SCVO and civil society partners make the case for welfare devolution as part of the post-referendum settlement
Control of the welfare system should be devolved from Westminster to Holyrood as part of any new powers given to the Scottish Parliament.
Voluntary sector leaders made the call as they prepare to contribute to the Smith Commission, which is looking at a new post-referendum settlement for Scotland.
A letter to the country’s main party leaders makes the case for the devolution of welfare as a means of mitigating the worst effects of the London government’s austerity programme.
Signed by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) and a range of leading third sector groups, the letter, published below, states: “by devolving stronger more coherent powers over welfare, Scotland would have the opportunity to take a different approach and to create a welfare system with an ethos that puts supporting people at its heart; a system which acknowledges that anyone can find themselves in need; and which enables people to help themselves, and one another, out of, for example, poverty or unemployment.”
We could design a system which is respectful of human rights, supportive of people who have fallen on hard times, able to be relied on when the economy is failing - Martin Sime
The letter asks the leaders to consider this as they make their submissions to the commission, which is being headed by Lord Smith of Kelvin and has been tasked with reviewing what new powers the Scottish Parliament will have in the wake of last month’s independence referendum no vote.
SCVO will make a similar call for the devolution of welfare, excluding pensions, in a submission to Lord Smith later this month.
Chief executive Martin Sime said: “It has been argued that a single welfare system is part of the fabric of the United Kingdom – but that only seems to be a recipe for spreading misery, harassment and bullying when there are other ways to go. Welfare cuts on the scale that are proposed do not enjoy public support in Scotland.
“Excluding pensions, the positive case for devolving welfare in unanswerable. We could put an end to punitive sanctions, poor work capability assessments, the pointless mandatory activity scheme and a Work Programme which isn’t working. We could abolish the bedroom tax, scrap the welfare cap and all the other wheezes and conditionalities which have driven so many to destitution and foodbanks.
“Instead we could design a system which is respectful of human rights, supportive of people who have fallen on hard times, able to be relied on when the economy is failing, aligned to other public services, especially health and care, and driven by need rather than ideology. Social protection which does what it says on the tin.”
This was reiterated by SCVO’s deputy chief executive Lucy McTernan, speaking this week at a seminar on the future of charities post-referendum.
She said: “The process now feels a lot more like 1997 when there was a clear push for a Yes-Yes vote in the devolution referendum. This could be a watershed moment to shift the nature of policy development.”
Jackie Brock, chief executive of Children in Scotland, an umbrella group of children’s charities, agreed – calling for “powers with a purpose”.
She said: “If we devolve the wrong set of powers or devolve incompletely, that could potentially make things worse.”
Letter to the party leaders
As has been acknowledged by your party, there are many practical reasons for the devolution of certain aspects of welfare to theScottish Parliament as this would bring benefits such as Housing Benefit andAttendance Allowance into alignment with areas that are already devolved.
However,by devolving stronger more coherent powers over welfare, Scotland would havethe opportunity to take a different approach and to create a welfare systemwith an ethos that puts supporting people at its heart; a system which acknowledges thatanyone can find themselves in need; and which enables people to helpthemselves, and one another, out of, for example, poverty or unemployment.
Such a system could provide a basic safety netfor those who are vulnerable or are finding it difficult to get by, providingbenefits at an adequate level which are responsive to individual needs.
The wholesaledevolution of welfare would also prevent any confusion or conflict betweenproposed areas of devolution, such as employability and job support, with their
related benefits. Overall, the devolution of welfare in its entirety could help to harmonise social security so that we in Scotland can take a coordinated
approach to welfare which understands the interrelated nature of many benefits - for example Attendance Allowance also interacts with PIP, DLA & Carers Allowance.
Webelieve that if we are to tackle inequality, protect the most vulnerable in oursociety, and deliver social justice then powers over welfare should be fullydevolved to the Scottish Parliament.
We hopethat as you prepare to submit your party’s thoughts to the Smith Commission youwill give serious consideration to the full devolution of welfare. This is animportant issue on which we hope people and parties will come together to forma consensus and reach a settlement which provides support Scotland’s mostvulnerable.
Martin Sime, chief executive, Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations
Ewan Aitken, Cyrenians
Martin Johnstone, Faith in Communities Scotland
Satwat Rehman, One Parent Families Scotland
Martin Crawley, Turning Point Scotland
John MacDonald, Community Transport Association
Mary Taylor, Scottish Federation of Housing Associations
Robina Qureshi, Positive Action in Housing