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Last week, I stood before members in the chamber and outlined the great progress that has been made since the passage of the Scotland Act 2016, including on plans to reform disability assessments, successfully making Social Security Scotland’s first payments and being in a position to deliver best start grants by Christmas, more than six months ahead of schedule.
Today, following the publication of our interim findings, I will set out in more detail our work to develop the social security charter, which is yet another example of how hard we are pushing to create a better system for the people of Scotland.
Any discussion of the charter should begin with the principles that it must reflect. Those principles—human rights, tackling poverty, respect and dignity—are the cornerstones on which our new system will be built.
The spirit of co-operation that led us to the statements of ambition that were set out in the Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018 ranks among the finest achievements of this Parliament. It speaks to our capacity to look past political difference and to work together on our most fundamental shared goal: to make things better for the people we serve.
Members on all sides of the chamber deserve credit for their role in that work: Adam Tomkins and Jeremy Balfour clarified its legal status; Alison Johnstone and George Adam helped to shape the principles; Mark Griffin strengthened the consultation requirements; and, thanks to Pauline McNeill, the charter requires parliamentary approval—a democratic seal that will ensure that our founding ideals for this public service can never be forgotten. They will recognise, as I do, that the work of the Government and Parliament is shaped by our responsibility to carry those ideals from the statute book to the everyday delivery of services in a way that will be meaningful in improving people’s experiences.
That is the purpose of the social security charter. It will reflect the principles of the new social security system, explain in clear, concise terms what people are entitled to expect from the new system and will describe specific actions that the system will take to ensure that those expectations are realised in practice.
During the bill process, the message from stakeholders and committee members was clear: that the people of Scotland should be at the heart of the charter’s design. We have worked to give faithful effect to that remit, and the process that we have developed, with the guidance and broad support of stakeholders, builds on the strength of our existing engagement and substantially exceeds the consultation requirements that are set out in the act.
We have recruited a core group of 30 people from our experience panels to oversee the charter’s development. That includes decisions on everything from the charter’s structure and appearance and the language that it should contain through to the substance of what the principles should mean in practice and the policy commitments that will get us there. That work will be bolstered by individual interviews with people who are unable to travel to a central location and a survey of all experience panel members, ensuring that our engagement goes both deep and wide.
The process is an exemplar of a human rights approach in action. There are few, if any, parallel examples of Governments that have empowered citizens to jointly lead policy work of this prominence. To get it right, we will also need the support and expert advice of civic Scotland. That is why we have established a stakeholder group, which is composed of 27 organisations and chaired by Dr Sally Witcher, to provide feedback and advice to the core group. Its role will grow as this work progresses.
I have explained that the process goes well beyond what the act requires of us, but we have not rested on our laurels. As with anything new and innovative, there are lessons that we must learn. The core group is carefully balanced to reflect a broad range of needs, perspectives and characteristics—we received around 300 applications—but its initial composition did not include people from black and minority ethnic communities, so we have gone further. Working with stakeholders, we have run sessions to take in the perspectives of refugees, asylum seekers, people from black and minority ethnic communities and transgender people. Further plans are in place to run targeted sessions with people who are often especially marginalised: BME women, Gypsy Travellers and women who have experienced particular hardship and barriers. Because we have designed a model in which a core group of citizens is empowered to share decision making, it is imperative that the perspectives of young people and those from black and minority ethnic communities are represented on it, too. I am pleased to announce that, due to this work, we have added representation from BME communities, young people and a wider range of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people to the core group.
I will turn now to the interim findings that we published last week. I had the pleasure of meeting the core group in Dundee on 23 August. They shared with me powerful experiences of adversity, stigmatisation and suffering at the hands of the United Kingdom system—I thank them for their time that day to tell their stories. The stories, sadly, will be all too familiar to many of us who have heard them in our constituency offices the length and breadth of Scotland. As one group member put it:
“For years I have had to fight them every step of the way. It’s like being Harry Potter trying to find the Philosopher’s Stone. But in this story you’re the villain and not the hero.”
However, the group members are not there to dwell on the failings of the past. They are there to build a better future for their fellow citizens, and the group’s thinking speaks to that optimism and creativity. They want staff who are patient and kind, who see them not as numbers on a screen but as individual people. They want staff who understand their circumstances and what they might feel like. That reflects a wider movement in Scottish public services and it is right that the new system should be a standard bearer for such an approach. The group see that being achieved by involving people who have lived experience in staff training. That is a powerful proposal that I intend to progress.
They want a system that is on their side and not against them. They want a system that is filled with people who are knowledgeable about social security and related services and who use that knowledge not to catch people out but to simplify processes, maximise incomes and direct them towards services that can help to tackle poverty and improve their wellbeing.
To achieve that, they have spoken about the necessity of recruiting staff who are well trained, well led and who share the values embodied in the principles. A staff member who cares, who is happy and who is equipped with the necessary skills is always more likely to deliver a better service.
They are clear about their status as people who are accessing a public service. They want to be active partners and to understand decisions, the reasons for them and how to challenge them if they disagree. They emphasise a culture of learning and improvement, in which feedback is valued, mistakes are acknowledged and processes are in place to ensure that things are done better in the future.
They reaffirm what most of us here already know: that the shameful regime of disability assessments requires root and branch reform.
The scope of their ideas extends beyond the operational to the systemic. They speak to the need to end stigma and to the restoration of social security as a public good and a service that is there for us all should we need it and that is a source of national pride because of that. That reflects the principle that social security is an investment in our people.
That, of course, was the original intention of the Beveridge report. Many of us here today will agree that we seem to have lost something precious along the way. The group’s proposed solution is for Government to lead work to publicly challenge stigma and the false, divisive and hurtful political rhetoric that causes it. I can confirm that we are committed to giving careful thought to how all the proposals can be delivered.
The picture that emerges from the findings is of a potential charter that is rich in ambition and that truly fulfils the human rights aspect of social security that was held so dear during the passage of the Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018. That underscores once again the point that how we administrate social security is not just a matter of policy detail; it is a moral issue that speaks to the character of our country and the type of country that we want to live in. Our principles, and how we give effect to them, matter to people’s lives.
Reflecting on my early weeks in my role and all the people that I have spoken to during that time, I keep on returning to the word “trust”. It is clear that one of our shared successes is that through the act, the principles, the charter, the introduction of new forms of assistance and the commitment to reform assessments, the people of Scotland are beginning to put their faith in us that the new system really will be different. The trust of the people they serve is the single most precious commodity that an elected Government and Parliament can have. It is hard won yet so easily lost. I wish, therefore, to place on the record my personal commitment to honouring that trust with action, and showing through the evidence of what we do that this Government means what it says.
There is, of course, also a role for Parliament in that. It is clear that we all believe in the charter, and it is my sincere hope that we can continue in the spirit of collaboration to support the work of the people who know the system best and to whom it ultimately belongs—the people of Scotland.
I close by thanking everyone, particularly our core group from the experience panels, who have helped so much and gone so far in delivering our interim findings. I look forward to their further work and to delivering a charter that the Parliament and the country can be proud of.
That the Parliament recognises the progress made in working with Experience Panels and others to develop Scotland’s Social Security Charter; agrees with the human rights approach being taken to empower citizens to jointly lead this work; endorses the published findings of those with lived experience supporting work on the charter; agrees that the process of consultation and co-design will help build trust in this new public service, and notes the Scottish Government’s ongoing commitment to work with the Parliament and people of Scotland to deliver a social security system that lives up to the principles, agreed unanimously by the Parliament, in Section 1 of the Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018.
I welcome the debate and the journey that the Government and the Parliament have been on over the past two years with regard to social security.
The fundamental question is: why have a charter? For me, the reason for having a charter is to improve the experience of those who use the social security system. We want everybody who comes in contact with the new Scottish agency to have a positive experience, even if they do not ultimately get what they want out of it. That is what we as a Parliament and, I suggest, the Scottish Government need to strive for.
What is the role of the charter? The danger—which the Social Security Committee recognised early on—was that the charter would simply be a bunch of words on a notice board that everybody would ignore. Part of the reason for the journey that the committee and the Scottish Government have been on is to show that the charter has to be far more than that. It cannot simply be words—even simple words—on a board; it has to be something that people understand and can respect and act on.
The charter is there so that staff can understand what their responsibility is to claimants; it is there so that claimants can understand what they should expect of the new agency; and it is there so that third parties, including this Parliament, can hold the new agency to account. However, it is important to stress that the charter does not give individual rights to claimants. It is there so that the agency can be held accountable by the Scottish Government and by the Parliament. We have to make sure that a balance is struck between individual rights and community rights, which are sometimes held in tension.
It is important that stakeholders, individuals, third parties and the Parliament get an early view of the charter. It would be interesting to know whether the Government has a date yet for when the charter will be available for open scrutiny. Steps have been taken towards that, but we need a full account.
We need to know how the charter is being drawn up and who is involved in the process. I welcome the cabinet secretary’s announcement on the expansion of the membership of the important core group because some groups and people contacted me with concerns that perhaps the core group did not represent the whole of Scottish society. It would also be interesting to know how the experience panels are working in practice. Is the core group co-designing the system and the document, or does the Scottish Government go in with a piece of paper and say, “Like it or leave it”? How open is the Government to changes to the social security charter and to comments on it?
We have to make sure that there is gender balance and ethnic minority representation—I welcome the cabinet secretary’s remarks on that. Perhaps most important, disabled people need to be represented on the core group. That may seem very obvious—no doubt, the cabinet secretary wants to jump up and say that we already have that representation. However, our amendment seeks to expand the groups that the Government is consulting—perhaps to include groups that are seldom heard from, not the obvious suspects we all go to regularly; perhaps to include those who have disabilities that fall into a minority group within disability, who again are not often heard from; and perhaps—I say gently to the Government—to include people who have had a positive experience with the Department for Work and Pensions. The danger is that people only come to MSPs if they have a negative experience. However, there are people who have had a positive experience of interaction—I include myself among them—and we do not want to lose that voice in our engagement. We have to ensure that those with seen and unseen disabilities are included in the core group and in the drawing-up of the social security charter.
Ultimately, we must keep the goal of having the Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018 fully implemented and up and running before this session of Parliament comes to an end in 2021. As one ancient philosopher said, every journey has an end. There is a slight danger that we keep going over and over things and do not get to the goal of delivering the social security system that we all want. I therefore ask the cabinet secretary to confirm again in her summing up that every benefit that has been devolved will be delivered and up and running by 2021; will she confirm that the benefits will be delivered by the new agency and that people will know how it all works?
I hope that the Parliament will have time to consider fully the regulations as they come forward. I welcome the Government’s openness so far in that regard, and I look forward to the cabinet secretary being with the committee on Thursday morning. Undoubtedly, the most complicated and difficult regulations will be those that introduce the replacements for personal independence payments, disability living allowance and attendance allowance. Can the cabinet secretary tell the Parliament when the draft regulations on those benefits will be released?
The Conservative Party welcomes the debate and the social security charter, but we will hold the Government to account to ensure that it delivers not simply words but actions.
I move amendment S5M-14160.1, to insert after “public service”:
“, but should also consider how it might enable any other individual or organisation with an interest to be consulted as part of any scrutiny of the draft charter”.
I welcome the cabinet secretary’s comments but, primarily, I want to thank everyone who has been involved in the experience panels so far. Each of them, along with their 2,500 or so colleagues, has a big task to ensure that dignity, fairness and respect come to life in our new social security system.
We will support the Government’s motion and we are pleased that the charter is becoming a reality. Just like last week’s restating of the commitment to ban the private sector from carrying out assessments, the involvement of Scotland’s people in the design of the charter is a critical step in delivering the law that the Parliament agreed to in the spring. Co-design will be hugely valuable to the social security system. Put simply, it is about working with people on social security and not simply dictating a system to them.
We have seen the horrors that the Tory overhaul of disability benefits has led to. Disabled Scots will lose £190 million through the PIP, and hundreds of thousands are gaining entitlement only through court rulings instead of a fair process. Since the most recent Holyrood elections, 50,000 people have already had to suffer a second PIP assessment as a result of the revolving door of reviews. We all know that that needs to change, but it is for those who use social security to say what they want to change. When the charter is approved this November, which will be almost 18 months since the experience panels were first launched, members will be able to point to the tangible difference that underlines our new human rights-based system.
As well as celebrating the role that the people of Scotland will have in the new system, the debate serves as a reminder of the improvements to the 2018 act that the third sector and its members and service users secured. Through their campaigning, they secured rights to advocacy, to accessible information and to get hold of assessment reports. Those hard-won improvements make the system more theirs—one that has been built with them and not for them.
As the cabinet secretary said, the Parliament will give final approval to the charter. That provision is the result of an amendment that was pursued by the third sector and lodged by my colleague Pauline McNeill.
For me, two changes stand out. First, because of the give me five campaign, child benefit recipients must be consulted on the charter. The second change concerns work that I did with Engender, the Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights and Scottish Women’s Aid to ensure that the Government consults organisations that work with those at risk of poverty because of their protected characteristic.
The scale of ambition behind the experience panels is commendable, and we will support the Government’s motion today. As our amendment says,
“meaningful co-production should be an exemplar” that informs how public services are reformed in future.
However, Friday’s report identifies quite clearly an issue that I became aware of over the summer, which is that not one black or minority ethnic person was directly recruited to work on the core group. Today, the cabinet secretary mentioned that a focus group of BME individuals is being set up, but it is a concern that that has taken place only now. We know that BME individuals are less likely to access their entitlements and that they face barriers during the assessment process. When hard-to-reach groups are asked for their participation and involvement only at the last minute, we all lose out. They miss their initial chance to have a say, while local organisations are stretched to get someone into place quickly; and Government lacks the group’s views from the very start, which undermines its commitment to equality and the work that it has done so far. As a result, sometimes things get missed.
Page 14 of the report says:
“The stakeholder organisations also added some meanings to the list described above that the core group hadn’t mentioned, for example around the importance of equality and non-discrimination.”
It is good that those meanings have been added, but that highlights what we can miss if we are not all-encompassing in our approach and do not ensure that we cover everyone who has been disadvantaged by the current system.
As our amendment states, the panels are part of
“an open, ongoing process, in which people who are entitled to social security are encouraged to enrol and participate”.
The cabinet secretary spoke about the 300 people who had responded to the recruitment exercise, but none of those was BME. We have to ask ourselves why that is and determine how underrepresented BME groups are in the experience panels. The cabinet secretary told me that the report on protected characteristics will be published in November; I encourage her to publish the details before recess.
With all members of the core group being surveyed on the charter this autumn, I hope that the cabinet secretary will agree that more members should be recruited before that survey goes out so that we can get their views. Welcoming new recruits to the panels, along with more open and publicly available means of consultation, would be of great value to the process and might help to overcome some of the representation issues that I have spoken about today.
When the time comes to consider the replacement of PIP and carers allowance, and the rules and criteria for and rates of benefits, the people of Scotland will once again have the chance to deliver a social security system that is founded on dignity, fairness and respect.
I move amendment S5M-14160.2, to leave out from “agrees that the process” to “public service” and insert:
“considers that this consultation is an open, ongoing process, in which people who are entitled to social security are encouraged to enrol and participate; agrees that the process of consultation and co-design will help build trust in this new public service; believes that meaningful co-production should be an exemplar that informs future Scottish public service design”.
There are, of course, a great many things that are deeply wrong with the UK’s current social security system. The real-terms value of many benefits has been allowed to fall over time and no longer allows many people to meet a basic minimum standard of living—even to the extent that people cannot feed themselves. Just last week, the Scottish health survey revealed that 4 per cent of people who were surveyed had run out of food in the past year. The system of benefit sanctions leaves people destitute.
Further, with the benefit cap, the UK Government says to claimants that they need a certain level of benefit but pays them much less, on an entirely arbitrary basis, sometimes to the tune of £2,500 less. As a result, as the motion notes, trust and faith in the social security system have broken down.
How did we get here? In part, it is because so many welfare reforms have been drawn up by small groups of policy makers who have been working to a narrow cost-saving agenda, with views that are based on a crude caricature of the social security system and its users, and with no concept of what it is like to raise a child on a small and fluctuating income, for instance.
All that experience is out there to be used to make better policy, but the DWP has rarely taken much interest in it. From the on-going farce that is universal credit to the brutality of denying personal independence payments to tens of thousands of people, almost all the major problems in current welfare reforms could have been foreseen—just not by the UK Government. It was warned by multiple welfare rights organisations about the impact on rent arrears of having such long universal credit waiting periods.
Disabled people’s groups said that the PIP criteria did not reflect the reality of living with certain types of disabilities and health conditions, and that many people would lose out. Unfortunately, all those warnings have proved to be all too prescient. That is why the approach that the Scottish Government is taking, and which is set out in the motion, is timely and welcome.
It is important that we capture the lived experience of applying for and receiving—or sometimes not receiving—social security. In relation to disability benefits, there is the stress of going to PIP assessments—which can sometimes be held huge distances from claimants’ homes—the invasiveness of some of the questions that are asked and the bewildering complexity of the process. All those things are too often the experience of people when they ask for support to help them with the extra costs arising from their disabilities or health conditions. Their experiences should be brought to bear on how our new devolved social security system operates.
I am pleased to say that that is already happening. The experience panels have drawn more attention to the often highly stressful and sometimes damaging experience of having to go an assessment. One panel member said:
“The face-to-face assessment for PIP was honestly one of the most traumatic experiences of my adult life.”
The report “Social Security Experience Panels: About Your Benefits and You—Qualitative Research Findings” stated that assessments
“should only be carried out when necessary, and that evidence provided by medical professionals should be enough.”
That was the basis for a Green amendment—which I am pleased to say was supported unanimously by Parliament—that introduced a ban on face-to-face assessments if evidence can be found through other means. Another Green amendment, based on what PIP claimants said in the experience panels and elsewhere, ensures that the distance that a person has to travel for an assessment when that has proved to be necessary is taken into account.
I was particularly encouraged to hear all that being outlined by the cabinet secretary last week in her statement on disability assessments. The proposals on conducting only absolutely necessary face-to-face assessments, on audio recording of assessments to rebuild trust, and on giving people flexibility in choosing their assessment appointments were all set out. If it is implemented to its fullest extent—which, of course, remains to be seen—what was outlined could be a significant change to the disability benefits system and to people’s experience of it.
I am pleased that my colleague Alison Johnstone has played a constructive role in putting some of the measures into law, but ultimately such improvements are the work of the thousands of individual claimants who have spoken out about their treatment and their experiences. I am glad that their voices are now being heard.
We also need to think through some of the implications of what the motion says about how the system will be established. As I have noted, people’s lived experience has been used well to shape the founding legislation. However, that was the easy bit: none of the major benefits has yet been established. As that work proceeds, the people and organisations with whom the Scottish Government is co-designing the system will continue to call for changes that will not be cheap or easy, including benefit top-ups to reverse the benefit cap and the on-going freeze on the value of payments.
People with experience of PIP are likely to ask for a reversal of the staggering cuts to that benefit. Undervalued carers—especially those who care for more than one person, for example—may ask for that extra care to be recognised through the carers allowance. At that point, the response cannot simply be that such requests are unrealistic. As well as being untrue—because we have paid benefits at adequate rates before, and can do so again—that would not be in keeping with a truly co-designed system.
I am glad that we are moving away from the problematic term “welfare” and reclaiming the language of social security. The system should indeed be “social”: it is a sign and signal of our duty, compassion and respect for one another. That is why, as the motion rightly suggests, we need to build it together.
The Greens will support the motion and both amendments.
The Liberal Democrats welcome the debate, just as we welcome the next frontier of an agenda that has been driven, through consensus, by the Scottish Government.
At the top of her remarks, the cabinet secretary referred to principles; principles really matter. I am gratified that, in the same breath, she referenced William Beveridge, whom I often quote when we discuss social security in the Parliament. Patrick Harvie was right: provision of “social security” is a far better aspiration than the provision of “welfare” by the welfare state. Beveridge said that, in establishing a national minimum, the state
“should leave room and encouragement for voluntary action by each individual to provide more than the minimum for himself and his family.”
I absolutely agree with that. That quotation, which is about social mobility and dignity, is one of the many reasons why I am a Liberal.
However, it is fair to say that we have, at UK level, come significantly adrift from establishment of that national minimum. Therefore, I very much welcome the opportunity that Parliament has to create a Scottish social security system, and I am gratified that it is to be underpinned by the social security charter. Who better to define the terms and parameters of the system than the people who have lived under the failures of previous systems? In its nomenclature, the charter defines itself as being rights based. The development of the charter is about giving people ownership and understanding of what to expect, what rights they can rely on and what action they can take if their rights are infringed.
As we heard in last week’s statement, that lived experience is already shaping the new system, in respect of the conduct of disability assessments. I am sure that every member will know a constituent who has suffered the indignity of the assessments of the past. I welcome the flexibility that has been created and the comfort that can be extended to claimants through the recording of assessments, which they will be able to lean on should they have grounds for appeal. Rightly, some people will be removed altogether from the need for a face-to-face assessment.
As Lib Dems, we whole-heartedly support—as we did last week—the fundamental workings of the new structures that are being built and the fact that their development will be underpinned by the experience panels. It is important that in the conduct of their business, the experience panels work with stakeholders to identify unintended consequences.
The flexibility conundrum is important: it is vital that we do all the things that the cabinet secretary outlined in last week’s statement to make the assessments less intrusive and easier, and to ensure that they are built around the needs of the individuals whom they seek to serve. That brings with it the probability of time delays unless we significantly increase the head count of people who are commissioned to conduct assessments. I am not saying that we should not be flexible, but we should be alive to that concern, so I would be grateful if the Cabinet Secretary for Social Security and Older People could address the matter when she closes the debate.
We must ensure that we do not overpromise but then underdeliver, because there are many examples of public policies that have been established on the basis of principles that are similar to those that we seek to foster in the charter, but which—sadly—have let down the people whom they sought to serve.
I think that we can all agree on the tenets that we hope will come forward as the charter is developed. I hope that the cabinet secretary and her Government are reflecting on the views of the stakeholder organisations that would like to influence the process. There is a great deal of expertise there, not least among people who have lived experience of going through previous systems, who tend to rely on organisations that provide advocacy and which gather information and research. That experience should be used for betterment of the project that lies ahead.
For me and for the Lib Dems, we can distil that down into three basic principles. We should foster the cradle-to-grave safety net that Beveridge first envisioned, which will allow people to be socially mobile but protected at times of crisis and need.
The charter should not be driven by monetary considerations alone. In times of austerity, it is often all too easy for Governments of all hues to look at the bottom line first and foremost and to design a welfare state or a social security system around that.
Most important is that the charter needs to manage expectations. People should have faith and confidence in a system that does not put in their way artificial barriers to the assistance that they need and deserve. The system should be seen to be fair, and people should have swift access to reliable information. Should a decision go against someone, they should know the route to take in order to overturn it, and they should have the confidence that they will receive a fair hearing.
If we can work with stakeholders to foster a charter that captures those three fundamental principles, the Parliament and the Scottish Government will have gone some way towards answering the challenge that Beveridge set in his earliest vision. Liberal Democrat members will support the Government’s motion and the amendments from the Opposition parties. I welcome the continued consensus with which we are moving forward together.
I am convener of the Social Security Committee in the Scottish Parliament. I succeeded Clare Adamson MSP in that role, and I pay tribute to her work as convener and to the work of the committee. I know that there have been a number of changes in recent weeks.
Yesterday, our committee visited Dundee. We visited, and had important meetings with, the DWP’s Jobcentre Plus and Scotland’s new social security agency. However, our most important visits were our meetings with those who have lived experience of the benefits system and with volunteers who offer support to them. Some of the stories that we heard, which set out the way in which the UK benefits system handles claims, were quite disturbing. Unfortunately, they served only to cement many of the experiences that I have heard about through my constituency casework with those who need to interact with the UK social security system and with universal credit, in particular.
I want to highlight a few of the issues with the UK system and contrast those with what we are seeking to do here in Scotland. At the heart of the debate is how we can get the Scottish system right at the first time of asking. We can get it right by listening to those who have lived experience of the social security system and by having them, where possible, co-producing that system.
I do not believe that anyone with lived experience of the UK system and the roll-out of universal credit would support a system that forces claimants to wait at least five weeks—as is the case under universal credit—to get recourse to public funds and instead to be reliant on DWP loans. That is causing real hardship, pain and indebtedness.
No one with lived experience would require a family to have to reapply for the housing element of universal credit to go directly to their landlord, simply because they moved house. That has caused my constituents’ rent arrears to accrue, and it has threatened tenancies.
No one with lived experience would put at risk the child tax credits to working families under universal credit by putting conditionality on workers—that being code for possible sanctions—if a member of that family cannot secure a wage rise, a different job or an increase in their hours of work. That is what might happen when Jobcentre Plus moves away from what is currently being called a light-touch system.
I do not believe that those things—and many others—would have happened had the lived experience of those who interact with the UK system been truly listened to when the new UK system was being designed. We are now trying to retrofit and fix some of those weaknesses. I hope to do that constructively with our partners in the UK Government and with everybody else, because we need to fix those weaknesses.
By developing Scotland’s social security system with that lived experience, we are doing all that we can to build in the key principles of fairness, dignity and respect. Crucially, by looking to co-design the Scottish system in partnership with those with lived experience of the social security system, we hope to avoid the issues that have beset the UK system. It is in that context that I warmly welcome the progress that has been made so far in developing the social security charter in conjunction with experience panels.
The Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018 rightly requires that the first group of people to be consulted on preparing the charter are those with a physical or mental condition who have experience of the benefits that are being devolved. I very much welcome the format of the consultation, which is taking a layered approach that includes a core group of volunteers for in-depth work; individual sessions with people or groups who do not wish to, or are unable to, be part of the core group; and a survey of the 2,400 people who are registered with the social security experience panels and who have a wealth of experience. Such a layered and nuanced approach is the right way to progress the charter.
I also welcome the firm commitment in the social security charter, and in the system itself, to entrench a human rights-based approach to treating claimants and clients, in which people have a right to financial support in times of need rather than being seen as receiving a handout. I believe that if we get the charter right, terminology such as “handout” will be consigned to the dustbin of history for good, because that is the right thing to do.
The social security charter is vital as it will draw together what we as a society wish our social security system to deliver for clients, staff and society. Due to time constraints, I will not say as much about that as I would like to, but I will highlight a section of the recent update document from the Scottish Government; it refers to the context of culture in preparing the charter, which is incredibly important in designing the system.
When our committee visited the new social security agency, I heard some strong reassurances. We met the chief executive, David Wallace, and a number of other staff, who are all trying to embed that positive attitude in their organisation, including through recruitment. They currently have about 90 staff, which will go up to 750 staff. In the sifting process for interviews, anyone who did not make the initial cut was given detailed feedback on why that was the case, and offered support if they wished to reapply when other jobs came on stream. Those who tried to apply for a job online but did not complete the form were identified and written to. The agency said, “We notice that you showed an interest in applying for these jobs but you did not complete the form—was there a barrier there that we can work with you to address?” Culture is everything.
I will highlight a final part of the culture that the new social security agency is trying to put in place. We saw a series of post-it notes on the wall that related to the new carer supplement that the agency is now delivering. They were really positive—I will read out two of them. One person told an adviser, “Ya dancer!” when they found out that they had a supplement; a second person said, “Whoopee-do!” We will not always get it right, but we are getting it right at the start of the process by listening to the people who have lived experience of the social security system.
There have been some positive contributions from members on all sides of the chamber and some good discussions about the feedback from the first steps of the co-design process. However, I would like to reflect not simply on the intentions of the charter, but on what can be done to make it useful.
The Scottish Government noted last year that a charter was a popular idea; the same was true of the citizen’s charter initiative that John Major introduced back in the early 1990s. However, the risk with such documents is that they can potentially slip simply into the aspirational and that they bear little relation to the services that are actually being delivered. In its September 2017 position paper, the Government noted that one of the main proposed areas in which a charter could have value is in translating
“the core principles from high level statements into commitments to deliver specific, measurable outcomes, establishing a strong link between the principles and the way that the system actually performs.”
Ministers will not find a great deal of dispute there, but we are left with a considerable number of commitments and expectations that ministers have crafted. It would be very useful to know both the detail of how they will be measured and the Scottish Government’s approach.
I will give an example. The Cabinet Secretary for Social Security and Older People, in her statement and in answer to questions last week, pledged action on geographical inequalities; the outcome of assessments; reducing assessment waiting periods; reducing the appeals case load; and reducing staff turnover among assessors. She also pledged a presumably significant reduction in face-to-face assessments.
However, as the Parliament will expect those promises to be matched with action, the action must equally be met with measurable, quantitative data. I refer to the policy paper that the Scottish Government published last year. It said:
“The Scottish Government has noted the concern that it may be difficult to demonstrate progress against relatively subjective concepts such as ‘dignity’ and ‘respect’. The Scottish Government is therefore thinking carefully about how it might employ techniques of a more qualitative nature such as survey data, feedback from individuals, focus groups or an on-going role for Experience Panels.”
The Scottish Government’s approach to that will be all-important—I have previously touched on that. I hope that, with high political expectations, ministers will avoid the temptation to fudge the measures of their performance. If they intend to carry the Scottish Parliament with their proposals, that must be matched with a candid assessment of the execution of their new powers and where they have fallen short of expectations.
In the cabinet secretary’s statement last week, she mentioned the regular independent reviews that have taken place at the UK level of PIP assessment programmes. Although she characterised that as simply “tinkering around the edges” by the DWP, both the PIP and the employment and support allowance independent assessments have been a valuable tool for improvement. With that in mind, I would be interested to know what analysis ministers have done of those independent assessments and how the lessons from that process could be reflected in measuring objectives against the standards that are to be included in the charter. Will they subject themselves to the same level of scrutiny that the DWP has in the past?
As my party’s spokesman on jobs and employability, I want to reflect on a particular element that should be central to a number of the principles that are set out in the Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018: the ability to transition people who are out of work into meaningful employment and to overcome the barriers that they face. A key power to influence that is the devolution of the employability services. Again, measurable data will be important, as will lessons from different providers in different parts of the country, in creating a transparent process by which they can share best practice.
Perhaps there is a contradiction between the cabinet secretary’s language last week against outsourced providers for having assessments that are driven by profit alone and the use of such providers to support people into work. I gently suggest that those organisations are either valued partners or they are not, and that the message that is sent by the words that we use in the chamber should be considered.
The objectives of dignity and fairness in the social security system certainly extend to providing a service to individual claimants and value to the taxpayer. Both points are enshrined in the Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018. One element of fairness is the consistency of approach. The cabinet secretary has criticised the “rigid inflexibility” in assessment procedures. However, basing entitlement on consistent and objective criteria is critical to ensuring that any system is fair. Personalised assessment and objective assessment are not contradictory.
I refer to the issue of geographical inequality. I am a representative of the Highlands and Islands region, which contains many of Scotland’s remote, rural and island communities. There are a number of challenges for a social security system in operating as effectively in those areas as it does elsewhere, and in ensuring that it takes into account the needs of individuals in those areas.
The cabinet secretary said:
“No matter where people live, Scotland’s social security system must deliver and must give people access to the same quality of service.—[
, 26 September 2018; c 42.]
I would like that to be included in the social security charter and the Scottish Government to consider how the charter will be impacted by the principles of the Islands (Scotland) Act 2018. It will also be important that information is available at a suitably localised level for us to see where inequity of access or outcomes exists and for action to be taken to address that.
There is still a considerable body of work to be taken forward in those areas. However, I welcome the work on the co-design of the charter as well as the wider work that is being taken forward by ministers and the Scottish Parliament’s Social Security Committee.
I cannot overstate the importance of getting it right in this transitional period and laying the foundations for a system of support that works for everyone.
I think that most of us in the chamber were here when the Rev Ian MacDonald spoke to us about vision. On a very reflective afternoon, I have reflected on how vision has affected our debate. That word sums up where we are now with the
Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018 and how we are taking forward provisions in it. It was visionary of the Government to approach the Social Security (Scotland) Bill in the way that it did, and it was visionary of the Social Security Committee to conduct the deliberations and the scrutiny of the bill in the way that it did. It was a privilege for me to convene that committee following Sandra White’s groundwork.
I thank all the committee members and others for their contributions to improving a bill that, I think, all of us are rightly proud of, and that applies most of all to the minister, Jeane Freeman. On the day that we passed the bill, it was evident across the chamber that we had done something different in our approach to the new security system for Scotland. However, on that day, none of us thought that the job was complete and we knew that the majority of the work related to the legislation was still to be done. The cabinet secretary mentioned trust in her speech. To my mind, the measurement of success is whether our citizens’ trust is restored in a social security system in Scotland.
Much has been said about the experience panels, which played an important part in the development of the bill. They provided opportunities to gather information and were very successful in informing the committee and the Government about the process. I was delighted to hear from the cabinet secretary that the Government is surveying the findings of the experience panels as the charter is developed, to ensure that it is a genuine co-production.
The Government’s vision for a social security charter is unique. As has been mentioned, it is thanks to the work of Pauline McNeill that the charter will be scrutinised by Parliament. That will ensure that the principles and the rights of our citizens are respected and that we get it right in Scotland.
Much has been said about the human rights-based approach, which is so important for the system. I think that the cabinet secretary said that it was unparalleled to have a human rights-based approach in a piece of legislation and in a social security system. That reflects the Government’s vision for the future. Indeed, the programme for government includes plans for
“enshrining children’s rights by incorporating the principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child into law”.
That vision for the society that we want and how we want Scotland to view human rights for our adult and child populations is very important and speaks to the vision of what we have before us.
A human rights-based approach is also about empowering our citizens. That is important, because we hear so many stories of people who feel disengaged from society and the process that they have had to go through in the current DWP programme. Empowering our citizens to be active in the decisions that affect them, active in creating laws and active in influencing something that will play a part in their lives is hugely important.
A lot has been said about lived experience. There is an old proverb that says that a person does not really understand someone until they have walked a mile in their shoes. Like many members here, I have been humbled to realise, through my constituency experience, that I have barely walked a step in the shoes of the people who have come to me at the most difficult time in their lives, when they have faced problems because of sanctions, PIP assessments, or the stress of navigating the system or having to take loans from the DWP or from the local authority just to get by and be able to sustain and feed their families. That lived experience, although we might not have it ourselves, has been vital for us to understand the pressures that people are under.
I am truly hopeful that the principles on which we all agree—dignity and respect have been spoken about—will be included in the new system and reflected in the charter to ensure the rights of our citizens.
Mr Halcro Johnston talked a lot about quantitative information and how important that is. That is all very well, but we have to listen when things go wrong. At the moment, 50 per cent of appeals are successful. To my mind, that is a broken system. It is all very well having the statistics and the information to back things up, but we have to listen when we are being shown and told that things are not going well for our citizens.
Like other members, I am proud to have been part of the process of co-designing Scotland’s new social security system, which is a powerful feature of our devolved settlement and I think will change the lives of many people.
We all played a part—Scottish Government officials; the Social Security Committee, convened by Sandra White and then by Clare Adamson, who played a key role; and many third sector organisations, of which I will mention just a few: Child Poverty Action Group, Scottish Association for Mental Health, Justice Scotland, Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland, Marie Curie and Engender.
We are in a reasonably good place. As Bob Doris, the current Social Security Committee convener, said, our visit to Dundee yesterday was a historic occasion, because we witnessed the beginnings of our new social security agency. It is good for the cities of Dundee and Glasgow and the local authorities around them that the agency will bring hundreds of jobs and a new way of working.
It is a human right to have an approach to social security that is based on dignity and respect. The charter will be meaningful, because it will be subject to regulations that will have parliamentary scrutiny and approval. Most important, it will be publicly available, so that people will be able to see—set out, I hope, in plain English—their rights and how they can enforce them.
Citizens Advice Scotland said that the charter’s purpose is
“to empower those using it to challenge substandard service and seek redress”.
That is certainly a core principle for me.
The charter will set out what people are entitled to expect from Scotland’s social security system. Ministers will be required to ensure that independent advice is given, and the charter may be taken into account for the purpose of court proceedings, as a result of an amendment to the Social Security (Scotland) Bill that was lodged by Adam Tomkins, who was a member of the Social Security Committee at the time. That is an important legal point.
There is unfinished business, as I think that all members agree. For the record, and for the benefit of the new minister, I want to mention a couple of issues that I have been pursuing and on which I think more work needs to be done, in the context of the Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018.
Section 53, “Duty to inform about possible eligibility”, provides that an individual must be informed about potential eligibility for other benefits
“if, in the course of their making a determination of an individual’s entitlement to assistance, it appears to the Scottish Ministers that the individual may be eligible for other assistance.”
That provision should be made clear in the charter, because it is an important principle. It does not confer automatic entitlement but it places a duty on the Scottish ministers to ensure that they maximise opportunities for people to get the benefits to which they are entitled.
SAMH wants the charter to contain a commitment on the promotion of wellbeing. That is a critical principle of our social security system, and I support SAMH’s call.
Age Scotland wants to ensure that the charter is dementia friendly, through consultation with carers and families. I know that such consultation is under way. Age Scotland also says that the system should not be digital by default. We heard yesterday in Dundee that it will not be. That is an important and progressive point, on which the Government has made a commitment.
It is fair to say that, as a result of the work that has been done by all the people who have been mentioned, Scotland’s social security system looks vastly different from that of the UK. I am very happy about that.
CPAG, among others, has expressed concern about the redetermination process and the appeal system. There is evidence that, in the current system, a high proportion of people drop their claims and do not appeal unfavourable decisions. A series of Government amendments to the Social Security (Scotland) Bill, including one that provided that after a determination the paperwork would go directly to the First-tier Tribunal, made important steps in the right direction. The Government rejected amendments that I lodged, but in doing so it agreed to my request that it monitor the drop-out rate from appeals, to ensure that people are not dropping out because of the complexity of the system or a lack of advocacy.
I consistently called for the Government to ensure that there is training for the judiciary in our new social security system. I think that there should be new appointments to the tribunal system, to mark its importance. If we are changing the culture of our social security system and expecting decision making to change accordingly, the judiciary is the missing link; we need a judiciary that has come on the journey with us, because those people will make key decisions.
I remain concerned about the structure of the offences and investigations. My amendments were unsuccessful, but I will lay out my concern, which was that a person would have to know about the requirement to notify about a change in circumstances or pass on vital information in relation to a claim. I was concerned that that was too widely drawn, and the Government amended the bill to provide a defence of having a “reasonable excuse”. I ask the minister to pay particular attention to that. It may be a few years hence, but we need to ensure that that provision in sections 71 to 73 does not catch out people who innocently do not provide information.
We have a statutory framework in place that appears to strike the right balance between a robust and efficient system and one that applies dignity and respect to those who rely on it. I think that it was Jeremy Balfour who made an important point about the regulations. It will be the role of the Parliament and the Social Security Committee to ensure that all of those principles are enshrined in the detail of the regulations. I fully appreciate that a great deal of work has gone into getting us to this stage. It is a big moment for the country and a big moment for the Parliament.
I pay tribute to all those who have got us to this stage in the journey to build a dignified social security system in Scotland, including the work on the charter. I feel a bit late to the party, so it was great to have the Social Security Committee in Dundee yesterday, taking evidence—in particular from those with lived experience of the existing welfare system and its failings.
Like many members, I have met constituents who have been left destitute and in vulnerable situations, with families on the breadline and relying on food banks. For part of our visit yesterday, we went to two of Dundee’s food banks, which shared with us the very difficult circumstances that many people are in; they also told us what a lifeline service they provide to those people.
Just last week, two constituents came to see me because universal credit had left them without a penny and, for the first time in their lives, in rent arrears, with all the implications of that. Despite trying to explain their current situation to the DWP and the potential risk of eviction, they were met by a cold blank wall of refusal.
Those are not isolated incidents by any means. Another constituent’s child was ill, which resulted in my constituent missing their appointment at the jobcentre. They could not phone to cancel as they did not have enough money to put credit on their phone. The following day, they walked to the jobcentre to explain the situation, but there is no discretion, so they were sanctioned. That family of two was left without money for two weeks. Members across the chamber will recognise that type of story.
Yesterday, I met Ewan Gurr, whom many members will know—members have probably had lots of dealings with him. Ewan was a Trussell Trust manager not too long ago and established its Dundee food bank. He has witnessed first hand the reality of the UK Government’s policy decisions on welfare. He gave me some quite staggering statistics. In 2012-13, the Trussell Trust received 14,318 referrals. One year later, the number rose to a shocking 71,421—an increase of 499 per cent. We have to ask ourselves how, in the 21st century, in a developed country with the fifth largest economy, we can think that that is acceptable.
We heard from the food banks yesterday about how vital their service is. Importantly, we also heard that what they want in the new social security agency in Scotland is a very different ethos. I am relieved that the Scottish Government is now taking control of some aspects of our social security system. I wish it was all aspects, but it is a start. The charter, as it develops, will help to enshrine the ethos of dignity and respect.
My constituents and people in the rest of Scotland will have access to a compassionate and person-centred system through the agency. People will be treated as people and not as just another number, and they will be treated fairly, with the dignity and respect that they deserve. We will have a fair system that people can rely on and trust. The Scottish Government—and the Parliament, given that there has been a lot of cross-party co-operation—should be commended for its hard work.
When the then Minister for Social Security, Jeane Freeman, came to my Dundee City East constituency last year, she visited the Brooksbank Centre & Services, which is a charitable organisation that offers advice on money and debt to people in the city. She met there a group of people who were given the opportunity to share their experiences with her directly.
That event and similar ones across Scotland have allowed the Scottish Government to develop a bottom-up approach to the new system and have set the tone for its creation. People feel involved in the system’s creation; they know that that is not a cosmetic exercise and that they are being listened to. Organisations such as Brooksbank feel that they have influenced the shape of the system and how it will work for our communities.
The manager at Brooksbank, Ginny, met the Social Security Committee last night. She has said that the feeling there and at similar projects throughout Dundee is that the Scottish Government is coming into already established partnership networks and becoming part of the sector, not part of the problem. She has told me that her project has been given concise and well-organised information by our new agency and that her organisation will no longer have to worry about chasing payments that people are entitled to, which will enable her advisers to focus on other issues that are caused by the complexity of the UK benefits system.
Not all parts of the new agency are operational yet—we saw an expansion in the job numbers yesterday—but having a system that is operated locally means that projects such as Brooksbank can build relationships with staff and resolve issues much sooner. That partnership work is key to the ethos and culture of the new social security system and is key to getting it right. If we get things right now, we can lead the way in the future and have a flagship social security system that is looked on as one of the best in the world.
The new agency, with its charter, is off to a good start. Yesterday, we saw feedback from people who have received the carers allowance supplement. A post-it that I saw on a wall called that a “Brucie bonus”, which sums it up.
By 2021, Scotland will be responsible for making more social security payments in a week than we currently do in a year. That is a massive undertaking, which the former Minister for Social Security called
“the biggest shift of powers” to Scotland
“in over a decade”.
That will be no small feat and will require a great deal of preparation.
The devolution of social security powers is undoubtedly complex, given the intertwining of UK-wide benefits with any devolved deviations. As the charter enters its early stages of preparation, there is a lot to welcome, but the briefing papers that MSPs have been sent in advance of the debate suggest that there are still areas to consider, which I hope that the cabinet secretary is open to hearing about.
The debate is entitled “Building a Social Security System Together”. Much has been said about the 300-page Beveridge report of 1942. Only 70,000 copies were to be printed, but it was such an interesting piece of work that no one had done before, and such was the interest in welfare, that 600,000 copies ended up being printed.
I will quote an interesting recommendation from the report. It said that social security policies
“must be achieved by co-operation between the state and the individual”.
The state should secure the service and contributions, but it
“should not stifle incentive, opportunity, responsibility ... it should leave room and encouragement for voluntary action by each individual to provide more than that minimum for himself and his family.”
It talks about co-operation between the state and the individual, which was true then and is still true today.
Building the system together could not be a more apt way to describe how to approach the task in Scotland. The state and those whom it seeks to help must work together, if the contract between the two is to work.
When our welfare system was created, the world was different. Society is much changed since the days of Beveridge. Academia has consistently been there in the background to remind us of the statistics that show that women, ethnic minorities and people with disabilities are represented differently when it comes to employment and welfare outcomes. Across BME groups, employment levels are much lower than the national average. Currently, 77 per cent of Caucasians are employed, whereas only 55 per cent of Pakistanis and Bangladeshis are. Scotland’s social security charter needs to ensure that it serves all ethnicities in Scotland.
The core group that was set up by the Scottish Government includes a diverse range of stakeholders, which I welcome. People with mental and physical disabilities are represented, as well as the LGBT community. However, there are more than 200,000 people in Scotland who are from a BME background, and I hope that adequate space was given to them.
I welcome the creation of the social security experience panels, which were set up to gain the insight of more than 2,400 people who have had experience of the social security system. Anecdotal experience from the ground can and should help to shape welfare policy. Any member who deals with welfare-related casework in their day-to-day role will have had first-hand experience of some of the system’s problems and, by default, we often deal with problems, difficulties and failings in the system, as Jeremy Balfour said. However, experiences of the system are not always negative. I have met some excellent members of staff, who have been very helpful and sympathetic to my constituents.
It seems practical to get honest and realistic feedback from those who use the service. That is the most direct way to learn whether the decisions that we or ministers make are working on the ground. We should be open to evolution.
It is also important that, at a basic level, the system is accessible to all, so I welcome the decisions that have been made for the charter to be straightforward and to use common-sense language, rather than hiding behind bureaucracy and using jargon, buzzwords or the niceties that are often in such charters.
We should listen to stakeholders such as Age Scotland, which highlighted that not everyone in Scotland is digitally literate and that we should make sure that copies of the charter are available in communities through local authorities.
The Government’s position paper outlines that the charter should provide for strong scrutiny and accountability, which I welcome. A report by the disability and carers benefits expert advisory group that was published at the end of 2017 gave some suggestions for what that scrutiny might look like. It highlighted the importance of having an external body to ensure the independence of scrutiny. Given that position and the wealth of evidence in favour of it, I support the prospect of an independent body. The Scottish commission on social security should be afforded the independence that it needs.
I reiterate the comments that Jeremy Balfour made at the beginning of the debate. Many organisations have customer charters that sit proudly on the walls of their offices and are given out to people in nice leaflets. However, the charter should be more than that; it should be an ethos.
The cabinet secretary opened today’s debate by praising the consensual way in which Scotland’s social security system was introduced and agreed to. Although there will be political differences that set distance between us as parties, I hope that there is an earnest and genuine will to make a success of the new agency and the people for whom it seeks to provide.
Dignity, fairness and respect are important principles. We have used those words a lot and should make no apology for it. Keeping those important principles central to everything that we do is essential in order that we avoid the mistakes of the previous system which, despite the experience of a lucky—or, some might say, privileged—few, has caused harm, stress and worse to countless vulnerable individuals, and was described by the United Nations as
“a grave and systematic violation of human rights”
for people with disabilities.
I make it clear that even if only one person had suffered the indignity that has been described by scores of people to the Social Security Committee, and by scores of folk who come to our constituency offices, that would not be good enough and the system would have to end. Dignity, fairness and respect are important, so it is important to acknowledge the progress that has been made through the work of the experience panels and others to develop Scotland’s social security charter.
The historic Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018 established the first UK social security system that is based on the principle that social security is a human right. At the time, it was heartening to note the unequivocal support from across Parliament, and from external stakeholders alike, for the broad principles and aims that underpin the act and the creation of our Scottish social security agency. By working in partnership with the people of Scotland and by listening to, valuing and acting on the expertise and experience of people who use the benefits system, our Scottish National Party Government is demonstrating a commitment to turning those principles into reality.
The charter is intended to turn the principles into more focused aims, so that they are open to being monitored and reported on. Of course, Governments need to be held to account, no matter how good their track record is. A publicly accessible charter that communicates in clear terms what people are entitled to expect from our social security system will help to do that.
Social security is an investment in our people and our country. It is a public service. The charter explains in clear terms what the new system will do to give practical effect to the principles. By working in partnership with the people of Scotland, we will build trust and create a binding contract between the system and the people who use it. To do that, it is crucial that the commitment to co-design be realised.
I echo the assertion of Inclusion Scotland in its briefing that co-design has to be about a partnership of equals, with professionals and service users working together in an equal and reciprocal arrangement. For disabled people to bring their important lived experience, including experience of the current benefits system, to the discussion, we have to ensure that the right support is in place and that any barriers that would prevent their participating on an equal basis with others are removed, including barriers of disparity of power. We know from experience that the involvement of disabled people’s organisations helps effective participation. A recent general comment from the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities stressed the importance of state parties giving particular importance to disabled people’s organisations:
“Organisations of persons with disabilities should be distinguished from organisations ‘for’ persons with disabilities, which provide services and/or advocate on behalf of persons with disabilities, which, in practice, may result in a conflict of interests in which such organisations prioritize their purpose as private entities over the rights of persons with disabilities. States parties should give particular importance to the views of persons with disabilities, through their representative organisations, support the capacity and empowerment of such organisations and ensure that priority is given to ascertaining their views in decision-making processes.”
I welcome the cabinet secretary’s comments regarding further work around targeted groups to increase diversity. However, another issue that was raised by Inclusion Scotland was whether the core group is sufficiently representative of different types of impairment—in particular, learning disabled people or people with other cognitive impairments, such as autism, to ensure that the charter reflects their needs. I recognise that with a small group of about 30 there will be challenges around publishing details of particular protected characteristics. However, I would welcome comment and reassurance from the cabinet secretary on that in her summing up.
It is clear that the Scottish Government is going way beyond warm words when putting dignity, respect and fairness at the heart of our new social security system. Having included provision for the charter in the 2018 act, the commitment to a rights-based approach is clear. The charter will give practical effect to important social security principles, and evidences the fact that the SNP Government will treat people with dignity and respect by putting principles into action to make lives better. I thank all those who are involved in this very important work.
The progress that is being made with the introduction of the new social security powers in Scotland has been commendable, and I consider the inclusive approach to the design of the social security system to be groundbreaking.
For those who have not experienced what it is like to access support through the social security system, the film “I, Daniel Blake” is surely an eye-opener. It is a clear demonstration of why the people who use the system need to be at the heart of designing a new system, and to be able to feed back on how that system is working in practice. Developing the social security charter is the next step in that groundbreaking process; it is therefore important that the approach of inclusiveness and engagement continues.
By taking the welcome principles that sit behind the Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018 and the social security system in Scotland and setting them out in the social security charter, we will empower the users of the system, the staff who deliver it on a daily basis and the organisations that support people who need support.
The Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018 gives the following formal functions to the charter. It requires ministers to ensure that independent advice is available on the charter’s content as part of advice on social security issues. The act enables the charter to be taken into account by the courts and tribunals on relevant matters, and requires ministers to report annually on what they have done to meet the expectations that the charter sets out. The act also requires the Scottish commission on social security to report on how the charter is being fulfilled and to make recommendations for improvements.
Citizens Advice Scotland states:
“It is of utmost importance that the Charter is ensuring that it is “not just words”. The Charter must strengthen the guiding principles by embedding them into the system in a practical sense. The Charter should be used for training all staff who will come into contact with those needing support from the system” and in doing so, will support staff to deliver on the agreed principles. It goes on:
“To empower people the Charter must be clear, accessible, and well-advertised. People who do not receive the service they are entitled to should be able to use the Charter to challenge substandard service and seek redress.”
Citizens Advice Scotland is also right when it says:
“Empowering people who require support is in the best interests of the whole system. When service falls short of the necessary standard, people who know their rights can challenge this, which in turn helps to ensure that a high quality level of service delivery is maintained.”
Why is that important? It is because it is important that we always make it clear that social security is an investment in the people, the communities and the wider economy of Scotland.
The principle that the social security system is to contribute to reducing poverty in Scotland is one that I am sure all of Scotland supports. However, that will depend on the ability and willingness of the Government of the day to raise the finances and commit the resources.
One of the most alarming developments of modern-day Scotland is the rise in the level of child poverty. Almost two in five children in Scotland will face the prospect of being in poverty by the end of the next decade. That represents an almost 50 per cent rise from today in the number of child poor, and the figure will have almost doubled since 2010. By the end of the 2020s, 400,000 children will be in poverty. That figure is far higher than it was even during the Thatcher and Major years, when child poverty rocketed.
As the Institute of Public Policy Research recently said,
“the scale of the financial challenge of reducing child poverty will likely need concerted action, for many years” requiring
“a combination of increased earnings for the poorest households (through inclusive growth), and increases in social security payments”.
The figures are shocking and alarming, but they were confirmed in the Joseph Rowntree Foundation report on Scotland that was published today, which highlights a scale of poverty that should make us sad and angry. Today, more than half the children—56 per cent—in out-of-work families are in poverty, and that figure will exceed 90 per cent by the late 2020s. As the report says, the escalating poverty crisis is driven by the substantial cuts to social security benefits and tax credits and the introduction of universal credit, which will be rolled out by 2023.
Although I accept that we cannot mitigate all the ills of the Tory welfare policies and failed Tory austerity, I suggest that tackling the growing levels of child poverty will be essential to achieving the principles that sit behind the Scottish social security system.
As members know, many constituents facing sometimes dire situations come to their MSPs for help with benefits issues.
They do so, and will continue to do so, regardless of whether the benefit in question is devolved or not.
With devolution of a number of benefits to the Scottish Parliament, however, it can be said that in at least in one limited respect the actual powers of Holyrood have caught up with the expectations that our constituents rightly have of Parliament.
I want to say something about how the benefits that are now devolved to us should operate, on which I hope that there might be greater than usual consensus, at least on some things. We should consider—as is being considered—what principles we are starting from and what lessons we can learn from the social security system as it has operated until now.
The principles are a good point to start from. They are born not merely of consultation of service users but, as others have mentioned, of genuine co-design. The principles are endorsed unanimously by Parliament and are set out in the 2018 act. Now we have a rare opportunity to try to get it right, at least for the 15 per cent or so of the social security system that is being devolved to Scotland’s control. That means translating the principles into a social security charter.
It is important to say that the charter is more than merely a general statement of good will. Not only will the Scottish Government and its agencies be measured against the charter, but organisations that believe that the system is failing will be able to use the charter to make that point.
The idea of social security as a rights-based system, founded in ideas of human dignity, is radical. Indeed, it is arguably a radical departure from the ideas of social security that have gone before, which come from a system that is historically derived ultimately from ideas such as “the deserving poor” and “the undeserving poor”. Writing a charter provides an opportunity for something better—something that is more clearly founded on ideas of human dignity and equality.
I want to mention one group that is of particular importance in my part of Scotland—namely, people who benefit from cold-weather payments. At least five or six of our starting principles could be invoked as reasons for raising the issue. I have raised the issue of cold-weather payments with the UK Government on numerous occasions in the past. Like other members from the west of Scotland, I recognise that the current threshold for cold-weather payments is very high—or, if we think of it strictly in temperature terms, it is very low. The temperature in an area has to fall below freezing for seven nights in a row before the payments are triggered. On the west coast of Scotland, that is something of a rarity, but areas like mine have some of the worst levels of fuel poverty in Europe.
There are many explanations for that to do with housing types and so on, and much work is being done by the Scottish Government to address the problems. However, another factor is wind chill. The weather that hits the west coast in the winter might not be literally freezing, but it certainly feels like it. I again make the argument that wind chill be taken into account when payments are calculated, and suggest that we all consider that argument seriously as we think about the principles for our new system. As many members have pointed out, we have to build a new social security system that is based on people’s lived experience of the existing one.
By 2021, there will have been an estimated £3.7 billion fall in payments in Scotland in the benefits that are administered at UK level. That is a huge slice out of the incomes of hundreds of thousands of Scots that no amount of mitigation by the Scottish Parliament can possibly make up for. As members will have seen from evidence that has been provided by Engender and other organisations, between 2010 and 2020, 86 per cent of those savings will come from women’s incomes. Those are huge issues for us to think about in considering how the devolved benefits relate to the benefits that still operate across the UK.
That may all be a debate for another day but, as MSPs, we will continue to get inquiries about both devolved and reserved benefits. I hope that our charter will ensure that the system in Scotland is at least accountable and listening, and that it is founded on meaningful guiding principles that, I hope, are shared across the chamber.
I am delighted to take part in this debate on Scotland’s social security charter. With 30 per cent of working-age benefits being devolved to Holyrood, along with powers to top up existing benefits and to create new ones, we have an exciting opportunity, which many members have talked about. We also have the important responsibility of considering how we deal with a distinctive welfare system in Scotland and the options for securing the best approach for the people of Scotland.
The inclusion of the social security charter in the Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018 is welcome. As well as setting out what is expected of the Scottish ministers in forming their social security policy, the charter will be developed in consultation with the people who rely on social security daily. The key people who actually receive the service must be part of the process. The approach of engaging with a broad range of people in designing the new welfare system is the right one.
Although the core group is drawn from the wider experience panels and includes individuals who are in receipt of a range of benefits, as well as people of different genders and from different locations, I was a bit surprised before the debate to find that there was a lack of young people or those from ethnic minorities. I am therefore delighted that the cabinet secretary has taken that into account, because it is right that we widen the net to include as many people as we can in the process.
It is important to find out about the social security support mechanism. Notwithstanding some of the concerns, the recommendations of the core group seem to be sensible, reasonable and appropriate. People who will deal with the system daily want it to treat clients fairly and with respect and they want staff to be appropriate, kind and understanding. They want a system that is clear, simple and easy to navigate. Those must be the priorities, and I am glad that many of them are being followed. I am sure that we will get support from not just across the chamber but outside it if we are prepared to take that seriously and tackle it head on, and I think that the process of producing the social security charter is doing exactly that.
However, we need to bear in mind that, no matter how strong Scotland’s social security charter may be, its success will depend on how well it is implemented and what it does to ensure that people get that respect. Individuals’ views must be taken into account to ensure that the system is proper and that appropriate management systems are in place.
There are real issues with implementation. Earlier this year, Audit Scotland reported that the Scottish Government may have underestimated some of the impact of the implementation of the Scottish welfare system. That problem has been identified, and it needs to be solved. I am sure that the Scottish Government will take that on board. Moreover, the new body will require many staff. The Scottish Government has already transferred a number of individuals to the project to ensure that staff are in place, but Audit Scotland has highlighted concerns about whether the necessary staff numbers can be recruited in time to ensure that everything is devolved. That needs to be looked at to ensure that we achieve the goals that we have set ourselves. We want this to work effectively for everybody. Audit Scotland has a role to play in advising us and coming up with some possibilities about issues that could cause us concern in the future.
Of course, we have heard mention of a new information technology system perhaps being required. We already know that the Scottish Government has a difficult track record on IT systems—we need only consider those relating to Police Scotland, farm payments and the national health service. I will simply leave that comment there. We need to ensure that things are fit for purpose. I am sure that that will be addressed as we go forward, because that is vital.
Some positive progress is being made. I commend and congratulate everyone on what has been done. The work of those who have sat on the panels and taken part in the core group will ensure that the charter will be a success. I have no doubt that it will be a success, but the culture of that success must work for all. We must keep in mind the difficulties of setting up a new system, and we must also keep in mind that that system must work for all.
The Scottish Conservatives are supportive of what is taking place, but we will hold the Government to account if things do not work.
I am fully aware of what my colleagues in Westminster are trying to achieve. However, you make a valid comment. We can all work to try to achieve that. As I said, however, my colleagues in Westminster are taking that on board.
I pay tribute to all who have worked on the committee and the panels. We all want this system to work for individuals who require support. The legislation that we introduced in this Parliament was pioneering, as it should be. I support it and I support everything that has been said today.
As colleagues have done, I welcome this debate, which comes on the back of a lot of work on the part of all the members of the Social Security Committee. I particularly liked the fact that Pauline McNeill talked about all of us on the committee being co-producers of the social security system. Of course, my natural humility would prevent me from making that comment, but Pauline McNeill is 100 per cent right: the Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018 was the creation of all of us in this place and of those outside this place who contributed through the experience panels.
The social security charter goes beyond warm words, beyond listening to people for the sake of it and beyond the usual Government practice of implementing top-down ideas. This is a social security system that was created in conjunction with those who use it. The social security charter creates a binding contract between the system and the people of Scotland. This is not a framed document that will gather dust on the wall of the office of Social Security Scotland; it is a working, living document that builds the very foundations of our social security system. It sets out what people in Scotland can expect and are entitled to from our new system.
The 2018 act requires the development of a charter that reflects the eight social security principles that are set out in section 1 of the act. During the progression of the bill, ministers committed to producing the charter, working with people with experience of the social security system. The charter is intended to turn the principles into more focused aims, so that they are open to monitoring, reporting and scrutiny. More importantly, the Scottish Government has not only listened to but acted on the wishes of those with lived experience. The very naming of the charter was taken forward through the discussions of the core group, whose clear preference was for it to be called the Scottish social security charter.
The format of the charter had to be accessible, and it had to do what it set out to do. If there is one thing that I have learned during my time in local government and the Scottish Parliament, it is that, whether we are talking about the civil service or council officers, they all like to write long reports and papers. However, the charter is much more important than those documents. It has to be long, but it has to be short enough for people to understand. It has to be able to be grasped by individuals so that they know exactly what their rights are. All those things were brought up by the core group and show us, once again, how valuable the group’s input was.
The principles of the charter are important. As politicians, we love principles. Some of us have them and value them; we can only hope that others will catch up with us some day. The report’s overall finding was that while, for the core group, the separate principles had important aspects and meanings, there was also a significant overlap. The group came up with a list of 45 statements that explain what the principles mean in practice. The statements can be grouped into five themes, which are an important part of the debate. Number one was about clients. For the people who are involved, dignity should not be expressed just by words; first and foremost, clients should be the most important in the whole process. Number two is about staff behaviour and ensuring that those who deliver such services do so in a way that is helpful to those who claim. Number three is about ensuring that processes are open, transparent and not a hindrance during people’s time of need. Number four is about the social security system itself, and number five states that the wider culture of social security in Scotland should be positive.
For me, the most important aspect is the process of consultation and co-design that will help to build trust in the Scottish social security system. Recently, there has not been a lot of trust in the benefits system, given the UK Government’s so-called reforms. Building the system has been an important part of the exercise, and it is only right that people should feel trust between the system and themselves when they go through the process. The Equality and Human Rights Commission noted that the co-production model could help to develop positive working relationships between claimants and front-line staff. That is an important part of the debate, too.
The Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018 sets out eight principles for Scottish social security. Although they are all valid, one of my particular favourites is that Scottish social security is
“an investment in the people of Scotland”
—which is to say that, during their times of difficulty and need, we are there to support them. The others are that
“social security is itself a human right and essential to the realisation of other human rights” and that
“respect for the dignity of individuals is to be at the heart of the Scottish social security system”.
For too long, such principles have been just words and have not actually been used in other processes with the DWP. The Scottish social security system is to contribute to reducing poverty in Scotland, but it is also an important part of how we build a better future.
The Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018 is one of the largest pieces of legislation that the Scottish Parliament has produced. It affects many people in our country, and can be used as a tool to bring people and families out of poverty. However, before we can do all that, we need to state the rules and regulations. People need to understand what their rights are, but that needs to be done in a way that they can appreciate. It is my belief that the Scottish social security charter does all those things. It gives hope to our fellow Scots that our Scottish Government listens to what they say and appreciates their contributions. As I have often said in this chamber, politics is about people. If we put them first, we can and will deliver the type of Scotland in which we all want to live.
I am pleased that we have had a chance to support the progress that is being made in delivering Scotland’s new social security system.
The charter and its co-design, parliamentary approval and human rights-based approach are key to realising dignity, fairness and respect in the system, which will be a marked change from what we have now. Crucially, it will ensure that we deliver on the law that we agreed on in April. It should embed all the principles in a way that is understandable, and in plain English. The charter is a key way of realising the core principle of our social security system, which is that
“the Scottish social security system is to be designed with the people of Scotland on the basis of evidence”.
The charter is, of course, about people and their rights. To be effective, it must clearly state social security recipients’ rights, set out how to complain when things go wrong—as they will—and who to complain to.
Though my attempt to amend the Social Security (Scotland) Bill to require the charter to pay due regard to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights was not accepted by all members on the Social Security Committee, the charter should also embed another core principle, which is that
“social security is itself a human right and essential to the realisation of other human rights”.
Today, we have heard about the importance of ensuring that the charter should be rooted in the PANEL principles, which was a call that was made in the Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland briefing. Jeremy Balfour echoed Citizens Advice Scotland and my own earlier comments that other individuals or organisations with an interest should be consulted as part of the scrutiny process.
Alasdair Allan mentioned cold weather payments in his constituency. Similarly, in central Scotland we have the position whereby the weather conditions of residents in Coatbridge and Airdrie are recorded by separate weather stations in Bishopton and Salsburgh. I know that one household in the area received four cold weather payments last winter, whereas the household next door received only two. Perhaps the cabinet secretary could look at that. I welcome Dr Allan’s comments on the subject, and I hope that we can all work together on the issue.
In its briefing, the Health and Social Care Alliance suggested that the Parliament should consider extending the period for developing the charter to ensure that the process is led by
“free, meaningful, active and informed participation” rather than being
“overly driven by time constraints”.
I would welcome the cabinet secretary’s response on that. Our amendment refers to the process as “ongoing”, which echoes SAMH’s call for the charter to be considered as a live document.
As I said, Labour members would like there to be a push to recruit more members to the panels, which could encourage more hard-to-reach groups to come on board. We would also like the process to be more open. I hope that the cabinet secretary agrees, because there is room for improvement. In June, the cabinet secretary’s predecessor, Jeane Freeman, told me that almost 1,000 of the 2,400 experience panel members had failed to engage since the initial recruitment. That suggests that something has not fully worked in the programme, in which £300,000 has been invested to date.
Anecdotal comments about the short, sharp nature of the research and the timings and methods of the engagement suggest that the work could be better built around panel members. I underline the point that the panels should be designed with people as opposed to for them, or otherwise built around the needs of the Scottish Government.
Opening up the panels further and making more up-to-date information available, perhaps through Social Security Scotland’s excellent new website, could make them more accessible. Earlier notice could be given of forthcoming work, and greater detail could be provided, including more live details on the feedback from panels. That could further increase the value of and the engagement with the panels.
The recently published “Experience Panels Research Plan 2018/19” says that we should expect reports on the design of the funeral expenses assistance service, the carers allowance supplement letters and the PIP assessment process this autumn but, on all three counts, the Government has published its draft regulations, sent out the letters or—it did this last week—confirmed its position on the assessment process. There is therefore a question as to how the experience panels will feed into the work on those entitlements.
In May and June, in response to questions from Pauline McNeill and Daniel Johnson, Jeane Freeman said that mobility criteria were under active consideration, but the plan does not include that. Offering mobility to over-65s and removing the 20m rule are key priorities for Labour, and I hope that the minister can confirm that those measures are very much under consideration by the panels.
Earlier, I reminded the chamber of the effect of Tory reforms. Disabled people have lost £190 million from PIP alone, and the figures that I have uncovered show that 50,000 people have had to suffer a second PIP assessment under the revolving door of reviews.
This summer, I sought people’s views on what future social security should look like. At round tables and local meetings, I have asked disability organisations and disabled people what their priorities are, because when the time comes to consider the replacement for PIP and carers allowance, and the rules, criteria and rates of benefit that go with them, it is vital that the people of Scotland will have their chance to deliver a social security system that is founded on dignity, fairness and respect.
I hope that, at decision time, we will have consensus on today’s motion and amendments, and I echo the cabinet secretary’s statement that all of us in Parliament must and will continue to work together to deliver a social security system that works for the people.
None of us doubts the importance of getting the approach to, and the content of, the social security charter right. The proposal came from the people, and we have a duty to deliver a meaningful response to the requirement in the act.
Inevitably, much of the conversation on the development of the charter will be about the language. Therefore—unusually—I will start with a quote from the Unison briefing. Unison has made it clear that it does not like the term “customer” and has said:
“More fundamentally whether those using the system are ‘claimants’ ‘users’ or ‘customers’ and whether they are receiving ‘benefits’, ‘entitlements’, or ‘Citizens Supplements’ or whether they receive information via email text or in person; the crucial factor is how much money people are receiving ... no level of semantic sensitivity or personalised user friendly service will allow for the system to meet principles of dignity and respect.”
In creating a social security charter, we must be sensitive to the expectations that we are raising and to our ability to deliver. That concern was also noted by Alex Cole-Hamilton.
Jamie Greene and Alex Cole-Hamilton highlighted the principles on which social security was established. They reminded us that Beveridge was clear that in delivering security we should not stifle incentive, opportunity and responsibility, and that we must leave room and encouragement for voluntary action by each individual to provide more for their family.
My colleague Jeremy Balfour talked eloquently about the role of the charter, the importance of it being more than words and its role in clarifying expectations and holding agencies to account. He reminded us of the legal importance in that the charter is not about individual rights but the principles on which the Scottish social security system will operate.
I am also grateful to Jamie Halcro Johnston for touching on the importance of tangible outcomes with regards to the charter, and for raising the comments on the PIP and ESA independent reviews at UK level. I hope that the cabinet secretary will address some of the questions that Jamie Halcro Johnston raised.
As Jamie Greene highlighted, it is vital that current levels of scrutiny continue to be applied to benefits once they are devolved. The charter can provide the mechanism for that by ensuring geographical equality or through the opportunity to provide on-going improvement to the system.
Many members have acknowledged and welcomed the co-design approach that is being taken. As Bob Doris, Shona Robison and other members of the Social Security Committee mentioned, our visit to Dundee was about listening and gaining an understanding of the experiences of those who use the system.
Communication in design and in delivery is vital. As Pauline McNeill and others mentioned, it is important that the Scottish social security system is not digital by default. Age Scotland’s briefing reminds us that the Scottish household survey found that 67 per cent of people aged 75 and over do not use the internet.
We all welcome the cabinet secretary’s announcement that the membership of the experience panels has been expanded to be more representative, because it is important that a broad range of voices is captured. Alexander Stewart spoke insightfully on the need for broader representation on the core group. Hearing from people who have had positive experiences is important, not least to try to understand why it worked for them and not for others.
If the charter is really to provide a guiding influence on our system, we need to get it in place. Ideally, it would have been in place already, prior to the delivery of benefits, to ensure consistency across the board, given that, in the Scottish Government’s words,
“the agency’s complaints and appeals procedures will also be strongly reflective of the values and standards set out in the charter”.
The charter will form a key tool for those seeking redress, so it is important that we get it in place as soon as possible.
When reading through Friday’s report, I was struck by one comment in particular from a member of the core group. It was a suggestion that the charter be placed conspicuously,
“right in the eye line”,
of Social Security Scotland staff who are dealing directly with the public. If we truly wish the charter to succeed, we must be proud of it. As Alexander Stewart said, that is key. The respect that we build through being proud of the charter is what will take it forward. It is a symbol of collaboration between service users and staff and Government, a common touch point to which they can all refer and a guideline on what to expect once they cross the agency’s threshold. The suggestion of an eye-line charter is a good start and a contribution that should be borne in mind as the charter takes shape.
I welcome the debate and the contributions that we have heard from members. It befits the charter’s importance that we have tried to achieve, and have succeeded in achieving, a great deal of consensus today. I thank the members who contributed, including those who spoke very supportively of not only the Scottish Government’s work but, more importantly, the work of our experience panels and stakeholders in bringing the charter to life. I repeat that that work is fundamental to the wider necessity, as we develop our social security system, of building trust with the people of Scotland. We need to demonstrate through our actions that we will honour that trust by delivering on our commitment to do things better.
In my opening remarks, I spoke about my genuine desire to carry on the collaborative approach that my predecessor established throughout the bill’s progress, and I am pleased that that approach has continued today. Of course we will not agree on everything, but today’s debate has made it clear that we agree on the nature of the new public service and the role of the charter in it.
With that in mind, I am pleased to support Mark Griffin’s amendment to the motion. I very much agree that the process “should be an exemplar” of co-production and that we should continue to work to expand the diversity of those who participate in co-design. Mark Griffin rightly talked a great deal about the importance of co-design. As he said, it is a system for people, rather than something that is being done to them. That is why I take very seriously the comments from Mark Griffin, Jamie Greene and other members on, for example, the point that no members of black and minority ethnic communities were part of the original core group. We have to ask ourselves why people from certain communities did not come forward to be part of that process. I am very much open to learning lessons from the innovative co-design process, because I want to do it better in the future. Interestingly, there is a great deal of interest from other Administrations and Governments in how we are carrying out our co-design work on the charter. That speaks to the innovative nature of what we are trying to do. We are very much open to learning lessons, and doing so quickly.
Ruth Maguire and Jeremy Balfour raised issues about the representative nature of the core group. As Ruth Maguire pointed out, there are difficulties in talking about the protected characteristics of a group of 30 people, but I hope that I can reassure her that we have included people who have a disability, including those with a mental, physical or learning disability; men and women; a range of ages; people of different sexual orientations; people who are married or in civil partnerships; people of different religious beliefs; people who have experience of each relevant benefit; people who have fluctuating conditions; people with hearing impairments; people with visual impairments; carers of both adults and disabled children; rural and urban dwellers; and people who have more than one of those characteristics. We are working closely with stakeholders to ensure that the views of people from seldom-heard or underrepresented groups are included in our work on the charter.
I am very pleased to say that we will also support Jeremy Balfour’s amendment tonight. We will consider how we might include the views of organisations and individuals in the work that we do. From the beginning, the charter and its principles have been the product of wide consultation and engagement, and I am committed to doing my part through the co-design process to hold focused discussions with stakeholders. We already have a stakeholder group of 27 organisations, and many organisations are also meeting with officials. My door, and that of my officials, will always be open to those who have an interest in our system and wish to contribute to the discussion.
Jeremy Balfour and other members spoke about why we should have a charter, and the fact that it must be more than just a bunch of words. I absolutely agree on that. George Adam talked about the charter as a working and living document, and I completely concur with that too.
A great deal of work went into the interim report that was published at the end of last week. The process is iterative, and it is in its early stages, but I assure Jeremy Balfour and other members that it is very open. A lot of capacity building has gone on with the core group to ensure that the process is absolutely not about officials saying, “What do you think about our ideas?” but is very much led by the core group.
We expect to be able to lay the charter before Parliament before the end of the year. Obviously, it is not for me to judge how Parliament settles its timetable, but I am open to the committee and Opposition parties making suggestions about how we can take that process forward.
Jeremy Balfour asked about the delivery of other benefits. We will take responsibility for all benefits by the end of the parliamentary session. We will move forward with policy on PIP, for example. Work on that is on-going through our experience panels and the expert advisory group. Regulations will be introduced in due course.
We should reflect on the very important point that Patrick Harvie raised. We have a system that is absolutely mistrusted by the people who use it and by anyone who hears anything about it. As Patrick Harvie correctly pointed out, that is exactly why our new system must be developed on the basis of people’s lived experience. That will be at the heart of everything that we do—it will be what we consider first, last and always as we develop the social security system.
Alex Cole-Hamilton asked the Government to look very carefully at the experience and expertise of stakeholders. I absolutely agree with him on that. As I have already mentioned, we have a stakeholder group that is working to advise the core group, and discussions with officials are happening.
Bob Doris, Shona Robison and other members spoke eloquently about the consequences of the current system. My constituency mailbag and surgeries also bring those consequences home—as I am sure those of all members do. However, I am particularly mindful of my visit to Inclusion Scotland immediately before I made my statement last week. I spoke directly to people about the impact that our policy decisions will have on their everyday lives. It is always humbling for us to remember that the decisions that we take in the chamber will make a real difference to people. I am determined to ensure that that will be a positive difference for people who have been exceptionally scarred by their experience of the current system.
That is why it is important that we recognise what we are doing—we are designing a new system; we are not tinkering around the edges of the current system—and why the culture of the new agency is so important. I am delighted to have heard from a number of members about their experiences when they visited the agency headquarters in Dundee yesterday. I greatly enjoyed that experience as well. We can tell that, from the chief executive and the senior management to all the client advisers, the people there genuinely get that they are doing something different and momentous in Scotland and that they are part of something historic, and they are very proud of that. I hope and expect that that will be reflected in everything that they do as they deal with people on a one-to-one basis.
Clare Adamson talked about the need for vision and the type of society that we want. I know that that will be embedded in the culture that we will have.
Pauline McNeill mentioned her unfinished business. She probably mentioned too many issues for me to be able to go through them all in the time that I have, but I would be more than happy to meet her and discuss some or all of them with her. I reassure her that I will look very carefully at what she said about the appeals process, offences and investigations, for example. She made suggestions about what should go into the charter. It is too early for me to say what should go into it; I will allow the core group to comment on that before I do.
I am heartened by the fact that many members have endorsed the findings from the core group so far. As I have said, our intention is to submit the first charter for parliamentary approval by the end of the year. However, in many ways, that will be the beginning rather than the end of the process. If approval is granted, we will move on to implementation and ensuring that the charter is meaningfully delivered.
As Mark Griffin, Patrick Harvie, Clare Adamson and many others have said, what is important about what we are doing through the charter and the social security system is that we are ensuring that the people’s voices will now be heard. This Government and Parliament will act on their voices, to ensure that we have a social security system that we can be truly proud of.