An expert group which will advise on how a fairer welfare system can be introduced in an independent Scotland has been unveiled by Deputy First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon – a welfare system which protects the vulnerable and supports Scottish households.
The Expert Working Group on Welfare will look at benefit payments in Scotland, consider changes to the current system in an independent Scotland, and make initial recommendations for how a welfare system can reflect Scottish values.
In December, the UK Government introduced a Bill which will slash vital support for families and low earners in Scotland by around £210 million. This is on top of the £2.5 billion in reductions for Scottish households already set out by the Department for Work and Pensions.
The group, which includes experts in public sector delivery, social policy, an accountant and an economist, will be tasked with providing assurance on the Scottish Government’s assessment of the cost of the benefit system at the point of independence, as well as its plans for delivering welfare payments in an independent Scotland.
The group will also offer views on which aspects of the UK Government’s current reforms to working-age benefits should be an immediate priority for change in an independent Scotland to ensure the welfare system protects the most vulnerable members of Scottish society and supports those who can work with a route into sustained employment.
It is expected that the group will prepare a report for ministers by May 2013.
Ms Sturgeon said:
“The only way to guarantee social justice in Scotland is to have control of the powers needed to deliver it.
“When UK spending cuts are reducing the welfare benefits of some of the most vulnerable members in our communities, with a further £210 million set to be taken from the pockets of individuals, families and communities, leaving welfare to Westminster is more worrying than ever.
“Where the Scottish Government has responsibility at the moment, we are investing to mitigate the impact of UK cuts to communities. We are providing, with our partners in local government, £40 million in 2013/14 to ensure that over 560,000 people in Scotland are protected from the UK Government’s 10 per cent cut to Council Tax Benefit funding.
“We will provide an extra £9.2m for the Scottish Welfare Fund which means an additional 5,600 Community Care Grants, and over 100,000 Crisis Grants for those groups who need help most.
“With a Yes vote in 2014 we would begin work to establish a welfare system that better reflects Scotland’s values, ensures fair and decent support for those that need it most – a system that protects the vulnerable and supports households rather than seeing them be subjected to unfair ideological benefit cuts from Westminster.
“The announcement of the Expert Group is the first step on the journey towards creating a welfare system which will support the economy and society of an Independent Scotland.
“The Group brings together a wide range of interests and, importantly, people who will provide a meaningful perspective on Scottish Government plans for our nation’s welfare system following a successful Independence vote.
“A fairer welfare system for Scotland can only be achieved with independence and control over all welfare policies so that we can devise policies for the benefit of the Scottish people, that reflect Scottish values.”
The Welfare Uprating Bill was introduced to the Westminster Parliament on 20 December, and will limit the uprating of various benefit payments to 1 per cent, rather than an inflation-linked rise.
The UK Department for Work and Pensions announced on 21 December that the Benefit Cap, which places an absolute ceiling on benefit payments, will not be implemented nationally from April 2013 as planned.
The members of the group announced by the Deputy First Minister are:
- Darra Singh OBE is currently a director within Ernst & Young’s Government and Public Sector team, and a former Chief Executive of Jobcentre Plus.
- Martyn Evans is Chief Executive of the Carnegie Trust and a former Chief Executive of Citizens Advice Scotland.
- Douglas Griffin is former Director of Finance, NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde.
- Professor Mike Brewer is currently a Research Fellow at the Institute for Fiscal Studies and Professor of Economics at the University of Essex.