reduce the level of stress and anxiety caused by repeated assessments.

Q: Could the current assessment processes for disability benefits be improved?

Yes x
No

The current disability assessment process has some clear failings which the new Scottish Social Security Agency should seek to improve. The current process appears rigid and lacking a meaningful understanding of the fluctuating nature of certain conditions. Also it seems unresponsive to stable or progressively deteriorating conditions, and instead forces everyone in this situation to undertake an assessment and, sometimes, retesting.

By reducing the number of unnecessary assessments, not only would a large degree of stress on the part of individuals be avoided, but the system would make substantial savings which could be used to increase disability benefits in line with the Scottish Government’s Fairer Scotland agenda.

In addition, where assessments are required, participants should be offered the choice of where it is hosted, including at their own home. They should also consult someone who has a detailed knowledge of the individual’s condition.

Many in the third sector have pointed to the social security model in Northern Ireland as a better example to follow than the current model in Scotland. It is praised for taking a more holistic view of social security and supporting individuals to establish what they are entitled to, rather than a system that creates barriers to individuals securing entitlements.

Q: For those people that may require a face-to-face assessment, who do you think should deliver the assessments and how?

SCVO strongly believes that the Scottish Government must avoid the use of profit-driven private sector organisations to play any part in the assessment process, in particular the face-to-face assessments. Many individuals who have undergone these tests have spoken of the inhumane process they have been subjected to. In addition, as well as breaching human rights, the services delivered by private sector companies have made the system less transparent and decision makers less accountable. Use of such private sector companies would be in clear opposition to Scottish Government agendas of creating a Fairer Scotland and of greater transparency and accountability under the Open Government Partnership.

Not-for-profit organisations, on the other hand, would be very well placed to ensure individuals were treated with dignity and respect throughout the process, due to their history of providing vital support to individuals in vulnerable situations.

Health and social care professionals have an important role to play in assessments ensuring qualified medical opinion is given.

For whoever is tasked with providing assessments, they must follow a social model of disability which seeks to break down the societal barriers which creates inequalities people with disabilities face.

Q: How could the existing assessment process be improved?

Where an assessment is genuinely needed, it should offer a meaningful choice of location (including at home) and actively involve the individual and someone with detailed knowledge of that person’s condition. Moreover, the assessment process must incorporate flexibility and a greater understanding of fluctuating conditions.

Q: Could technology support the assessment process to promote accessibility, communication and convenience?

Yes X
No

There are clear existing examples of the use of tablets, smart phones and other devices to overcome barriers such as the need for BSL interpretation, and as technology develops so will more opportunities.

However, this must always be squared with the right of individuals to meaningfully choose how and where they engage with the new social security agency and take account of the lack of digital skills of certain individuals.

New approaches should also be rigorously tested and reviewed by individuals to see if they are viable options.

Q: If the individual’s condition or circumstances are unlikely to change, should they have to be re-assessed?

Yes
No x

Re-testing of all individuals makes no sense in the case of stable or progressively deteriorating conditions where it is known the condition is not going to improve. Resources should be invested in disability benefits themselves, rather than the expensive process of face to face assessments.

As stated elsewhere. Assessments cause stress and anxiety and serious consideration should be given to lifetime awards and a reduction in the number of assessments in general.

Q: What evidence do you think would be required to determine that a person should / or should not be reassessed?

For certain medical conditions, it is a relatively straightforward process for individuals to acquire medical evidence. However, complexities arise when someone has a longstanding disability or health condition but does not necessarily attend their GP or health services regularly as there is no longer anything that can be done to treat their condition. This means that some people who have a severe disability may have had no medical input other than the issuing of repeat medication for years. This causes problems if medical professionals are contacted as part of a reassessment of a claim. A more responsive system, therefore, is needed to take account of this.

Q: Do you think people should be offered the choice of some of their benefit being given to provide alternative support, such as reduced energy tariffs or adaptations to their homes?

Yes X
No

SCVO believes that people should be given more control over their lives by having the ability to receive benefits in different forms. In addition, the Scottish Government should place the purpose and aims of the new social security agency firmly within its wider agendas of Inclusive Growth and creating a Fairer Scotland.

Q: What are the risks?

It is vital that a Scotland-wide system of non-means-tested cash disability benefits is retained, and that these are not clawed back in care charges or reductions to other benefits.

  1. Carers Allowance

Q: Do you agree with the Scottish Government’s overall approach to developing a Scottish Carer’s Benefit?

Yes x
No

SCVO welcomes the proposed increase in Carer’s Allowance. The work of carers currently saves the public purse upwards of £10bn every year. However, caring responsibilities can place onerous burdens on individuals, often requiring carers to reduce, or in some cases give up, work commitments, significantly reducing their incomes. In addition, carers have poorer health and wellbeing outcomes, alongside reduced abilities to participate socially. Support for carers must be seen within a comprehensive strategy designed to lift them out of poverty, increase their respite opportunities and decrease social isolation.

It is important to ensure that any additional social security payments provide a real increase in earnings for carers on the lowest incomes. Currently, any increase in the rate at which Carer’s Allowance is paid reduces income from other benefits for those on the lowest incomes as a result of means testing. A potential solution would be to both invest in Carer’s Allowance itself, and to top-up the premiums within the means-tested benefits system that those eligible for Carer’s Allowance are able to access.

In addition, SCVO believes there should be a broader entitlement criteria for Carer’s Allowance as the current 35 hour measurement is far too restrictive and the rules do not support people who are able to combine caring with full-time study or work.

We support the idea of a Young Carer’s Allowance, though stress caution that this is not presented in a way as to encourage young people to take up greater caring responsibilities to the detriment of their education and work opportunities.

A further challenge is the need for a concerted, proactive effort on the path of Scottish Government to identify carers so they are aware of their support entitlement.

Q: Do you agree with our proposed short to medium term priorities for developing a Scottish carer’s benefit?

Yes x
No

We agree with the increase of Carer’s Allowance, the creation of a Young Carer’s allowance, alongside a revision of the current criteria, further development of the ‘Carer Positive’ scheme and the emphasis placed on creating a dignified and user-friendly system.

Q: How can we improve the user experience for the carer (e.g. the application and assessment process for carer’s benefit)?

Having clear and consistent criteria regarding entitlement, with the no detriment principle clearly enforced.

Q: How can we achieve a better alignment between a future Scottish carer benefit and other devolved services?

The new Scottish Social Security system must play a central role in both the Inclusive Growth agenda and the Fairer Scotland action plan. As such, achieving positive outcomes for both carers and the individuals they care for must be seen as being a desired economic investment. This would require a holistic approach including, for example, improving energy efficiency in the home to reduce fuel poverty and approaches to tackle social isolation at community level.

Q: How can we improve the support given to young people with significant caring responsibilities – beyond what is currently available?

SCVO welcomes the idea of greater support for young carers, though express reservations. For example, for some young carers, time away from caring responsibilities would be more beneficial than money. There is also the worry that providing a Young Carer’s Allowance might put pressure on the child to remain as a carer, perhaps to the detriment of education or work ambitions.

As argued by the Princes Trust, we believe eligibility must take into consideration problems of self-identification and that not all young carers have a Young Carer Statement or support plan.

SCVO also recognises concerns from the Princes Trust of the ethical and practical worries of providing cash payments directly to young people under the age of 16 and would not be in favour of this unless there is substantial evidence of it being necessary. Many carers that we’ve spoken to would prefer investment in young carer support services, guaranteed access to breaks, concessionary transport and other forms of support for this age group.

Many 16-25 year olds are eligible for Carers Allowance anyway but are prevented from claiming it due to being in education or working alongside caring. Removing or changing the rules related to the earnings threshold and studying would support this cohort without the need for a separate young carers allowance. Concessionary transport and access to specialist young adult carer support would also be of benefit to this group.

Q: Do you agree with our proposed long term plans for developing a Scottish Carer’s Benefit?

Yes x
No

It is important to ensure that any additional social security payments provide a real increase in earnings for carers on the lowest incomes. Currently, any increase in the rate at which Carer’s Allowance is paid reduces income from other benefits for those on the lowest incomes as a result of means testing. A potential solution would be to both invest in Carer’s Allowance itself, and to top-up the premiums within the means-tested benefits system that those eligible for Carer’s Allowance are able to access.

In addition, SCVO believes there should be a broader entitlement criteria for Carer’s Allowance as the current 35 hour measurement is far too restrictive and the rules do not allow people who are able to combine caring with full-time study or work.

Proactive efforts must be made to identify carers so they are aware of their support entitlement.

Best Start Grant

Q: What are your views on who should receive the Best Start Grant (BSG)?

SCVO welcomes the direction of travel of the Best Start Grant as it is more reflective of family size and recognises those on the lowest incomes will face significant financial barriers at different stages in their children’s lives.

Questions remain, however, as to a possible cut-off date for eligibility for payments as, for example, a mother might not be on qualifying benefits upon the birth of her child but may be a few months later. In addition, the Scottish Government’s awareness raising strategy will be crucial to the take up rates. There is scope for involving the NHS in signposting, alongside health visitors, nurseries and primary schools. There also needs to be further detailed consideration of groups not firmly placed within the system, such as gypsy/traveller families and families barely and recent migrants.

Again, receiving the BSG must not have a detrimental impact on any other benefits.

Q: Do you agree that we should retain the requirement to obtain advice from a medical professional before making a maternity payment?

Yes
No

A possible option for increasing take up, whilst adhering to the need for medical advice prior to payment, would be for the NHS to automatically initiate the claim, to remove the onus from individuals.

Q: Are there any particular issues related to the school payment that you think we should consider?

School payments need to be timely, before the child starts school to allow parents to spend it on uniforms and supplies if they wish.

Q: What are your views on our proposals in relation to the BSG application process?

For groups such as refugees it is important that the BSG is an automatic payment, due to a lack of awareness about the system. The payment could be triggered automatically rather than through an application form, for example by midwives on the birth of a child or by nurseries and schools upon enrolment.

Job Grant

Q: What should the Scottish Government consider in developing the Job Grant?

In line with the Princes Trust and others, we would like to see the proposed Job Grant recognise the extra barriers and poverty faced by young carers, and extend the enhanced £250 payment (for those with children) to those with unpaid caring responsibilities also.

  1. Universal Credit flexibilities

Q: Should the choice of managed payments of rent be extended to private sector landlords in the future?

SCVO in general agrees with this approach though highlights a potential risk. There is already the situation where certain private landlords will not accept tenants who are in receipt of benefits and this could become more prevalent under this scheme.

Q: Should payments of Universal Credit be split between members of a household?

Yes X
No

In keeping with a rights-based approach, centred on dignity and respect, it is clear that the Scottish Government should take the default position of automatically splitting a joint claim between both applicants. Scottish Women’s Aid, Engender and other organisations tackling gender inequality have highlighted the adverse factors caused by a joint claim going straight to one account.

  1. a) automatic payments to individuals, with the option to choose a joint payment.
Yes x
No

If Yes, how do you think payments should be split? For example 50/50 between members of a couple or weighted towards the person who is the main carer if the claim includes dependent children?

If possible, one solution would be to sub-divide the UC payments in line with the different elements, including who has the main caring responsibility.

Q: Do you have any other comments about how the Scottish Government’s powers over Universal Credit administrative flexibilities will be delivered?

The current delays between making a claim and receiving the first payment of Universal Credit causes pronounced hardship for families, increases demand on the Scottish Welfare Fund, and is frankly unacceptable. Many individuals often have to endure a six week wait, with Scottish Refugee Council documenting far longer waits for those granted refugee status as they must first receive a National Insurance Number.

The Scottish Government should investigate using the power to top up benefits or create new discretionary payments to plug this gap. This should have an automatic trigger to avoid placing an additional burden on individuals.

Q: Do you have any comments about the Scottish Government’s powers over the housing element of Universal Credit?

There is some confusion over exactly how the bedroom tax will be ‘effectively abolished’. This could be done through either the UC housing element itself or Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP). If the former method is used, it is vital that adequate funding for DHP continues, and it could be redesigned to get a more consistent rights-based approach across Scotland.

It is also important that the Scottish Government seek to address the inadequate support for some groups of private tenants, particularly younger single people and those with minority care of children.

PART 3: OPERATIONAL POLICY

  1. Advice, representation and advocacy

Q: What role[s] should publicly funded advice providers play in the development of a new Scottish social security system?

Advice providers will play a key role in ensuring individuals feel empowered to claim their rights. As such, the Scottish Government needs to invest in independent advice and advocacy to help individuals to secure their rights. In any time of change the potential for confusion will increase and therefore measures should be taken to mitigate this risk. There must be a well-resourced advice sector to ensure support is accessible to everyone. Investment in advice services will help ensure the take-up of benefits – both devolved and reserved – is increased.

Q: How could the transfer of the devolved benefits to Scotland be used to drive improvements in the provision of publicly funded advice?

It is vital that tailored, condition specific advice should be provided across Scotland. Separate advice services are likely to be needed for particularly vulnerable groups, such as people with learning disabilities.

Q: Do you think that Independent Advocacy services should be available to help people successfully claim appropriate benefits?

Yes x
No

The right to advocacy should be protected and individuals should be encouraged by the social security agency to seek advice and advocacy services that meet their needs. If the agency is actively signposting to advice and advocacy services, it will ensure staff are aware of the right to advocacy and less likely to challenge advocates.

Advocacy as a distinct kind of support from advice is important to ensure that the person has had the chance to say all that they wished to say.

The right to advocacy should be stated in the charter and embedded in legislation, with people made aware of their right at the point of claim, and disability benefit forms should contain information about how to access local advocacy services.

Q: What next steps would you recommend that would help the Scottish Government better understand the likely impact of the transfer of the devolved benefits on independent advocacy services?

As people become aware of their right to advocacy then the number of people using the service will increase. More funding needs to be made available to meet this need.

  1. Complaints, reviews and appeals

Q: How should a Scottish internal review process work?

After an internal review, if a decision is not changed then the case should be automatically sent for appeal without further action required by the individual. Practically speaking, this is identical to the system that the DWP used until October 2013.

The Scottish Government should ensure individuals do not have their benefit payments stopped whilst an appeal is ongoing.

Q: How can we ensure that our values underpin the appeals process for a Scottish Social Security agency?

The Scottish Government should articulate the right to advocacy and need for advice and support into all stages of the claim process, including all review stages. Individuals too often feel that the system views them as exaggerating the effect of their conditions. The reviews and appeals process must foster a culture of proactive help from the staff. There also needs to be a balance between the role of agency to provide information, and ensuring individuals’ access to independent advocacy.

  1. Uprating

Q: What are your views on the best way to ensure that devolved benefits keep pace with the cost of living?

There should be a commitment in legislation to uprate benefits to ensure they keep pace with the cost of living. This could be a ‘triple lock’ similar to the approach taken for reserved benefits for pensioners. This would ensure that the principle aim of making the new Social Security system an investment in the people of Scotland is achieved. In addition to this, suggestions were made that there should also be a commitment in the charter or legislation to consider uprating above inflation to provide an adequate standard of living when possible.

Contact:

Allan Young
Public Affairs Engagement Officer
Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations,
Mansfield Traquair Centre,
15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh EH3 6BB
Email: allan.young@scvo.org.uk
Tel: 0141 465 7533
Web: www.scvo.org.uk

About us

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.

[1] SCVO opposes the term ‘claimant’ charter as it has too close a connection to ‘claimant commitment’ and therefore the unjust and unfair sanction regime.