Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon today welcomed the first independent report of the Expert Working group on Welfare.
She also published an initial response to the report and announced the next phase of the Scottish Government’s work to build a fairer welfare system for an independent Scotland.
The Expert Working group’s report assesses the Scottish Government’s forecasts of the costs of welfare in Scotland at the point of independence; considers the options for delivery of the welfare system in the early stages of independence; and sets out the views of key stakeholders, gathered in its Call for Evidence, on the immediate priorities for welfare policy change.
The key points contained in the report are:
- The group considers that the Scottish Government’s costs forecasts are ‘a reasonable estimate of the costs of benefit spending and related administrative costs’. The report also narrates the evidence contained in GERS that spending on social protection (including welfare) as a share of GDP is estimated to have been lower in Scotland than in the rest of the UK in each of the past five years
- There has been a relative decline in welfare expenditure in Scotland as a proportion of that spent in Great Britain from a peak of 9.7% in 2002/03 to 8.9% in 2011/12
- ‘Scotland delivers almost all parts of the current UK benefits system to people living in Scotland from locations within Scotland’. In addition, the report finds that ‘Scotland provides a wide range of services to England. Some of these services are significant…and involve a claimant count measured in millions rather than thousands.’
- All options for the delivery of welfare at the point of independence – including a stand-alone Scottish system of administration – are possible. However, in view of the make-up of the current system the report recommends a transitional period of shared administration
- The report points to the welfare policy flexibility that Northern Ireland currently enjoys within a system of shared administration and sets out the views of stakeholders on the priorities for early change to the welfare system in an independent Scotland
Commenting on the report during a visit to the Bethany Trust in Edinburgh – a charity working with Edinburgh City Council on the delivery of the Scottish Welfare Fund – Ms Sturgeon said:
“This is an excellent report and I thank the members of the Expert Working group for their thorough and robust consideration of the issues.
“The group was specifically asked to look at the costs and delivery of the welfare system at the point of independence and to take evidence on early priorities for policy change. They have done an excellent job.
“As we move towards the referendum next year, people want to be assured of a number of facts in relation to our social security system.
“First, they want assurance that the Scottish Government’s forecasts on the costs and affordability of the welfare system at the point of independence are well-founded. I therefore welcome the group’s conclusion that our forecast on costs is a ‘reasonable estimate’. We already know that welfare is more affordable in Scotland and the finding in the report that welfare spending in Scotland has been declining as a proportion of the total GB spend further underlines that.
“Second, people want to know that benefits – including pensions – will be delivered seamlessly from the point of independence. I therefore welcome the report’s finding that almost all benefit payments to people in Scotland – including all pensions – are administered from locations within Scotland. In other words, the infrastructure of our welfare system already exists in Scotland.
“The report also makes the point that millions of people in England receive benefits that are administered from within Scotland. In light of that, I tend to agree with the group that a transitional period of shared administration would make sense.
“However, given that many people in Scotland are concerned about the welfare policies of the UK government, I am very clear that a transitional period of shared administration would only be in Scotland’s interests if it allows us from day one of independence, to address the inequities of the current system and work towards a system that better reflects Scotland’s needs and circumstances.
“The fact that Northern Ireland already has policy flexibility within a system of shared administration suggests that such an arrangement is perfectly possible. However, I welcome the report’s conclusion that all options for delivery are possible.
“Lastly, I welcome the views of stakeholders about the early priorities for change to the current system. These broadly reflect the views of the Scottish Government on matters such as the abolition of the bedroom tax and the retention of Housing Benefit.
“The group’s report has given us the foundation we need to ensure the delivery of welfare from the point of independence. I want, in particular, to thank the Chair, Darra Singh, who has provided invaluable technical expertise on the issues of costs and delivery.
“I am delighted to announce today that the next stage of work – that will look at the medium to longer-term options for reform of the welfare system and the delivery models that will best support that – will be chaired by Martyn Evans. Further details of the remit and membership of the second stage group will be confirmed shortly.”