5 Independent advice and scrutiny of social security
The Scottish Commission on Social Security (SCoSS) is an independent, advisory non-departmental public body established by the 2018 Act. It provides independent advice to Scottish Ministers and the Scottish Parliament on social security matters. The Scottish Government and ScoSS agreed to proceed with a review in summer 2022, exploring the remit and organisation of ScoSS. The findings of that review are due to be published in early 2023.
The Disability and Carers Benefit Expert Advisory Group (DACBEAG) was established in April 2017 and provided independent advice and recommendations to Scottish Ministers, both by request and proactively, on policy and practice options being developed on disability and carers benefits. This group's advisory role was different to SCoSS' statutory scrutiny function. DACBEAG's input was used in policy development and was published online where appropriate. DACBEAG reached the end of its initial agreed term, which ran to the end of the 2021/22 Parliamentary year, and was stood down at the end of February 2023.
The consultation therefore sought views on how independent social security advice and scrutiny could and should operate in future, to ensure that these functions remain fit for purpose. The consultation also sought views on whether either of these bodies should carry out the functions currently carried out by the UK Industrial Injuries Advisory Council in respect of Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit (IIDB), which has been devolved to Scottish Ministers but is currently still being delivered by the DWP under an agreement. The Scottish Government intends to replace IIDB with a benefit called Employment Injury Assistance.
5.1.1 Question 24: to what extent do you think the current arrangements for the provision of independent scrutiny and advice work effectively?
Table C.19 and Table C.20 (Appendix C) provide the quantitative response to Question 24. Respondent feedback was mixed, including that:
- 42% of all consultation respondents who answered Question 24 thought that the current arrangements for the provision of independent scrutiny and advice were either partially or fully effective
- 25% of consultation respondents thought that current arrangements were not at all effective
- 33% of consultation respondents didn't know.
5.1.2 Question 25: please give reasons for your answer.
Around two-thirds of all consultation respondents (68%) answered Question 25.
Respondents who believed current arrangements were partially effective
Theme 1: increase diversity of board membership
A few third and private sector organisations who believed current arrangements were partially effective were of the view that the current membership of the SCoSS and DACBEAG lacked diversity and representation of specific groups of people. The groups of people mentioned in their responses included women, disabled people, people from ethnic minority communities, and union representatives.
Additional points raised
Additional points raised, each by one consultation respondent, included that:
- the remits of SCoSS and DACBEAG could be broadened - a comment provided was that not all regulation was referred to SCoSS for scrutiny and DACBEAG did not provide advice on all types of social security assistance
- DACBEAG was limited in its ability to fully fulfil its role and function - a point raised was that members are unpaid so could be remunerated for their time and commitment
- SCoSS could be provided with additional resource to better fulfil its function, in particular to increase engagement with stakeholders and people with lived experience of the Scottish social security system.
Respondents who believed current arrangements were not at all effective
Theme 1: board members should have appropriate expertise
A few consultation respondents (third sector organisations and an individual respondent) who believed current arrangements were not effective also felt that membership and composition of SCoSS and DACBEAG could be reviewed and widened to:
- increase diversity
- ensure a wider representation of different viewpoints and perspectives
- ensure the groups had the right mix of skills, expertise, and capabilities.
5.1.3 Question 26: if the current arrangements were changed, would it be right to: (a) maintain separation between independent scrutiny and advice (b) combine these functions to maximise the effective use of independent expertise and secretariat resources (c) take a completely different approach.
Table C.21 and Table C.22 (Appendix C) provide the quantitative response to Question 26. Consultation respondent feedback was mixed and points to note include that:
- 50% of all consultation respondents who answered Question 26 thought it would be right to maintain separation between independent scrutiny and advice
- 27% of consultation respondents thought it would be right to combine these functions to maximise the use of independent expertise and secretariat resources
- 23% of consultation respondents thought it would be right to take a completely different approach.
5.1.4 Question 27: please give reasons for your answer.
Almost three-quarters of all consultation respondents (71%) answered Question 27.
Respondents who wanted functions to remain separate
Theme 1: removes any potential for conflict of interest
The most common response from third sector organisations who would like SCoSS and DACBEAG to have separate functions was that maintaining separation of functions would help to minimise the potential for conflict of interest. These respondents felt that advice and scrutiny were different functions, and that combining these could lead to a situation where the same body was undertaking scrutiny of policy matters that had been informed by its own advice.
The points raised above are reflected in the following (selected) respondent quote.
"It is important that there continues to be both independent advice to help shape policy making and scrutiny of regulations, however the functions are managed. Maintaining separation of independent advice on policy options before the law is drafted (currently delivered by DACBEAG) from scrutiny of policy choices in draft regulations (by SCoSS) avoids any conflict that might arise from the same body scrutinising policy choices that have already been informed by its advice."
Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland
Respondents who wanted functions to be combined
Theme 1: more efficient and effective use of resources
The most common response from consultation respondents who would like to see the functions of SCoSS and DACBEAG combined (mostly individual respondents, and a couple of public and third sector organisations) was that this approach could lead to more effective use of resources to support the provision of independent scrutiny and advice.
The point raised above is reflected in the following (selected) respondent quote.
"Independent scrutiny and advice functions should be combined to maximise the use of independent expertise and secretariat resources, subject to monitoring being undertaken to provide assurance on the integrity of adopting a combined approach"
Respondents who wanted a different approach
Theme 1: create a new agency
Almost all consultation respondents who were in favour of a completely different approach (third and private sector organisations) believed that there is a need for a new independent body or agency to oversee Employment Injury Assistance. The feedback provided by these respondents is captured in more detail at Question 30 which asked respondents specifically about Employment Injury Assistance.
5.1.5 Question 28: there are different options for organising independent advice and scrutiny - for example, formal arrangements in the form of a statutory body like a non-departmental public body and paid board members, or informal arrangements at Ministerial invitation with members participating on a voluntary basis. Please describe your views on how independent advice and scrutiny should be organised in the future.
More than half of all consultation respondents (56%) provided a response to Question 28, and the main feedback is outlined below.
Theme 1: funding for back-office functions and remuneration
Some third sector organisations believed that existing arrangements for the provision of independent scrutiny and advice should be retained, but in order for SCoSS and DACBEAG to function more effectively, consideration should be given to funding for back-office functions and remuneration for members.
These respondents considered this particularly important for DACBEAG, whose members are unpaid, as current arrangements were said to act as a barrier to participation for some. These respondents would prefer a more formal arrangement with remunerated members.
The points raised above is reflected in the following (selected) respondent quote.
"Renumeration [sic] may be necessary to ensure inclusive representation. Providing expert advice involves a time commitment that may exclude representation from smaller grassroot organisations, unless renumeration [sic] can be provided."
Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland
Theme 2: create a new agency
Some consultation respondents (mainly private sector organisations and one third sector organisation) expressed support for the development of a new body or agency to oversee Employment Injury Assistance. As above, the feedback provided by these respondents is captured in more detail at Question 30 which asked respondents specifically about Employment Injury Assistance.
5.1.6 Question 29: do you agree or disagree that the public body or bodies providing the Scottish Government with independent scrutiny and advice of Scottish Social Security should also provide advice in the future on Employment Injury Assistance?
Table C.23 and Table C.24 (Appendix C) provide the quantitative response to Question 29. Feedback from consultation respondents was relatively mixed and points to note include that:
- almost one-third of all consultation respondents who answered Question 29 agreed (32%) that the public body or bodies providing the Scottish Government with independent scrutiny and advice of Scottish Social Security should also provide advice in the future on Employment Injury Assistance
- 41% of consultation respondents disagreed with the proposal
- 27% of consultation respondents didn't know.
5.1.7 Question 30: please give reasons for your answer.
More than half of all consultation respondents (59%) answered Question 30.
Respondents who agreed with the proposal
Theme 1: expert knowledge required
A prevalent view among respondents who agreed with this proposal (mostly individual respondents and third sector organisations) was that it would be important for SCoSS and DACBEAG members to have the necessary expertise to provide advice on Employment Injury Assistance. This feedback was often framed in the context of the complexity of this new benefit and to ensure the public body or bodies were effective in fulfilling their role and remit.
The points raised above are reflected in the following (selected) respondent quotes.
"It is key that the Scottish Government continue to consult with those with a lived experience, as well as individuals with specific expertise on Employment Injury – for example medical professionals and health and safety inspectors. Therefore, a collaborative approach which incorporates cross-sector advice will be key in the creation of a good social security system."
Scottish Women's Convention
"It has been well documented that the Employment Injury Assistance and IIDB are particularly complex benefits that require a particular specialism in the field, therefore any independent body whose role is to scrutinize Employment Injury Assistance and related matters should have members who have a background in social security law, social policy, health and safety, and voluntary organisations, or individuals who have a particular knowledge of the current system. There is a wealth of experts within the UK whose involvement could be explored."
Action on Asbestos
Respondents who disagreed with the proposal
Theme 1: create a new agency to oversee Employment Injury Assistance
A prevalent view among consultation respondents who disagreed with the proposal (private and third sector organisations) was because they expressed support for the development of a new independent agency to oversee Employment Injury Assistance. These respondents felt that the necessary expertise might be lacking within the current membership of SCoSS and DACBEAG, and suggested a different approach was needed.
Some of the points raised above are reflected in the following (selected) respondent quote.
"Thompsons Solicitors Scotland supports the establishment of a Scottish Employment Injuries Advisory Council (SEIAC). The formation of an independent body of this type is crucial in the development of a new modern industrial injury benefit system if lessons are to be learned from the inherent inadequacies and inequalities existing in the UK Scheme being devolved to Scotland."
Thompsons Solicitors Scotland
Respondents who answered don't know to the proposal
The main feedback from consultation respondents (individual respondents and a couple of third sector organisations) who answered 'don't know' to the proposal about the provision of independent advice in the future on Employment Injury Assistance included that:
- the public body or bodies that provided advice to the Scottish Government on Employment Injury Assistance would need to have expert knowledge in this area
- some of these respondents lacked the necessary knowledge to provide an informed view on the Scottish Government proposal.
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