Older People and Social Security

– in the Scottish Parliament on 20 April 2023.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Jeremy Balfour Jeremy Balfour Conservative

5. To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on whether older people and social security are priority policy areas, in light of the decision not to include those in ministerial titles in the recent round of ministerial appointments. (S6O-02120)

Photo of Shirley-Anne Somerville Shirley-Anne Somerville Scottish National Party

I am the Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, which includes social security. The Minister for Equalities, Migration and Refugees, as with the previous equalities minister, has responsibility for older people. It is totally clear to anyone that social security and older people are important to this Government, unlike the United Kingdom Government. That is why we are delivering seven Scottish Government benefits that are available only in Scotland, and are mitigating the harm that has been caused by UK Government policies.

Our £50 winter heating payment goes automatically to 400,000 people, including those on pension credit, and we have tripled the fuel insecurity fund to £30 million to support people in hardship. I urge the UK Government to match those efforts.

Photo of Jeremy Balfour Jeremy Balfour Conservative

With no specific minister responsible for social security, what reassurances can the Scottish Government give us that there will be no further slippage in the full transfer of devolved benefits?

Photo of Shirley-Anne Somerville Shirley-Anne Somerville Scottish National Party

This is the second day in a row that we have tried this; I am going to try once again. I am the minister who is responsible for social security. When Ben Macpherson, as a junior minister, was made responsible for social security, the Conservatives complained that we had demoted the post; however, now they are complaining because it is back at cabinet secretary level. I find it a little bit strange. It is maybe a case of finding a complaint where none is required.

I hope to be able to demonstrate to Jeremy Balfour through the work that we do—and, I hope, through work that we do together—that I will be taking very seriously all the issues that are involved in Social Security, and I will be ensuring that we work towards delivering not only the benefits but the case transfers, as the current timetable suggests.

Photo of John Mason John Mason Scottish National Party

I cannot believe that the Conservatives are so worried about titles instead of reality.

I understand that the Scottish Government has recently launched a campaign to make people more aware of eligibility for disability benefits. Can the cabinet secretary say more about that campaign?

Photo of Shirley-Anne Somerville Shirley-Anne Somerville Scottish National Party

That is a very important aspect that we are determined to carry forward. Not only is that about putting dignity, fairness and respect in the system, but it plays a part in ensuring that people are aware of the benefits that are available, and that they are encouraged to apply for what they are eligible for. I do not know of any UK Government scheme that proactively encourages people to apply for disability benefits and aims to ensure that people get the money that they are entitled to. We are absolutely determined to do that.

I encourage all members in the chamber, regardless of their party, to share for the benefit of their constituents the work that Social Security Scotland has done on the campaign.

Photo of Paul O'Kane Paul O'Kane Labour

In a week in which research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has revealed that the number of people who are living in very deep poverty has increased significantly in the past two decades, does the cabinet secretary at least acknowledge that removal of those subjects from ministerial briefs sends a concerning message about the Government’s commitment in those spaces? Would she also recognise that, although she is a very talented member of the Government, she has a brief that is huge and very varied, and that having a minister who is responsible for older people and social security would be of great help to everyone who is involved in tackling poverty?

Photo of Shirley-Anne Somerville Shirley-Anne Somerville Scottish National Party

I am quite happy to take compliments when they are given—by members of the Opposition, in particular.

I say to Paul O’Kane with the greatest respect that one of the things that the Government is normally criticised for is its being too big and having too many ministers. Now it seems that we are being encouraged to have more ministers in my portfolio. Although I might welcome that for my portfolio, I think that it can be seen on the front bench today that we are ably supported by a range of ministers. We will be delighted to work together with the member and others on all parts of the portfolio.