Ministers and officials are in regular contact with the Department for Work and Pensions. Joint ministerial working group meetings are held twice a year. The most recent meeting took place in November last year, when the adult disability payment, child disability payment and the Scottish child payment were discussed.
The Minister for Social Security and Local Government holds regular bilateral meetings with Chloe Smith—the UK Government Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work—on priorities for delivery of devolved social security, the most recent of which took place last month. There is also a well-established programme of meetings at official level on delivery of devolved welfare benefits.
As the cabinet secretary knows, the Tories’ cost of living crisis is causing real hardship, and their lack of action is staggering. Does she agree that the UK Tory Government must review and increase its local housing allowance to help people with spiralling costs; raise all social security payments by at least 6 per cent, to protect people from poverty; and implement fair and fast compensation, as requested by Women Against State Pension Inequality—WASPI—to ensure that women who were born in the 1950s are not further penalised?
The Scottish Government has fully supported the work of the WASPI campaign and has consistently called on the UK Government to take responsibility for the hardship that is being caused to thousands of women who are negatively impacted.
Local housing allowance rates were last set on 31 March 2020 and have not been elevated since. I wrote to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on 1 January this year, urging her to take steps to restore rates to a level that will prevent many people in Scotland from having to make the difficult choice between paying the rent and feeding their families, and heating their homes. In contrast, we acted urgently, in spite of our limited powers, by further increasing, from 3.1 per cent to 6 per cent, several devolved social security benefits and forms of assistance.
The DWP’s nationwide closures include its office in Aberdeen, which leaves more than 60 workers at risk of redundancy. I previously raised the prospect of those highly skilled workers being redeployed to Social Security Scotland to assist with roll-out of new devolved benefits. At the time, the Minister for Business, Trade, Tourism and Enterprise indicated that the Scottish Government could explore that option, but no clear commitment was given. I ask the cabinet secretary for a firm commitment. Will the Scottish Government work with the Public and Commercial Services Union and the DWP to explore redeployment of those workers to Social Security Scotland?
Mercedes Villalba is probably aware that a number of DWP staff have successfully moved across to Social Security Scotland in recruitments since it has been up and running. However, I am happy to take forward the suggestion that she has made. I will look at what was said previously and write to her with more detail.