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Dignity and respect at heart of new welfare system

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​Alex Neil outlines plans for new Scottish welfare system

A new Scots welfare agency will ensure claimants are treated with “dignity and respect”.

Alex Neil, the social justice secretary, said that it would be a priority of the new agency to remove stigma and place equality and fairness at the heart of the benefits system.

Devolved benefits, which are said to be worth about £2.7 billion every year, include the Carer's Allowance and benefits for the disabled such as the Disability Living Allowance.

Neil outlined plans to increase carers’ allowances to equal Jobseeker’s Allowance – a policy already outlined by Labour; let claimants receive universal credit payments fortnightly instead of monthly; and scrap a rule that removes income from families of disabled children in hospital for long periods.

He said during a Holyrood debate: “Our new Scottish social security agency will be the flagship organisation that oversees the delivery of benefits in Scotland.

It will be underpinned by our commitment to principles that will treat people with dignity and respect - Alex Neil

“It will be underpinned by our commitment to principles that will treat people with dignity and respect. We want to take a fairer approach to social security that tackles inequalities.”

Opposition parties said the new powers, introduced under the cross-party Smith Commission agreement in 2014, were welcome but they challenged Sturgeon’s government to explain how increased payments would be funded amid deepening spending cuts on councils, schools and student support.

Kezia Dugdale, the Scottish Labour leader, said Neil’s proposals fell short of her far more ambitious offer, which also included doubling maternity grants to £1,030, and giving care leavers full grants for further and higher education.

The party unveiled its own welfare proposals on Monday, with Dugdale pledging to "grasp with both hands" the possibilities provided by the new powers.

Peter Kelly, director of the Poverty Alliance, said it welcomed the announcement of a new benefits system.

“The devolution of welfare powers to Scotland presents us with a real opportunity to think about the type of Scotland we want to live in and how we achieve this,” he said.

“We welcome the announcement from the Scottish Government and look forward to hearing more details in the coming weeks.

“It is important that when setting up the new agency, the Scottish Government works with people experiencing poverty to develop a system that works for them.

“Too often people we work with tell us that they feel judged and stigmatised when accessing benefits.

“It is important that the new agency avoids replicating some of the current problems with the delivery of social security.”