Welfare

SCVO and the wider third sector will welcome the fact that the Committee has raised concerns about the welfare powers promised as a result of the Smith Commission.

It is not secret that many within the sector wanted to see more welfare powers being devolved to Scotland. That desire will only deepen as we await news of further cuts promised by the Conservatives before the general election. At First Minster’s questions last week, Patrick Harvie of the Scottish Greens highlighted the “tangible” fear being expressed by disabled and carer activists across the country.

There is particular concern about the possibility that access to Carers Allowance – already fairly difficult to get – will be further limited, plunging families already on the edge into deeper poverty.

SCVO is supportive of the Devolution Committee’s conclusions in the following areas:

  • The limitations within specific clauses e.g. 16 and 18 which could act to reduce the scope of the Scottish Government to do something different – and better – with any benefit powers transferred to Scotland. We share concerns expressed to the Committee about Carers Allowance and powers to create new benefits.
  • The confusion and concern relating to definitions of key groups including people with disabilities and carers.
  • That the policy discretion available to the Scottish Parliament is limited – therefore the clauses must be altered to maximise the flexibility to create benefits and ultimately a system which is more compassionate and effective at helping people to live life to the full as well as to find and stay in work.

We welcome work to be undertaken by the Scottish Government to engage widely with people who are likely to be affected by the changes resulting from the Smith Commission – whatever the final powers look like.

Whilst we urge the Scottish Government to continue pushing for powers to come to Scotland as quickly as possible, we also ask Ministers to ensure that the necessary time is taken to ensure that those who claim benefits and their families are at the heart of creating what will effectively be the foundation of a new, Scottish social security system. As outlined by the Expert Working Group on Welfare, building trust must be at the heart of this work.

There must also be direct ways in which citizens can influence the work of the Joint Ministerial Group on Welfare. Yet again a politician led approach isolates those who understand best how the current system operates and the complexities and interconnections within it. We urge the Cabinet Secretary to work with a range of stakeholders to support his role within the group.

Employment Programmes

SCVO agrees with the conclusion in the Committee’s report that the clauses as drafted will not deliver the Smith Commission’s recommendations. We would like to see the immediate devolution of powers over supporting people into jobs agreed by the Smith Commission to Holyrood and the commencement of a wider debate about how employment and employability support should be shaped in Scotland.

As outlined by the Expert Working Group on Welfare, there are opportunities for Scotland to create more holistic support and a different approach to employability that is person-centred, appreciates individual circumstances and is based upon what we know works to support people into employment.

When it comes to the development of any new employability services, SCVO considers that the third sector and those people affected by or with experience of unemployment and employability support must be central in shaping the new programmes.

In addition, work to take forward the new powers over employment support must take account of the nature of the Scottish labour market and indeed regional variation within this. Part of this is about appreciating the cyclical nature of employment due to its relationship to the health of national (and local) economy.

SCVO considers it key that any new employability services are not tied into a sanctions regime due to the already observed counterproductive nature of benefit changes, cuts and increasingly stringent jobseeker conditionality. As long as the sanctions regime remains, as people face absolute crisis when benefits are cut or stopped, they are at real risk of being pushed further away from the job market and the effectiveness of support programmes is limited.

Human Rights & Equality

Concern about the potential abolition of the Human Rights Act is echoing across the third sector and civil society. On top of concerns about the relevant draft clauses, the push to repeal the Act must be viewed as another assault on the rights of those who are already vulnerable.

Equality concerns drive the direction of key policies in Scotland e.g. health and care. Fighting to ensure the Scottish Government and parliament can still drive a rights based approach to policy and legislation must be a key priority over the coming months.

We welcome the Committee undertaking to seek clarification from the UK Government on the extent to which the clauses as drafted would limit the ability of Scottish Ministers to legislate with regard to equality issues.

Tax

We welcome the Committee’s acknowledgement that Gift Aid needs to be considered alongside the devolution of income tax.

Gift Aid is a relief on income tax that benefits charities and community amateur sports clubs (CASCs). Last year Gift Aid provided over £1 billion to the sector in the UK. Although the issue of Gift Aid is not covered in the draft clauses, income tax is. Therefore Gift Aid is clearly a practical issue in relation to the draft clauses on income tax that needs to be addressed.

If income tax rates were to differ between Scotland and the rest of the UK, and Gift Aid continued to be a direct relief on income tax, then there would be complications for charities and CASCs, and for donors. Yet at the same time, it is an important principle for SCVO that Gift Aid reliefs remain connected to the tax paid by the donor, and outside the vagaries of public spending cuts. The trust that donors have in ensuring all their donation goes to the charity they support is paramount.

How all of this will operate within the new fiscal framework is clearly a complex matter, and we hope to see some solutions proposed that will make it as straight-forward as possible for our members to stay within the law, to claim what they are entitled to, and to ensure that organisations retain the trust and confidence of Scottish donors.

SCVO has been working closely with the Charity Tax Group on these issues, and would welcome further discussions with the UK and Scottish Government to ensure the implications for Gift Aid are given appropriate consideration.

Crown Estate

The Committee’s report has highlighted some valid concerns about the proposed method of devolving the Crown Estate. In light of the evidence supplied to the committee on the complexities involved with the proposed approach, it would make sense to revisit the legislation in this area to derive a simpler solution, such as that proposed by Professor Aileen McHarg, Andy Wightman and others.

We are concerned that the report when discussing the further devolution of Crown Estate assets and revenues mentions devolution to local authorities but not communities. Given that community land trusts, development trusts and other community bodies have shown that they are more than capable of successfully managing significant assets, they should also be afforded that opportunity with Crown Estate assets. It would also be appropriate for some Crown Estate revenues to come under community control, empowering communities to set up and manage their own projects. Regardless of the legislative means chosen to devolve the Crown Estate, these should be priorities post-devolution.

Conclusion

It is clear from the draft clauses and the evidence gathered by the Devolution Committee that a lot of work will be required to make the proposals into coherent and effective legislation. As the devolution process proceeds it is vital that the UK and Scottish Government undertake the recommendation from the committee to engage in further discussion with the people of Scotland.

Contact

Felix Spittal, Policy Officer
Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

Mansfield Traquair Centre
15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh EH3 6BB

Email: felix.spittal@scvo.org.uk

Tel: 01463 251 724

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.