Independent Advice and Scrutiny of Social Security
The Scottish Government's collaborative approach to social security goes beyond the involvement of people with lived experience of the system, drawing on specialist knowledge and advice from academics and other experts in social security to make sure that the new public service meets its full potential.
In addition to the thousands of people who have taken part in experience panels, and the numerous steering and reference groups which have contributed to policy development, both the Scottish Commission on Social Security (SCoSS) and the Disability and Carers Benefit Expert Advisory Group (DACBEAG) have each played vital roles in the development of the new Scottish system of social security.
SCoSS is an independent, advisory non-departmental public body established by the Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018 ('the 2018 Act'). It provides expert advice to Scottish Ministers and the Scottish Parliament on devolved social security matters. The 2018 Act allows for up to five paid commissioners to sit on the SCoSS board.
Board members, including the Chair, are paid non-executive appointments made by the Scottish Ministers in line with the Code of Practice for Ministerial Public Appointments in Scotland. The Chair is accountable to the Scottish Ministers and the Scottish Parliament. The current SCoSS members were appointed for periods of three or four years. SCoSS is supported by a small secretariat employed by the Scottish Government.
SCoSS reviews certain types of social security regulations, and provides the Government and the Scottish Parliament with scrutiny reports on each piece of legislation it reviews. SCoSS is also obliged by the 2018 Act to report to the Scottish Parliament 'from time to time' on the extent to which the Scottish Government is meeting the commitments set out in Our Charter, with recommendations for improvement where it feels those are necessary.
A framework document currently sets out the broad framework within which SCoSS operates and defines key roles and responsibilities underpinning the relationship with the Scottish Government. The Framework document sets out that it should be reviewed every 2-3 years. The Scottish Government and SCoSS have agreed that a review should proceed this summer, which will cover the remit and organisation of SCoSS.
DACBEAG was established in April 2017 and provides 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 is different to SCoSS' statutory scrutiny function. DACBEAG's input is used in policy development, and is published online where appropriate.
Unlike SCoSS, DACBEAG has no statutory basis. Members are appointed by Ministers in agreement with the Chair based on their individual expertise in social security and related topics and do not undergo a formal public appointments process. The Scottish Government provides DACBEAG with support staff to carry out its role.
DACBEAG has now reached the end of its initial agreed term, which ran to the end of the 2021/22 Parliamentary year. Over its term it has provided hundreds of recommendations to Ministers on a broad range of diverse topics.
Issues to consider
Independent advice and scrutiny has been and will continue to be crucial in developing Scottish social security policy. However, there is a limited pool of independent experts and organisations with the necessary capacity, knowledge and time to offer external scrutiny and policy advice. In addition, providing sufficiently well-resourced and capable secretariat teams to support independent input has at times been challenging. The Scottish Government want to ensure that we make the best of the range of expertise and to ensure it is organised and supported as efficiently as possible for future requirements beyond the safe and secure devolution of the current devolved assistance.
Looking ahead, the Scottish Government has committed to a review of Adult Disability Payment commencing in summer 2023 a year after the benefit is launched nationally in August 2022. This independent review will be a significant undertaking and decisions are still to be taken about how it will be conducted. It will be important that the approach is informed by the outcomes of this consultation on the organisation more generally of independent advice and scrutiny.
In addition we will shortly be developing policy options for Employment Injury Assistance to replace Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit (IIDB). The Industrial Injuries Advisory Council (IIAC) currently scrutinises IIDB regulations and provides independent advice to the UK Government on the addition of new diseases to the list of prescribed diseases and occupations they should be prescribed for. As part of Employment Injury Assistance policy development consideration needs to be given to how such advisory functions will be undertaken in Scotland in the future.
Against the background of these challenges, the SCoSS review and the end of DACBEAG's initial term, it is timely to consider how independent advice and scrutiny is best organised in the future. It may be possible to combine all of these functions in an independent body to make the best use of independent expertise and secretariat resources. There may be arguments for organising these functions differently.
The Scottish Government is therefore seeking views on how independent social security advice and scrutiny could and should operate in future, including to identify any changes that would require legislation, to ensure that the organisation of these functions remains fit for purpose into the future.
Q24. To what extent do you think the current arrangements for the provision of independent scrutiny and advice work effectively?
Fully / Partially / Not at all / Don’t know
Q25. Please give reasons for your answer.
Q26. 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.
Q27. Please give reasons for your answer.
Q28. There are different options for organising independent advice and scrutiny e.g. 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.
Q29. 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?
Agree / Disagree / Don’t know
Q30. Please give reasons for your answer.
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