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.