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Social Security Charter

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 2nd October 2018.

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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.