Benefits Uptake

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 22 February 2024.

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Photo of Evelyn Tweed Evelyn Tweed Scottish National Party

7. To ask the Scottish Government what steps it is taking to ensure that people are claiming all the benefits that they are entitled to, in light of figures obtained by Policy in Practice showing that £18.7 billion of benefits went unclaimed across the United Kingdom in 2022-23. (S6O-03108)

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

The Scottish Government asserts that social security is a human right, and we are committed to helping people to access the support that they are entitled to.

Through our benefit take-up strategy, we are implementing a range of take-up initiatives, including access to independent advocacy support and targeted marketing of payments. Local delivery teams assist people in completing application forms and can signpost them to other information and services. The £12.5 million of funding that we are providing this year for income maximisation, welfare and debt advice includes more than £4.59 million to support organisations that help people to access their social security entitlements and maximise their income.

Photo of Evelyn Tweed Evelyn Tweed Scottish National Party

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar was recently quoted in the

New Statesman as saying that Holyrood had been largely “a social policy parliament” and that he wanted to correct that. Given that it is clear that social security and benefit uptake are a low priority for the Labour leadership, can the cabinet secretary provide an assurance that, unlike Westminster, Holyrood will continue to challenge austerity and cruel measures such as the bedroom tax and the two-child cap?

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

This Government will continue to call for an end to measures such as the bedroom tax and the two-child cap. We will also continue to press the UK Government to implement an essentials guarantee at the forthcoming UK budget. It is deeply disappointing that Labour is simply promising more of the same Tory austerity. It is not necessary to hold a review in order to know that the two-child cap and the bedroom tax are utterly inappropriate parts of any social security system.

Meanwhile, the Scottish Government will continue to provide record investment in benefits expenditure, which demonstrates our commitment to tackling poverty right across the country. That is exactly why we are spending more than £1.1 billion more than the UK Government gives to the Scottish Government for social security. We are there to protect the people of Scotland through continued austerity, regardless of the colour of the Government at UK level.

Photo of Miles Briggs Miles Briggs Conservative

The cabinet secretary and her predecessor said that no one would lose out because of Scottish National Party changes to our social security payments, but we know that that is not true. The winter heating payment has left many people in the Highlands and Aberdeenshire out of pocket. Will the cabinet secretary undertake a review of that policy so that people who live in Aviemore, Braemar and Aboyne do not continue to lose out at the hands of the SNP-Green Government?

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

I am happy to provide in writing to Mr Briggs the figures for the number of people who are benefiting from our winter heating payment and the investment that is being put in. Over the years, because of the vagaries of the previous Westminster system, there was doubt about whether people would get any money at all, how much money they would get and when. They now have certainty—[

Interruption

.]

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

In addition, a much more substantial number of people are getting that funding. The need for such certainty and security for many more people across Scotland came through in our consultation, and that is exactly what we are delivering.

Photo of Paul O'Kane Paul O'Kane Labour

The record of the most recent Labour Government in lifting millions of children and pensioners out of poverty by expanding social security payments and encouraging uptake of those payments speaks for itself.

Analysis by the Scottish Government that was published in November last year showed that only three quarters of eligible people had taken up the young carer grant, that only 61 per cent of eligible people had taken up the funeral support payment, which was down from the previous year, and that only 15 per cent of eligible people had taken up the job start payment. Is that not another example of the SNP levelling legitimate and justified criticism at the Department for Work and Pensions and saying that it will do things better, but failing to do so?

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

The member fails to point out that many of the benefits that he has mentioned are not even available from the DWP but have been brought in only in Scotland because we are committed to delivering for care-experienced people. The job start payment is one of the benefits that is available only in Scotland.

The Labour Party promises a review to see what it might do at some point in the future, but we have already made changes to the job start payment because we recognise that there is more to do on the take-up of that benefit. That shows a Government that not only is delivering new benefits in Scotland but is continuously adapting and improving the service that we give to the people of Scotland. That action and delivery does far more to tackle poverty than the promise of a review.