The Scottish Government intends our Scottish social security system to operate on the basis that people have a right to support and care where and when that is needed without being stigmatised or treated as potential abusers of the system. Nonetheless, the Scottish Government has a zero-tolerance attitude to intentional fraud and, as part of our consultation on social security, we are seeking views on how we can best protect against fraud.
Labour market statistics that the Office for National Statistics released last week showed that the claimant count over the past year was down by more than 8,000 in England, by 2,000 in Wales and by almost 6,000 in Northern Ireland, yet it was up by 2,000 in Scotland. Can the minister explain why Scotland is the only United Kingdom nation to experience a rise in the claimant count?
The rise in the claimant count is at least partly a result of the work that we are doing to encourage individuals to claim the benefits to which they are entitled. As for the idea that those who seek help and support from our social security system or from the UK Government’s welfare system are abusers of the system, I place on record the most recent statistics from the Department for Work and Pensions, for 2014-15, which show that the level of fraud in the benefit system is 0.8 per cent, which equates to 80p in every £100 that is spent and totals approximately £1.3 billion. I would like members to pause and compare that with the £16 billion that tax fraud costs the country.
The minister may have seen the heartbreaking appeal at the weekend from a mother in my constituency who has been sanctioned and will not receive benefits for four months, which has left her unable to buy food, clothes or nappies for her child. While the actions of the Lanarkshire baby bank and Coatbridge citizens advice bureau in supporting the family should be applauded, does the minister agree that no family should be put in such a situation?
I have seen the article in the
Evening Times and I agree that while it is heartening to see the generosity with which the people of North Lanarkshire and Coatbridge have responded—more than 200 of them came forward within an hour of the video appearing online to offer help and support to the mother and her two-year-old—the individual was forced into a dire predicament by the DWP. Unfortunately, the tragedy is that such a situation is by no means an isolated incident.
The Scottish Government has made its position on sanctions abundantly clear. We are told, and the UK Government justifies its position by saying, that sanctions incentivise work but, on the contrary, there is no evidence of that at all. The evidence that exists suggests that sanctions actively increase poverty and the anguish that people suffer.
That is why we supported the call from the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee last year for a full and independent review of the system and it is why we continue to believe that the current sanctions regime should be suspended. It is a discredited system.
Does the minister agree that, rather than treating with suspicion people who desperately need support from the state, we should be working to boost the claimant count by including the 100,000 people who qualify for tax credits but have not applied? That represents a loss of more than £400 million to families who desperately need that money and it is a loss to the Scottish economy.
I absolutely agree with Mark Griffin. Part of our work on social security and in our consultation involves looking at what we need to do across Scotland to increase the availability of information for individuals on the benefits to which they are entitled and to encourage and support them to take up those benefits, whether they are delivered and administered by the UK Government or—as they shortly will be—by the Scottish Government
. I know that I will have Mark Griffin’s support in working out exactly how we do that and in ensuring that people throughout Scotland receive the entitlements that they are due.