Treating everyone with dignity and respect

Social security charter laid for the approval of the Scottish Parliament.

People engaging with Scotland’s new social security system will be treated with dignity and respect, Social Security Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville has pledged.

Ms Somerville was speaking as the Scottish Government published ‘Our Charter’, a document which takes the eight principles set out in the Social Security Act passed unanimously by Parliament last year and outlines what these will mean in practice.  It will now be considered for approval by the Scottish Parliament.

Created by people with experience of the existing social security system, ‘Our Charter’ outlines in detail what can be expected from the Scottish Government and Social Security Scotland for anyone accessing Scotland’s new social security system.

Thanking the stakeholder organisations and the people with lived experience of social security who developed the charter at a meeting in Edinburgh, Ms Somerville said:

“When people use a public service they should have no concerns about how they will be treated.  Whatever the contact is about and whoever they speak to, they should have full confidence that they will be treated with dignity and respect.  However every day we read new reports of the brutal and degrading impact of a UK social security system that has been criticised by the UN and by House of Commons Committees. 

“This charter explains how Scotland will do things differently, creating a positive and supportive system that is there for all of us should we need it.  Notable commitments include treating people with kindness and empathy, recruiting staff who believe in these values, delivering services in local communities, and developing policy in a way that advances the human right to social security.

“These commitments were developed by those who know the system best – people with lived experience of social security and the organisations that represent them. There are few, if any, parallel examples of a Government working so closely with the people it serves to shape a public service.  The charter therefore goes to the heart of our commitment to work with the people of Scotland to co-design a system based on fairness, dignity and respect.”

Rob Gowans of Citizens Advice Scotland said:

“Citizens Advice Scotland welcomes the launch of the charter, as it is important that people who need support from the social security system are clear about their rights, what to expect and what they can do if that standard is not met.

“We know from people coming to their local Citizens Advice Bureau for advice that this is not always the case currently, so the charter is a positive step towards creating a social security system which treats people with dignity and respect at all times.”


The Social Security (Scotland) Act includes eight overarching principles which include:

  • social security is an investment in the people of Scotland,
  • social security is a human right;
  • respect for dignity of individuals is to be at the heart of the system;
  • the Scottish social security system is to contribute to reducing poverty in Scotland

The core group decided to structure the charter around four key themes:

  • A People’s Service – is about establishing a new and positive relationship between Social Security Scotland staff and the people they serve. It defines the treatment that people can expect from staff and how the core group believes that staff should be treated in return. Notable commitments include kindness and empathy, warm referrals to other services to improve finances and wellbeing, values based recruitment of Social Security Scotland staff and involving people with diverse lived experiences of social security in staff training.
  • Processes that Work – is about the design, accessibility and quality of the processes and systems that people will engage with when using the service. Notable commitments include adapting processes and communications to meet needs and preferences, delivery of services in local communities, on-going co-design with citizens and inclusive communication.
  • A Learning System – moves the charter beyond delivery to address the culture and values of Social Security Scotland e.g. that it encourages and values feedback, learns from it and strives to do better in future.       Other notable commitments include involving those with lived experience in measuring performance and recruiting a diverse workforce.  
  • A Better Future is about the Scottish Government’s policymaking process and the wider exercise of devolved social security powers to improve people’s lives. This theme contains higher level, more strategic commitments to ensure that the social security principles are embedded in policymaking more broadly, ongoing co-design and seeking to advance a human rights based approach, including commitments aimed directly at payment levels, tackling stigma and using more positive language to describe social security and the people who access it.  

The charter laid for approval therefore runs the full breadth of the Scottish social security system: from the content and design of policy, the recruitment and training of staff, their relationship with the people they serve right through to delivery of services and the culture of Social Security Scotland.

‘Our Charter’ has been laid for the approval of the Scottish Parliament and will be formally considered in the coming weeks.

Social Security Scotland was established in September 2018 and has so far paid two instalments of the Carers Allowance Supplement as well as making  payments of the Best Start Pregnancy and Baby payment. In 2019 it will deliver four new benefits including the Best Start Grant Nursery Age and School Age payments, Funeral Expense Assistance and Young Carer Grant.

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