The Scottish Government will this week announce how it plans to reform the country’s welfare system, using the devolution of new powers from Westminster to remove the “stigma” of claiming benefits and formally abolish the so-called bedroom tax.
In a debate on social security at Holyrood on 1 March, the SNP will set out for the first time in detail how it intends to use the £2.5bn of new welfare powers contained in the Scotland Bill to create a benefits system built on “fairness, dignity and respect”.
As well as the abolition of the bedroom tax and a rise in carer’s allowance to the same rate as jobseeker’s allowance, the party intends to scrap the “84-day rule”, which results in the families of disabled children having benefits stopped once they have had medical treatment for the same condition for longer than 84 days.
Attempting to draw a line in the sand between the Scottish and UK Governments’ attitudes to welfare, Social Justice Secretary Alex Neil will say that one of the key principles of the reforms will be “respect for the dignity of individuals” who rely on benefits.
Speaking ahead of the debate, Mr Neil said the Scottish Government intended to make the system simpler to navigate. He added: “We have the opportunity to ... develop policies which will help to remove the stigma attached to accessing benefits, [and] we want to show that social security can be fairer, tackle inequalities, and protect and support the vulnerable in our society.”
The Scotland Bill is set to transfer £2.5bn of welfare responsibility to Holyrood, mainly for benefits affecting carers, disabled people and the elderly. MSPs will, however, also be able to create new payments and top up the amount people receive from the UK Government in areas still reserved by Westminster.
The SNP has been highly critical of the Conservative Government’s welfare cuts and has already spent tens of millions of pounds mitigating the effects of some of its policies. The party has come under pressure to set out how it plans to pay for any of its own welfare reforms, with Scotland Secretary David Mundell warning last year that “every extra benefit has a price tag”.
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