Citizens Advice Scotland has responded to the Scottish Government’s consultation on the use of the new social security powers being devolved to Scotland.
This substantial response is informed by consultation with 144 CAB clients with direct experience of the benefits due to be devolved, three regional consultation events with a total of 48 CAB advisers with frontline experience of the system, and an online survey of 43 CAB staff and volunteers.
Advice related to social security benefits is the single largest area of advice provided by citizens advice bureaux in Scotland, with 227,561 new issues in 2015/16, representing 39% of the total number of new issues brought to bureaux. The devolution of new powers represents an opportunity for the Scottish Government to shape a social security system designed with the people who will require support from it at its heart.
CAS welcomes the inclusive approach the Scottish Government has taken, seeking to include the views, experience and evidence from people who know the current social security system best – those who require support from it, and those who work to advise and support them through the process.
There are many opportunities presented by the range of powers that are being devolved. In particular, these opportunities include the possibility to support a principled approach by:
- Ensuring that people who need support from the system can exercise their rights to be treated with dignity and respect.
- Giving people a range of ways to access the new system, including a choice of communication methods.
- Involving users in the design and development of a new Scottish Social Security Agency, to make sure their needs always come first.
The devolution of specific benefits provides the opportunity to:
- Substantially reduce the number of unnecessary medical assessments for disability benefits by making the best use of existing evidence.
- Making changes to the eligibility criteria for carers’ benefits, to provide recognition of the needs of more of Scotland’s full-time carers.
- Help tackle the growing issue of funeral poverty, by providing a streamlined process for funeral payments which provides financial certainty and a streamlined process to people who need support.
- Giving people choice about how they want to receive Universal Credit payments to reduce the number of people running out of income.
In setting the operational policy for the new system, there are opportunities to make improvements by:
- Reforming the complex review and appeal process for benefits to remove barriers to justice for people in need of support
- Ensuring that Scotland’s citizens have access to independent advice and support to help them receive all the social security support they are entitled to.
Achieving this, and much more will be a substantial challenge. However, the potential rewards are great – making a life changing positive difference for many Scots. In this response, Citizens Advice Scotland has attempted to bring the wealth of our evidence and experience to bear to help the Scottish Government truly create a new future for social security.