Joint Ministerial Working Group on Welfare minutes: May 2022

Minutes from the eighteenth meeting of the Joint Ministerial Working Group on Welfare on 16 May 2022.

Attendees and apologies

  • Chair: Secretary of State for Scotland (SoSS)
  • Parliamentary Undersecretary of State for Scotland (PuSoSS)
  • Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work (MfDP)
  • Minister for Social Security and Local Government (MfSSLG)
  • Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Housing and Local Government (CSfSJHLG), ) [Virtual]
  • Officials from Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), Office of the Secretary of State for Scotland (OSSS) and Scottish Government (SG)

Items and actions

Welcome and introductions, actions and minutes from eighteenth meeting

SoSS welcomed all attendees to the 18th meeting of the Joint Ministerial Working Group on Welfare and noted it was positive to be able to meet in person, noting some attendees were online.
SoSS noted the meeting was intended to help all parties keep track of progress transferring devolved social security powers to the Scottish Government (SG). He emphasised how important it was that DWP and OSSS understand SG priorities in this space, and where joint working would be needed between the two governments.

All present noted that the minutes of the previous meeting had been agreed and published. Ongoing actions were noted.

Social Security Scotland delivery of benefits - current priorities

Adult Disability Payment

SoSS recognised that joint working between the two governments on the delivery of benefits in recent months has worked very well, including completion of the Adult Disability Payment (ADP) Scotland Act Order (SAO) in March 2022. PuSoSS commented that the SAO was successfully delivered and thanked officials on both sides for their work delivering the order. Continuing, he observed that advance notice for future delivery timescales and priorities will improve joint working on these complex matters. MfSSLG stated his thanks to UKG Ministers and officials for their support in the delivery of ADP and its associated SAOs. He recognised it had been complicated to align timetables, and was positive about working between officials. He reaffirmed the ambition to give advance notice of joint work in the future.

MfSSLG provided an update on ADP, explaining that the pilot scheme launched in the three council areas of Dundee City, Perth and Kinross, and the Western Isles is going well. The agency has started making payments in these areas and positive feedback has been received on the application process. MfSSLG highlighted the vital role his officials, along with officials from Social Security Scotland and DWP, had played in the successful delivery of ADP. MfDP noted that both governments have a space to ensure the successful completion of the case transfer work (which is due to start in the coming months), and that sensible ‘docking points’ were required to ensure both governments could continue to deliver the transition.

MfSSLG provided an update on the SG review of ADP, noting the significant interest among stakeholders and MSPs on what happens after the case transfer. The scope and timing of the independent review is still being considered but that SG is committed to a two-stage review of ADP: stage 1 will commence in 2022 and will consider the mobility criteria, and stage 2 will commence in 2023 with a wide-ranging remit and will be independent of Government. MfSSLG confirmed that safe and secure transfer is the priority, alongside understanding the potential implications of any changes for people in Scotland who are in receipt of reserved benefits.

Updating attendees on the forthcoming UKG White Paper on health and disability, MfDP acknowledged the importance of providing the SG with a full update, but explained that details could not be shared at this time. She offered assurances that the timeline for publication before the Westminster summer recess remained the same, and that it will echo the themes of the UKG Health and Disability Green Paper. MfDP offered a subsequent meeting with MfSSLG when she is able to share further information on the matter.

Scottish Child Payment

CSfSJHLG noted the importance of Scottish Child Payment to Scotland’s national mission to tackle child poverty. The rollout of the benefit to under 16s and increase to £25 per week are key levers to meet statutory targets. SCP is projected to lift an estimated 50,000 children out of poverty in 2023. She provided an update on the extension of SCP to under 16s, which will be completed by the end of 2022, and acknowledged the hard work of officials from both governments and agencies behind the scenes. Particular emphasis was given to SG/DWP official level discussions that had resolved data sharing and delivery timetable issues. The DWP-led strategic data solution will be implemented 6 months after the launch of SCP phase 2. The MfSSLG and MfDP also noted their thanks to officials. 

Future delivery, planning and legislation for remaining devolved benefits

MfSSLG provided an update on his speech to the Scottish Parliament planned for 26 May 2022. He set out his intention to summarise future SG planning on social security delivery. He explained his aims to announce timescales for the SG’s commitment to design and implement Scottish Carer’s Assistance (SCA), with a proposed pilot date of autumn/winter 2023, and the national launch in spring 2024. MfSSLG committed to writing to MfDP to continue discussions on case transfer for Carer’s Allowance and on Carers Additional Person Payment (CAPP). MfDP noted that the complexities of this benefit, and the scale of the case transfer, might require discussion at further meetings. She added that the SG announcement should take joint government working into account, and only commit to deadlines where DWP involvement was required if this has already been agreed.

MfSSLG confirmed he would also use the speech to confirm SG plans to replace the Cold Weather Payment benefit with the Low-Income Winter Heating Assistance benefit, and that delivery will commence from the winter of 2022/2023. CSfSJHLG explained that the delivery of the new Low-Income Winter Heating Assistance is a priority this year and, therefore, it would not be practicable to also bring forward delivery of the replacement for Winter Fuel Payments (Pension Age Winter Heating Assistance) before winter 2024. CSfSJHLG confirmed that SG Ministers will write to their DWP counterparts confirming this approach and requesting an extension of the Social Fund for a further year for this purpose. 

MfDP informed attendees that she had received a request from MfSSLG to extend relevant agency agreements to 2024. She stated that there is still considerable planning required for the transfer of the remaining benefit services from 2023-2025 and that the operational planning for the agency agreements should be considered alongside the agreed implementation timetable to ensure all deadlines are achievable. MfSSLG and PuSoSS agreed that advanced planning would help all sides deliver this work on time. It was agreed that this work would be taken forward collectively

Action 1: SG to write to DWP to confirm launch dates for SCA and to continue discussions on case transfers for carers and CAPP.

Action 2: SG Ministers to write to DWP Ministers to request an extension of the Social Fund until 2024 to enable delivery of Winter Fuel Payments in Winter 2024. 

Any other business

CSfSJHLG raised the cost of living and urged UKG Ministers to investigate what more could be done to support vulnerable people. She also highlighted the SG’s request for UKG to take further action through Universal Credit. Agreeing that the cost of living crisis is a critical focus at this time, MfDP highlighted that UKG has doubled the Household Support Fund, which can be accessed by the SG. She emphasised that this was how to reach those on fixed or low incomes, and also that her department was focused on getting as many people into work as possible. SoSS offered reassurance that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is closely monitoring the situation, and that the package of support was currently almost £22 billion. SoSS committed to inform HMT of the discussion at this group.

CSfSJHLG asked if officials can agree a clear plan for offsetting the removal of the spare room subsidy (“bedroom tax”) at source. MfDP explained that UKG cannot commit to a timescale as resources were required elsewhere (such as pandemic recovery and the plan for jobs). She committed to asking officials to keep looking at solutions to the spare room deduction in Scotland.

MfSSLG noted that the next few years would be critical for the continued delivery of devolved social security benefits, and reaffirmed his appreciation for all the work done so far. He restated that excellent progress is being made, but that appropriate prioritisation will be required in the years ahead.

SoSS ended the meeting by thanking all officials involved in this work, and the attendees for their time, and closed the meeting. He, and all Ministers present, concluded by agreeing that this area of work was a great example of both governments working together.

Action 3: SoSS to inform HM Treasury on the discussion at this meeting relating to the cost of living.

Summary of action points

Action 1: SG to write to DWP to confirm launch dates for SCA and to continue discussions on case transfers for carers and CAPP.

Action 2: SG Ministers to write to DWP Ministers to request an extension of the Social Fund until 2024 to enable delivery of Winter Fuel Payments in Winter 2024. 

Action 3: SoSS to inform HM Treasury on the discussion at this meeting relating to the cost of living.

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