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Scotland’s social security bill puts claimants’ rights first

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Scotland will do things differently as Holyrood approves legislation

Scotland is now in control of its own welfare system, recognising social security as a human right for the first time.

MSPs unanimously passed the final stage of the social security (Scotland) bill on Wednesday evening (25 April).

Eleven non job-related benefits have been devolved under the new powers as part of the package promised to the Scottish Parliament after the 2014 independence referendum

Among the changes being made, Scotland’s system will automatically split payments of Universal Credit to protect women’s financial independence and aims to end unnecessary disability assessments.

Universal credit payments will also be paid fortnightly instead of monthly and housing allowance will go directly to landlords instead of claimants.

Social security minister Jeane Freeman, who was given a standing ovation, said: “This is a historic moment, one that sets up a new public service for Scotland.

“Our system will be different. It will be rights based, with a right to independent advocacy for those who need it; fast-tracked arrangements and no arbitrary timescale for people with terminal illness; the right to have a supporter and the right to challenge decisions without having your money instantly cut.”

Scottish Labour secured an amendment urging ministers to press the Department for Work and Pensions for the ability to split Universal Credit payments between a couple but failed to secure an uplift in child benefit by £5 a week.

Social security spokesperson Mark Griffin said the rejection of the child benefit increase has seen the SNP “back Tory austerity” but welcomed the commitment on splitting Universal Credit payments, something which has been backed by Engender and Scottish Women’s Aid as it protects against abusive control in relationships.

“Labour has long pressured for this simple, practical step to help vulnerable women and it is welcome it is now enshrined in law,” he said.

“This crucial change will help ensure we build a social security system that works for the many, not the few.”

Inclusion Scotland welcomed amendments which scrap the rigorous medical assessments disabled people have been forced to undertake.

Director of policy Bill Scott said Inclusion Scotland had been fighting for such changes since the Smith Commission on further devolution.

“Now our job will be to ensure that the new system works in practice as well as it does on paper,” he said.

John Dickie, director of the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) in Scotland, said it was “great” to see the principle of a rights based social security system that treats people with dignity now in law.

Now our job will be to ensure the new system works in practice - Bill Scott

He added: “What's more, important amendments, including on applications and notifications, that have passed today build on previous amendments on uprating, scrutiny and the right to cash assistance that promote those principles in practice.”

Peter Kelly, director of the Poverty Alliance, said: “There are real limits to what can be done with the powers that Scotland has over social security, but there are also genuine possibilities to make a difference to the lives of thousands of people. It is up to us all now to take advantage of those possibilities.”

Brian Sloan, chief executive of Age Scotland, added: “Topping up carers’ allowance is a welcome move that will improve the quality of life for thousands of carers and their families. This is an overdue recognition of the vital role they play, and will help protect unpaid carers from financial hardship.”