Scottish Social Security Committee vote not to amend Bill to include ‘due regard’ duty

This morning (Thursday 8 February 2018), the Scottish Social Security Committee continued to consider the many amendments (over 200 at my last count) lodged at Stage 2 of the Social Security (Scotland) Bill. Today’s debate was the second of five, and considered what, in my view, were many of the more controversial topics including: amendments on the right to cash entitlements; the role and remit of the recently announced independent scrutiny body named, the Scottish Social Security Commission; and crucially, an amendment placing a duty on Ministers to have ‘due regard’ for the international human right to social security (yes, you have a right to social security).

This ‘due regard’ amendment, which had been painstakingly drafted by human rights experts, the Scottish Human Rights Commission (SHRC), was lodged by Scottish Labour MSP Mark Griffin, much to his credit. The amendment was supported by a diverse range of leading civil society organisations, including SCVO and colleagues across the third sector. Its aim was to ensure that the principles in the Bill, something we have heard a lot about from the Scottish Government, could be realised in practice.

Astoundingly, despite the Scottish Governments rhetoric around a social security system based on human rights, the amendment was not agreed and no such duty will exist in the Bill.

Confused? You should be.

Had the amendment passed, the ‘due regard’ duty would have made the Bill an international example of good practice in protecting human rights by requiring Scottish Ministers and all public authorities to pay attention to the internationally established right to social security when implementing the devolved social security powers. The duty would also mean courts and tribunals would be required to take full account of this right when making decisions regarding social security. Positive checks and balances surely for a system that is to recognise and fulfil the right to social security. Yet, here we are, a few hours later with no such protections in place.

SCVO and colleagues across the third sector, including the Scottish Campaign for Welfare Reform (SCoWR), the Scottish Independent Advocacy Alliance (SIAA), the ALLIANCE, and others, believed that the ‘due regard’ duty was essential to realising in practice the human rights aspirations of this Bill. That the amendment was not agreed will be a shock to some, but perhaps not to colleagues across the sector that have been immersed in this debate and are growing increasingly concerned that the Bill fails to fulfil the human rights principles it outlines.

The Scottish Government have recognised that through a rights-based approach to social security we can achieve a more just Scotland and fulfil the rights of the people and communities who live here. So where next to ensure these aspirations are realised? I look to colleagues at the SHRC and across the third sector and civil society for inspiration and advice as we continue to work with the Scottish Government to ensure that this Bill realises its potential.