The next item of business is stage 3 proceedings on the Carer’s Allowance Supplement (Scotland) Bill. In dealing with the amendments, members should have the marshalled list and the groupings of amendments. The division bell will sound and proceedings will be suspended for five minutes for the first division of the afternoon. The period of voting for each division will be up to one minute. Members who wish to speak in the debate on any grouping of amendments should press their request-to-speak buttons as soon as I call the first amendment in the grouping.
Members should now refer to the marshalled list of amendments.
Many people told us in the Social Justice and Social Security Committee that the low level of carers benefit was not sufficient to lift carers out of poverty. The Government has said that it could be some time before it considers increasing the adequacy of carers benefits. The amendments in this grouping attempt to help carers and provide them security until that time. I thank Maggie Chapman MSP for lodging the first of those, amendment 6, at stage 2. Sadly, she withdrew the amendment at the time, noting that it was a probing amendment. I thought then, and I still do, that the amendment was the right thing to do, which is why I am moving it in my name today.
It would mean that the carers allowance supplement would be calculated on the basis of universal credit and not jobseekers allowance, and it would fix the rate of universal credit at pre-cut levels.
The carers allowance supplement was brought in to recognise that carers do not have enough money to live on. It was doubled because of the extensive work of carers during the pandemic. The pandemic is not over. The Government spent last week arguing eloquently with us and our colleagues across the UK that the pre-cut level of universal credit is not enough for anyone to live on. We should not accept less than that for carers either. With amendment 6, we have an opportunity to use the powers of the Parliament and put money in carers’ pockets by increasing the uplift to the carers allowance supplement, bringing it in line with pre-cut universal credit rates. I urge members to vote for amendment 6 in my name.
Jeremy Balfour’s amendment in this group, amendment 3, would allow the supplement to be paid every year at Christmas and until the new carers assistance benefit is developed. That goes further than the bill, which doubles the supplement only this December. However, I believe that carers are not just for Christmas and that they should be supported 52 weeks of the year. I have therefore lodged amendment 7, which will guarantee that the uplift for carers stays in place until the new carers assistance is finally introduced by the Government.
In evidence to the
Social Justice and Social Security Committee
, Engender wrote:
“Any additional payments have been ad hoc and offer little certainty to individuals, failing to be an adequate response to recipients’ well-evidenced needs. This is in spite of 21% of carers reporting spending more as a direct result of Covid-19.”
Leaving the uplift at the discretion of regulation leaves far too much uncertainty for carers—uncertainty at one of the most difficult times of their lives. We have a chance to make a hard time a bit better. We should take that chance, and I urge members to vote for the amendments.
I move amendment 6.
I thank all carers for what they have done, not only in the past 20 months, but day in, day out, often unseen and unpaid. Without those carers, society would be in a much worse place. Over the last months we have heard warm words from all five parties, thanking carers for what they do—as is right. As someone who benefits daily from an unpaid carer, I know how important those individuals are. However, words do not put food on the table or pay the heating bills. We can use nice words, but unless those words are followed by action, the Scottish Government is simply throwing stones in glass houses.
Does Mr Balfour not accept that the Scottish Government is backing up its words with action by doubling the supplement in December, which will take support for carers way beyond the levels enjoyed by carers elsewhere in the United Kingdom? Will he call on his colleagues in the United Kingdom Government to provide additional support for carers allowance so that the supplement can go further?
It is very strange that, at the moment, members on that side of the chamber want to spend 90 per cent of their time talking about powers that are reserved and never wants to talk about powers that we have in the Scottish Parliament. I suggest that some of those members who keep jumping up might want to seek election to the next Westminster Government and leave the Scottish Parliament, given that they do not seem to be interested in using the powers that we have in Scotland. I remind Mr Gray that he left Westminster and that he is now in the Scottish Parliament.
In committee, we had a good debate at stage 2. Marie McNair commented that we do not want an ad hoc system. I totally agree. We do not want a system that relies on Government ministers making a decision when they feel that they can. We want to give carers certainty. Members have two choices this afternoon: they can give the certainty that the extra payment will be made once a year by voting for my amendment 3, or twice a year by supporting amendment 6. That is the choice that the Parliament will have to make in the next few moments.
That choice is a financial one. It is a choice that the Scottish Government tells us must be taken seriously. As Mr Macpherson made clear in last week’s debate on universal credit, it is a political choice. Members can either vote for it or simply offer warm words without giving anyone any extra money. That is a political choice—and members will have to make it in the next few moments.
There is not a shortage of money. Lorna Slater said in a tweet a few days ago:
“There is no shortage of money.”
The money is there—we just have to decide how to spend it. That is a choice.
I am sorry, but I do not have time.
We have to give carers the certainty that, until 2025, the payment will be doubled either twice or once a year. That is a political choice and the decision that the Parliament will have to make. I hope that members will support amendment 3.
It is my pleasure to speak—albeit briefly—in today’s stage 3 debate, which will hopefully complete the bill’s journey that began only a few short weeks ago in the Social Justice and Social Security Committee, which I convene.
Amendments 6 and 7 in the name of Pam Duncan-Glancy and amendment 3, in the name of Jeremy Balfour, were considered and rejected by the committee at stage 2. We heard substantial evidence from carers and from organisations representing carers on how welcome the bill is and how welcome the second double payment will be in December. Like Jeremy Balfour, I want to take the opportunity to put on record my thanks to all those who engaged with our evidence sessions and to carers across Scotland for the work that they do.
There is no doubt that we need to continue to invest in supporting our carers. We heard testimony that was very challenging at times about the challenges that unpaid carers face and how those challenges have been exacerbated by the pandemic. That is why it is right that the Scottish Government is, with the bill, taking support for eligible carers way beyond what is available elsewhere in the UK.
I do not oppose the principle of continuing to pay additional supplements next year or until the new Scottish carers assistance benefit is established, if that is what is required—our carers deserve that—but it is really important that, as the current devolved, hybrid settlement means that the Scottish Government has to operate within a fixed budget and without the borrowing powers that are enjoyed by normal Parliaments that deliver social security, commitments to make new payments are properly costed and taken through the formal budget process, as the committee heard in evidence from the Scottish Fiscal Commission this morning.
Does Neil Gray agree that we also have to consider the financial stability of carers who have to make decisions about whether to eat or heat every day as a result of their poverty? I am pleased to hear that he thinks that, in principle, it is good to give certainty. When the committee voted against my amendment, it was called “reckless” by the Government. I do not think that it is reckless at all to put more money into carers’ pockets. I hope that Neil Gray recognises that and that there is a significantly bigger availability of resources to Government to support it to budget into the longer term than there is for households that are struggling to make ends meet.
I absolutely take Pam Duncan-Glancy’s point about providing certainty, but I note that the Scottish Government is providing a pretty well-established level of certainty in providing the December payment as a double payment. It is doing that in time to ensure that carers have that in their pockets for the crucial Christmas period. That was warmly welcomed by carers and their representatives who gave evidence to the committee. Obviously, the difficulty that we face, as I have already outlined, is that the Government has to operate within a fixed budget and it has to go through the appropriate budgetary channels to be able to allocate the resources and ensure that that is done in a sustainable way.
I do not doubt the commitment of Jeremy Balfour or Pam Duncan-Glancy to see payments to carers rise further, so I have no doubt that they will engage with Kate Forbes and Shona Robison over the coming months, just as they will on other areas of spending, to ensure that there is a fully costed way to ensure that that can happen in future.
Does Neil Gray agree that it is good to give unpaid carers certainty beyond just one year? Does he recognise that a lot of the benefits that are now devolved to Scotland will have to be paid on an on-going basis? Why should the benefit that we are discussing be different from any other benefit that has been devolved?
My point is exactly that: it is no different from any other benefit, and it has to go through the normal budgetary processes to ensure that it is sustainable over the financial period that we are talking about. That is absolutely right.
The Conservatives have some cheek; in the same week in which we have seen a cut to universal credit impacting the same carers that we are talking about, they are asking the Scottish Government to do even more to make up for that cut.
I support the idea of looking at ways of providing further support to carers, but I do not agree with using the bill to do that, as it is primarily about ensuring that the December payment can be doubled. I will vote against the amendments in the group if they are pressed.
I thank members for their contributions on the amendments.
The Government shares the sentiment that members have expressed about the gratitude to, respect for, and recognition of carers throughout Scotland. It is from that sentiment that we introduced a bill to support carers and to provide the additional support that we intend to provide in the months ahead for the festive period if the bill is passed. That is why we introduced the bill in an expedited process. We must look to support carers. The Government wants to provide more support to carers beyond that—of course we do—but we must do that in a way that is proper and responsible.
We have secured resource for a doubling of December’s carers allowance supplement. That is why we prioritised introducing the bill. This is the first programmed bill—we had emergency legislation a few months ago—to get to stage 3 in this parliamentary session. We prioritised the bill to ensure that we get the double payment to carers in good time in December.
As the discussions on the bill to date, including this afternoon, have emphasised, we have political choices to make and financial choices to make too. Jeremy Balfour cited the debate that we had on 28 September. I ask him to recall what he stated then:
“The reality is that effective governance requires more than empty promises to shake the magic money tree and pay for anything and everything without consequences.”—[
, 28 September 2021; c 53.]
If that is true of a UK Government with the full fiscal and monetary powers that he defended last week, it is certainly true for a devolved Government with limited powers. We have financial choices to make and, as I said at stage 2 when we debated amendments similar to those in this group, the Scottish Government chooses to mitigate the low value of the carers allowance through the carers allowance supplement at a cost of over £40 million every year—we have done that since 2018—with the additional payment, if we pass the bill today, adding another £20 million of support this year.
We also choose to mitigate the bedroom tax at a cost of £70 million a year and we chose to introduce the Scottish child payment and bridging payments to support thousands of children. Those decisions and choices will put £130 million into the pockets of families in this financial year. We also chose to give everyone in receipt of council tax reduction £130 to support them through the pandemic, a payment that is rolling out to 400,000 people this month.
I am not clear whether that is an accurate quote from Ms Baillie, but what I recall, as a citizen of Scotland, is that the Scottish National Party Government took action to mitigate that poor choice by a Westminster Government. However, would it not be better if those decisions were not put our way?
The Scottish Government makes political and financial choices every year within its fixed budget and limited powers, and we have to be prudent and responsible.
I think that that is what I said. We have a largely fixed budget—[
.] I will correct myself and say that we have a largely fixed budget, with limited powers. However, Jackie Baillie, as somebody who sat on the Smith commission and knows the fiscal framework well—
Okay—I retract that statement and apologise for that inaccuracy. However, what I was going on to say was that somebody of Jackie Baillie’s experience and knowledge of the fiscal framework will appreciate the relationship between our income tax powers and the block grant, and the weakness in those income tax powers because of the fact that we do not have powers over dividend income tax and that we have limited taxation powers. I am sure that Jackie Baillie will acknowledge that as a factual statement.
It is important to emphasise—[
.] I want to make some progress. I emphasise that we have to be responsible and not be reckless, which is why it is important to acknowledge that, at this point, the Parliament has already agreed a budget that makes no provision for the further increase that amendment 6 proposes to apply from this December—[
.] I want to make some progress.
It is important to recognise that context, because this Government chose to pay an additional supplement last year and was elected on a manifesto that promised to pay again this year an additional carers allowance supplement of more than £230. We will be able to make that choice again in the future, depending on budget and what else we do with Scottish carers assistance, as it develops into a new replacement benefit for carers. If the bill is passed, we will have the power to pay an additional supplement in the future, if that is the will of Parliament, through the budget process and considering taxation choices that have been emphasised by others and the wider budget questions in the round.
First, does Ben Macpherson agree that the decision on amendment 3, in my name, has nothing to do with this year’s budget but is to do with future budgets? Secondly, does all social security not have to go through that process? There are benefits that are the responsibility of the Scottish Government that will be paid for the next number of years. Why is this benefit different from any other benefit? Is the minister saying that personal independence payment or attendance allowance is in doubt? I presume that those are all part of the negotiations that the minister has with the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy every year. Why can this not be written into the budget like all those other benefits?
With regard to our decision making in the round, an important consideration is that we already pay 13 per cent more through the carers allowance supplement, which was the first benefit that we introduced in 2018. Whether we make an additional additional payment again in future years needs to be considered in the round with the development of Scottish carers assistance; we are looking at options for the longer term that will increase our support for carers through our Scottish social security system. In the period ahead, we will begin our consultation on proposals for the delivery of Scottish carers assistance, and that will require us to carefully consider the balance to be struck between extending eligibility to and increasing the amount of Scottish carers assistance. I look forward to engaging with colleagues and stakeholders more widely on those important points in due course.
As I said in the stage 1 debate and again to the Social Justice and Social Security Committee at stage 2, future increases will and should be considered in the context of the circumstances that carers face and the financial constraints that we face as a devolved Government. If we were to commit further resource now for future years, we might not be able to utilise that resource to support carers in other ways, which is why I cannot support amendments 6, 3 and 7 at this time. I urge members not to press them but, if amendments 6, 3 and 7 are pressed, I urge Parliament to reject them.
I will deal with some of the points that we have heard so far. First, I agree with Ben Macpherson that it is a political and financial choice. I am asking the Parliament to make the political and financial choice to put more money—again—into the pockets of unpaid carers across Scotland. In the short timescale that we had to consult on the bill, we heard consistently—
Yes, I acknowledge that. As Ben Macpherson is aware, we think that the bill and the additional payment are necessary and essential, because carers are already living in poverty. However, we are asking the Government to go beyond warm words of support and support in principle for the idea that people might get money in their pockets, and actually put money in people’s pockets. The Government needs to double that money continually until it has looked at the carers allowance in the round, because people are living in far too much poverty. We have also heard a lot about the Scottish Government budget. The Government has 44 billion quid and 21,000 civil servants at its disposal to determine how it might want to use that budget. I urge the Government to contrast that with what it asks from households that have disabled people and unpaid carers living with them. In some cases, they get less than £80 a week to balance their budgets and only have the people in those households to help them do it.
I ask the minister to please consider providing that certainty. It is not fair to leave it to discretion and leave carers wondering how they are going to cope next year.
A third of carers have said that they are struggling to pay utility bills, 47 per cent of them have been in debt and half are struggling to make ends meet. In the past year, they have told us that they are undervalued, that they feel invisible, exhausted and broken, and that they have worked 24/7 with no break. Seventy-eight per cent of them have said that, overall, their financial situation has got worse as a result of the pandemic.
Uplifting the carers allowance supplement, and doubling it at this point, is the right thing to do. However, the pandemic is not over, and it will be the right thing to do for a considerable number of months, and possibly years into the future. Until the minister addresses the grossly underresourced funding for carers’ benefits, I hope that he will please consider supporting the amendments and providing that certainty to carers across Scotland.
I do not want to take credit for the amendments. In fact, Maggie Chapman lodged the same amendments at stage 2 and was very helpfully able to show how we could improve the bill and make it slightly better. I therefore thank her for lodging her amendments, although I was disappointed that she did not move them. I hope that, after debating the amendments this afternoon, the Government will take them on board and we can move forward together.
During the stage 2 debate, I was slightly unsure why the Scottish Government was not willing to accept the four amendments; I was unclear about what the minister was saying against them. During one part of the debate, he said that doing the work would take civil servants away from doing other jobs. Later on, during his stage 2 summing-up speech, he said that the work was already being done and that it would take longer to publish and scrutinise it.
Will the minister clarify why the amendments cannot be accepted? I fear that the reason is that the Government simply does not want Parliament to be involved in any of the process. That, again, is the Government running away from scrutiny by Parliament. It wants to keep all the powers in Government and to make all the decisions and simply get its back benchers to rubber stamp them, at the appropriate time.
That is disappointing from a transparent and open Government, as it likes to call itself. All we are asking is that the work that has already been done be published so that Parliament can see the report and, if appropriate, the
Social Justice and Social Security Committee or the whole Parliament could debate it to see how we are getting on and what progress has been made. I genuinely cannot see what the Government has to fear in that regard.
On amendment 2, Maggie Chapman brought up one of the key issues in our society today: people who care for more than one person are penalised. Again, we are not asking for any money up-front. All that amendment 2 asks is that the Scottish Government carry out a review and report back to Parliament. At that point, Parliament could make a decision.
Perhaps the minister can tell me why he is not willing to carry out such a review, and why is he not willing for Parliament to be involved by seeing a report then coming to a decision, which is all that amendment 2 asks for. That seems to me to be reasonable, so I hope that members will accept the amendments in my name.
As Jeremy Balfour said, at stage 2, amendments that were the same as amendments 1 and 2 were withdrawn by Maggie Chapman, who had lodged them. They were discussed and rejected by members who then chose to press them, anyway.
On 6 October, I wrote to members of the Social Justice and Social Security Committee with more information about the on-going work to review carer benefits—in particular, the carer’s allowance supplement and the young carer grant. In my letter, I set out that a wide range of data and methodologies are used in developing and evaluating our social security policies, including quantitative survey data; benefits statistics; input from users, including through our experience panels; existing research by other organisations; and commissioned research.
Carer benefits analysis and wider research on carers and the caring experience are both considered in evaluation of our carer benefits. That work, combined with the client insights work of Social Security Scotland, provides a rich stream of evidence to help us to build a social security system that works for all of Scotland’s communities.
The Scottish Government has recently published evaluations of the carers allowance supplement and the young carer grant. They are available for Parliament to consider. They show that the supplement has gone some way towards meeting its overall aims of improving outcomes for carers by providing extra financial support, and of ensuring greater recognition of the essential societal contribution that carers make. The evaluations also show that the majority of young carer grant recipients feel that the supplement has made a difference to their lives, given them access to more opportunities and improved their mental wellbeing.
We are working to deliver Scottish carers assistance, including the additional payment for people who have multiple caring roles. One of the key issues that we are seeking to address is the limited data that is available to enable us to identify who would be eligible. As I noted at stage 2, I do not believe that the review and reporting obligations that are proposed by the amendments are required. Furthermore, if the amendments were to be accepted, meeting those reporting requirements would require reallocation of resources away from our work on developing Scottish carers assistance.
For those reasons, amendments 1, 2, 4 and 5 are unnecessary and would be unhelpful, so I urge Parliament to reject them all.
I thought that I had. If I did not, I am happy to move it now.
I move amendment 1.
Again, I am genuinely confused by the minister. He just said that doing a review would take away resources, but in the opening two or three minutes of his contribution, he was saying, “Here is all the work that has been done.” Either the work has been done and can be reported to Parliament, or it has not been done and he does not want us to know that. Would the minister like to make an intervention to tell me whether the work has been done, and if it has, why it cannot be published? Will it take away resources that are needed for the work? Which is it?
I am happy to advise Mr Balfour of all the work that is being done to evaluate our benefits, which I set out in my letter to the committee of 6 October. I think that his amendments would create unnecessary work and take away civil service time from the development of Scottish carers assistance. The amendments are superfluous, so I urge Parliament to reject them.
So, the minister is saying, “The work’s been done, but we don’t want you to know about it.” It is clear that that is the attitude of the Scottish Government. It is a secret Government that does not want any scrutiny at all by Parliament. That is what we are hearing today.
The minister says, “Read the letter.” Basically, it is one paragraph with an excuse in the middle of it. The letter does not answer the questions that were asked in committee. It says:
“One of the key issues that we are seeking to address is the ... limited data ... available”.
The minister has said that the data exists and that the Government has done the work. Where is it? Why cannot Parliament see it?
I thank Miles Briggs for his intervention. In his usual insightful way, he has put the spotlight right where the Scottish Government does not want it to be. The work has been done, but the Government does not want us to see it.
What is worse is that, from what we hear, it also plans to vote against amendment 2, which proposes reviewing—not financially supporting—what we can do to help people who care for more than one person in the household. We are simply proposing that that be reviewed, but the Government is saying no.
The message from the chamber today is that the SNP-Green coalition will give people warm words, but if people want change, if they want money or if they want to make a difference, they should not support it.
The Presiding Officer:
That ends consideration of amendments.
At this point in the proceedings, I am required under standing orders to decide whether, in my view, any provision of the bill relates to a protected subject matter—that is, whether it modifies the electoral system and franchise for Scottish parliamentary elections. In the case of this bill, in my view no provision of the Carer’s Allowance Supplement (Scotland) Bill relates to a protected subject matter, therefore the bill does not require a supermajority to be passed at stage 3.
There will a brief suspension before we move on to the stage 3 debate.