A "huge cultural shift" will be required to create a better Scottish welfare system, according to the Holyrood committee overseeing the welfare programme.
A new report from the Welfare Reform Committee calls for a significant overhaul of the current approach, on the basis that the provision of social security in Scotland should be about preserving the dignity and respect of those using it, similar to the way people are normally treated if they need to use the NHS. It states that to implement this, strong leadership will be required from both the Department of Work & Pensions and the Scottish Government.
The committee has been examining proposals for the devolution of social security in parallel to the UK Parliament’s consideration of the Scotland Bill, and how the proposed new powers could be used to deliver a better system of social security in Scotland.
Key recommendations include:
- the introduction of long-term disability living allowance and personal independence payment awards for those with severe, long-term disability or illness;
- carer’s allowance to be increased to at least the amount paid in jobseeker's allowance, as proposed by the Scottish Government;
- the housing element of universal credit should be paid fortnightly, direct to landlords.
The committee also calls for the Scottish Government to use the new powers to abolish the so-called "bedroom tax" (the under-occupancy charge) immediately.
However it believes that, even if the welfare system remains substantially the same, significant improvements could be achieved by a culture shift to a more positive attitude towards claimants.
While it accepts that there will be situations where conditionality will be required, "it is essential that the system is non-punitive in nature and that sanctions are only used genuinely as a last resort".
Committee convener Hugh Henry MSP said: “For three years, our committee has heard evidence of the devastating impact of welfare reform, from the ever-growing reliance on food banks to working parents having to choose between heating their homes and feeding their children.
“Creating a better social security system for Scotland will probably be one of the biggest tasks facing Scotland over the next decade and it’s important that we get it right. This is not about party politics but people.”
Deputy convener Clare Adamson MSP added: “We need to move away from the negative stereotyping of benefits recipients as ‘skivers’ and design a system of social security that places the dignity and human rights of service users at its heart."