The UK Government has embarked on a wide-ranging programme of welfare reform, with a range of changes taking effect from April 2013. Many working age benefits relating to low income and disability will be replaced..
Although social security is a reserved matter, Scottish Government use the receipt of various welfare benefits as a proxy measure for low-income or disability when assessing entitlement to Scottish-controlled benefits such as free school lunches and legal aid, among others. These are often known as “passported benefits” and include benefits-in kind, cash benefits or discounts on charges. Given that UC will encompass both in-work and out-of-work claimants, we cannot simply extend eligibility of passported benefits to all those on UC. Equally, we understand that DLA and PIP will have significant differences.
When the UK Government makes major changes in the welfare system, as now, we need to review the criteria we set for access to support to ensure, as far as possible, we continue to support low-income or disabled people as intended. Scottish Ministers recognise the importance of these entitlements to the people who receive them and are seeking to maintain similar access to them under the new arrangements. It is not our policy intention to restrict access by narrowing the eligibility criteria or to cut budgets; however we are responding to changes to welfare benefits being made by the UK Government.
While immediate changes are required for April 2013 and will be discussed with stakeholders once the UK Government releases sufficient information to make decisions, we also wish to consider the broad principles which should underpin any changes to eligibility criteria for passported benefits in the medium term. While some changes could be relatively straightforward, others require greater thought. We would like to take this opportunity to look more broadly at the way we deliver passported benefits, exploring whether we can make them easier to locate in times of need, simpler to understand and more coherent as a whole, while protecting access.