Like many colleagues across the sector, last week I finalised SCVO’s response to the Social Security Committee on the Social Security (Scotland) Bill (hurray!). In our response, as is echoed across the third sector, SCVO welcomed the Scottish Government’s aspirations to foster a human rights culture through which individuals can articulate and claim their rights.
SCVO, like others, view a rights based approach to social security as an opportunity to develop a system that respects, protects, and fulfils everyone’s right to social security and empowers individuals from all walks of life to claim their rights. And, like others, we were disappointed by how few rights are enshrined in the Bill.
In February, Jeane Freeman, Scotland’s social security minister, promised us a system that would go beyond “warm words” and “create a binding contract between the system and the people who use it”. These plans are ambitious, and achieving this alongside a smooth transition of powers to Holyrood is a challenge, but not an impossible one.
So what is needed to get back on track and deliver a progressive, rights based social security system for Scotland?
Over the summer I have been speaking with colleagues from across the sector to learn about their concerns and suggested solutions. Our sector is diverse and a wide range of issues have been discussed, however, I believe that there is largely consensus that the legislation must:
- Clearly detail the rights of claimants, the duties of the state to claimants, and what a rights based approach means in practice
- Include a legal right to independent advice
- Include a legal right to an independent advocate
- Protect the right to cash entitlements
- Detail a clear process for complaints and redress
- State that overpayment resulting from department error will not be recovered
- State in the primary legislation that parts of the new system will not be passed to for profit organisations
- Set a date for rules in regulations to be integrated into the main Bill
- Commit to a statutory independent expert scrutiny body
- Detail a role for the ‘User Panels’ to ensure those with experience of the system continue to have a central role in its development
- Commit to effective data collection and monitoring
At recent meetings with both members of SCVO, and separately at a meeting with members of the Scottish Campaign for Welfare Reform (SCoWR), the Minister has offered assurances in some of these areas. We have been assured that in kind entitlements will not replace cash and that the wording of the legislation will be changed to reflect this. The Minister has advised that an independent scrutiny body is needed and that once a body has been established there should be a duty to consult this body in advance of any changes to the primary legislation. There are also plans for the charter to be written in coproduction with key stakeholders and experience panels within six months of the Bill being passed. Such assurances are welcome and we look forward to more details.
Like the sector, the Minister’s ambitions for the Bill is to ensure a legislative framework for this new public service that is as robust as possible. To achieve this the Minister has stressed that she is open to considering any suggested changes to the legislation and the sector remain keen to engage. Our responses may be in but if we are to achieve the rights based social security system we all aspire to there is much work to be done.