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Social Security Charter

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

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Photo of Mark Griffin Mark Griffin Labour

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.

Pauline McNeill spoke about the process of parliamentary approval that lies ahead, and I would be keen, as she is, for the cabinet secretary to spell out the intended timetable for that.

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.