Social Security achievements and investment: Ministerial speech

Update on the social security programme business case in a parliamentary speech by Ben Macpherson, Minister for Social Security and Local Government, to the Scottish Parliament, Tuesday 7 February 2023.

Since the passing of the UK Government’s Scotland Act 2016 and the unanimous passing of the Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018 in this parliament, establishing Scotland’s social security system has been the biggest delivery programme since devolution, with new powers allowing us to better support the people of Scotland.

We have already achieved an extraordinary amount in that time, and I pay tribute to the many people who've been involved in this shared challenge and success, including people on our experience panels, stakeholders who’ve helped us shape our benefits, the staff of Social Security Scotland, Scottish Government officials and our delivery partners in the UK Government.

We have achieved this together. Because social security is a collective endeavour - it is a collective investment in people.

That is one of the 8 principles enshrined in law, along with principles such as the role of social security in reducing poverty, and that it should be a system designed with the people of Scotland on the basis of evidence, continuous improvement, efficient delivery and value for money.

And, together, we can be proud of what we have already achieved, including introducing, despite the pandemic, 12 Scottish Government benefits – 13 from later this month – 7 of which are entirely new forms of financial support which are only available here, in Scotland.

All delivered based on the agreed values of dignity, fairness and respect.

As Audit Scotland said in their report in May last year: “Successfully launching new benefits during the pandemic has been a significant achievement for the Scottish Government.

Social Security Scotland has performed well and its annual client surveys have been positive - for example, showing that 94 per cent of people think that they’ve been treated with the kindness they deserve.

This is testament to the way we deliberately take time to co‑design our benefits with people who’ll receive them – one of the many things we are doing differently in our system.

Next year we will spend a record £5.2 billion through Scottish Government benefits - £776 million more than the funding we are forecast to get from the UK Government through block grant adjustments - providing important support to over 1 million people in Scotland.

And this will double to an expected 2 million people in 2024-25, which demonstrates the scale and pace of the expansion of our Scottish social security system.

By 2027-28, spending on Scottish Government benefits will rise to £7.3 billion, more than £1.4 billion over and above transfers from the UK Government.

And of top of that we also support people with Discretionary Housing Payments, the Scottish Welfare Fund and the Council Tax Reduction scheme.

Presiding, officer, our significant investment demonstrates the political choices we make in Scotland to prioritise support for the people who need it most, particularly during these very challenging times - including, of course, delivering our Scottish Child Payment of £25 per week, per child, for 387,000 eligible children.

Progress with Delivery

Last year, we launched Adult Disability Payment across Scotland – a major milestone allowing us to make a real difference to people’s lives, with no-one being subject to DWP‑style assessments or or functional examinations.

Last week, we launched a public consultation on the eligibility criteria for the mobility component of Adult Disability Payment.

This is the first step, which will inform the independent review that we have committed to establish later this year.

We are also investing in automated payments, so people get their benefits without needing to apply, which is something we have developed significant progress on this year.

This includes automatically awarding Child Winter Heating Assistance and Carer’s Allowance Supplement.

And I am pleased to confirm, again, that we have now received the data we need from the DWP for our thirteenth benefit, Winter Heating Payment – which will provide a reliable investment of over £20 million each year to support eligible households - more than double the £8.3 million provided on average by the DWP in its Cold Weather Payments during each of the last seven years.

As we confirmed last week, work is now progressing as planned and payments will be made automatically this month or next to up to 415,000 people who are eligible.

Programme Timetable

Presiding officer, in its report last year, following the impact of the pandemic, Parliament will recall that Audit Scotland recommended we:

  • conclude replanning activity
  • set out timelines for remaining benefits, and
  • publish an updated programme business case including refreshed estimates for implementation costs

We have published that business case today – a detailed and evidence-based rationale for what we are doing and the costs of doing so.

The business case includes an uplift in essential implementation costs from £651 million in 2020 to the current estimate of £715 million this year, driven by the additional work caused by the pandemic and the positive choices we have made to support people, including creating, increasing and extending of our Scottish Child Payment.

In setting out the timeline for delivery of the next phase of Scottish Government benefits I would like, again, to pay tribute to the stakeholders, Experience Panels and officials and Ministers in the Department of Work and Pensions with whom we work closely.

It’s no secret that the Scottish Government disagrees profoundly with the UK Government over several things, including its approach to many aspects social security, but by and large those disagreements have not coloured co-operation on devolved social security matters. And I welcome that.

And I’m pleased to be able to report that we agreed at the meeting of the Joint Ministerial Group on 25 January that the timeline as set out in the Programme Business Case is appropriate and achievable, and that both Governments are committed to providing the resources required to ensure delivery.

Presiding officer, it is hard to overstate the importance and complexity of case transfer.

It is equally as challenging as launching new benefits – and is made more complex still by the age of the DWP’s systems, from which we are transferring people.

Therefore, I am pleased we continue to make steady progress on the safe and secure transfer of 700,000 disability and carer cases from the DWP to Social Security Scotland and remain on track to complete this work by December 2025, as set out in the Programme Business Case. And I have to clarify considering reports there have been today, we used to extend Agency Agreements annually, but we have now agreed to extend to the end of 2025 as we intend to complete case transfer. We have also included a three month contingency to the end of March 2026 for safety and for safety reasons only. We remain  on track to complete case transfer by end of 2025. 

All of this makes it really important that we continue with our current measured approach - with the seamless, safe and secure transition of people’s payments as the top priority.

Our fourteenth Scottish Government benefit, which will replace and improve upon the UK Government’s Carer’s Allowance, will be called Carer Support Payment.

This benefit will be launched in pilot phase by the end of 2023, ahead of national launch in Spring 2024.

I will set out in more detail our approach for Carer Support Payment this Spring when we publish our response to the extensive consultation undertaken last year on carer benefits.

Our fifteenth benefit, Pension Age Winter Heating Payment, will launch in winter 2024, replacing Winter Fuel Payment.

I am glad to say that we have now agreed a two-year extension of the Social Fund with the DWP, as required for this to happen.

In the autumn of 2024 we also plan to introduce the pilot of Pension Age Disability Payment – our sixteenth Scottish Government benefit, replacing the current UK Government Attendance Allowance.

National roll-out of this new benefit is scheduled for 2025.

Finally, on the timeline, in the next few months I intend to consult on the subject of Employment Injuries Assistance and replacement of the current UK Government Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefits.

I would like to acknowledge the work of MSPs and organisations who have an interest in this.

Employee Injuries Assistance is a very complex area and it is important that we work with stakeholders to decide the right approach, recognising the limits on our devolved powers in relation to issues like health and safety and employment law.

We also need to recognise the substantial costs and operational requirements of a new benefit and the challenges of moving from what is an antiquated and entirely paper-based UK benefit.

I am pleased to say that DWP remain committed to working with us to agree an approach which is practicable, affordable and, of course, in the interests of people, including current recipients - and it’s right that we take appropriate time to consider this all thoroughly.

Client Feedback and Co-design

Presiding Officer, as Audit Scotland also said about social security, and I quote:

The Scottish Government is preparing well for the next stages of delivery and is managing the complex programme of work effectively.

And whilst doing so we are ensuring continuous improvement of our systems, and building the capability of Social Security Scotland.

These are absolutely fundamental requirements to ensuring we continue to deliver for the people of Scotland and keep to the principles of the Social Security Act.

This sort of work does not often capture the attention of the public, and there is no reason why it should, but it is important that we recognise the huge amount of work required, day in and day out, to develop and then build on the strong foundations that have been achieved so far.


In conclusion, we have limited powers over Social Security and a largely fixed budget, which has been shrinking in real terms due to rampant UK inflation.

This - and practical realities – obviously restrict what we are able to deliver.

However, with pride and purpose despite those limitations we are delivering real and meaningful change through Social Security Scotland – helping more people in more ways and significantly uplifting incomes.

And we’re doing it by putting into practice our shared commitment to treat people with dignity, fairness and respect: to deliver social security not just as a public service – but as a common good and human right.

It is in that spirit of service that I am pleased to open today’s debate and to move the motion in my name.

Back to top