While the UK government and DWP have been inflicting UC on us, by contrast the Scottish Government is trying to build a devolved welfare system in Scotland that is an antidote to the harsh regime imposed by Westminster. At its core the Scottish welfare system is one that should be based on respect, dignity and fairness.
The Scotland Act 2016 provides the Scottish parliament with the following powers:
- the ability to create new benefits in areas of devolved responsibility;
- the ability to top-up any reserved benefit;
- the ability to make one off discretionary payment for any reason;
- responsibility for existing DWP benefits covering disability, industrial injuries and carers (Attendance Allowance, Carer’s Allowance, Disability Living Allowance, Personal Independence Payment, Industrial Injuries Benefit and Severe Disablement Allowance);
- Discretionary housing payments;
- Responsibility for regulated social fund benefits (Cold Weather Payment, Funeral Payment, Sure Start Maternity Grant and Winter Fuel Payment);
- Universal Credit flexibilities relating to payment frequency, splitting payments, direct payment to landlords and variations to housing costs;
- Employment support provision for disabled people and those at risk of long-term unemployment.
PCS has been heavily involved in the process for setting up Scottish welfare provision through the Scottish Social Security Working Party (SSSWP) which involved lay reps from across PCS. This has involved regular meetings with the Scottish government’s welfare implementation programme and working with Holyrood and Scottish parliament select committees.
Through this partnership we have helped influenced plans for how devolved welfare will be delivered and the regulations surrounding it.
We have been struck by how open and constructive dialogue with Scottish government official has been. They have been eager to take on board our experiences of delivering social security and listen to our views on how the DWP way of working needs to be improved upon in the Scottish delivery model. Refreshingly we have found that fairness, dignity and respect also applies to the employees and their trade union representatives.
The Scottish social security has now been set up with offices in Dundee and Glasgow and the beginning of a local service spread throughout Scotland. At present these staff are involved in delivering carers allowance supplement. These staff are employed on Scottish government terms and conditions including pay and grading and are represented by PCS within the Scottish government forum.
It is expected that the agency will have around 2,500 staff by the time all the planned benefits are rolled out over the next 2-3 years. Recruitment has been a key issue for PCS to ensure that our members have an opportunity to take up any new jobs. We are particularly mindful of any potential surplus situations in other government departments that may affect PCS members in Scotland through office closures or other means.
The issue of TUPE or COSSOP may arise later particular when PIP and DLA for claimants in Scotland moves across from DWP to the Scottish government. Clearly, we do not want the DWP staff currently delivering these benefits to lose out and they should be given an opportunity to move over with this work.
While the PCS Scottish government group will now take forward the industrial issues for members working in the new Scottish Security Agency, the SSSWP will continue to engage with Scottish government to influence the strategic issues about how the devolved benefits will be delivered including issues such as office opening hours.
We are conscious that these are early days and the real test will come when Scottish government takes over some of the bigger benefits such as PIP and DLA. We hope that the resources will be available to match these aspirations, though we have some concerns about the fixed nature of the devolved welfare budget. However, so far, we have been encouraged by the noises coming out of Holyrood.
Finally, I think the noticeably different views and values demonstrated by the UK and Scottish governments towards the whole concept of social security and respective attitudes towards claimants highlights how politically and ideologically driven the welfare cuts introduced by the Tories have been and that it doesn’t have to be this way. There is an alternative. In the 21st century, in one of the richest countries in the world, we should be able to deliver a social security provision for all that allows both customers and workers fairness, dignity and respect.