While praising the unprecedented amount of resource that has been passed to public bodies, local authorities and the third sector to help in response to the pandemic, the Committee express deep concerns about the number of people unable to access any support. They say the newly self-employed and people with savings are two groups who have not been given sufficient support by the current social security system.
The Committee has called on the Scottish and UK Governments to work together to consider the feasibility of a Citizens Basic Income (CBI) as part of the response to any future crisis. They say this is potentially a fairer way to share available support and could avoid some groups of people receiving no support at all.
Given the main income-replacement benefit (UC) is reserved to UK Ministers and the interlink between Scottish social security benefits and UK Government DWP benefits, the Committee say it is more important than ever that both Governments work constructively together to respond to this crisis.
Speaking as the report was published, Social Security Committee Convener, Bob Doris MSP, said:
“This pandemic continues to have a devastating impact on people’s lives, particularly our most vulnerable in society.
“Social security has a critical role to play in supporting people at times of crisis and while we recognise the unprecedented support both the Scottish and UK Governments have provided, it is clear that too many people have fallen through the cracks
“In order to protect the most vulnerable, the temporary uplift in Universal Credit must be made permanent, and more must be done to help those not currently eligible for support, particularly the newly self-employed and those with savings. A Citizens Basic Income for the duration of any future crisis may be one way to protect those who have missed out on support.
“As we know, responsibility for assistance with housing costs lies mainly with the UK Government and Scottish Ministers have very limited powers in this area. So we are calling on both Governments to work together to look at what assistance can be provided to people struggling, whatever their tenure.”
“The Committee is extremely disappointed that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions did not accept any of the Committee’s invitations to give evidence, either for this inquiry or previous Committee work. Given the interlinked nature of social security across both Governments, this must change in future.
“We’d like to thank all who contributed to our inquiry. The long-term impact of the pandemic is still unknown but it is vital that social security provides a safety net for all of those who need it during this and any future crises.”
The Committee say the pandemic has exposed some of the shortcomings of the current social security system, including problems with the Scottish Welfare Fund (SWF). They say these problems have been exacerbated by the pandemic and have urged the Scottish Government to work with COSLA to review the SWF to ensure it is fit for purpose.
The Committee’s report also says although locally distributed discretionary payments play an important role when responding to urgent or temporary need, longer-term needs are better met by national entitlements with clear and consistent eligibility criteria to give people certainty when accessing support.
The report is attached.
This report follows the Committee’s consideration of how Scottish social security, and its part within the broader context of all UK social security, should contribute to the social and economic recovery from Covid-19.
The call for evidence was based around six key themes; the economic downturn, the role of social security, suggestions for change, changes requiring little DWP input, constraints and barriers to doing more and entitlements versus discretionary funding.