Social security agency: ministerial statement, April 2017

Social Security Minister Jeane Freeman addresses Parliament on Scotland's new social security agency.

Presiding Officer,

Today, as I announce the model for the delivery of social security in Scotland and publish the evidence supporting this decision, we mark the next significant milestone in building Scotland's new social security system.

I will outline the shape and approach of Scotland's social security agency and touch on both the estimated number of people it will employ and on the estimated costs involved in delivery.

In the autumn, I will announce the location of the agency and the next steps on our assessment model for determining eligibility for benefits.

The process

Following the decision last March to establish a new executive agency, we have undertaken a second stage options appraisal to examine how the agency could deliver a rights-based social security service in a way that both best aligns with our core principles of dignity, fairness and respect, and achieves value for money.

In doing so, we have again underlined our commitment to co-production and transparency by involving partners from the third sector, local government and academia, and using the responses to the social security consultation to determine and assess the appraisal criteria.

A formidable and detailed analytical task which has led to a thorough and balanced options appraisal report, which itself demonstrates the integrity and robustness of the process and the evidence base we have worked from.

The model

Presiding Officer, our preferred model for delivery has two key strands.

Ten of the 11 devolved benefits will be delivered directly by the new social security agency itself through an efficient centralised function.

But critically, our social security agency will also provide locally accessible face-to-face pre-claims advice and support – co-located, where possible, in places people already visit.

Discretionary Housing Payments and the Scottish Welfare Fund will continue to be delivered by local authorities.

This option will best deliver on our key objectives:

  • consistency of provision across Scotland
  • a person centred, rights based service
  • a strong local, human face to improve accessibility and support
  • the safe and secure transition for the 1.4 million who rely on this support

Local presence

Presiding Officer, that local presence will be one of the key differences between our social security agency and the existing UK system.

Our approach will provide both a consistency of service across Scotland, irrespective of where an individual lives, and a more responsive service.

We welcome the 11 benefits being devolved, but too much remains reserved and will continue to be delivered in a UK system that has all of the deficiencies and faults our consultation responses so eloquently detail. We want to see all of welfare devolved, so the agency we are creating will have built into it the ability to expand to accommodate new powers in the future.

Our next steps will be to decide on that central location. Again we will take a systematic, evidence-based approach, taking into account a variety of socio-economic factors and using the same multi-criteria framework used for the wider options appraisal.

And in identifying co-location opportunities for the local presence that is central to our model, we will begin discussions with local partners.

Job creation

Presiding Officer, there is no doubt the jobs created in the new agency will bring major economic benefit to Scotland. Once fully operational, we estimate that at least 1500 people will work in Scotland's social security agency.

And by providing a local presence across Scotland, these jobs will not be confined to one central location.


And you would expect, we required the options appraisal to closely examine the estimated running costs of the new system.

I am pleased to report that our chosen delivery model not only meets our principles – it also represents the best value for money.

While figures will be refined as we move forward, when fully delivering all the benefits, we estimate the annual running costs of the agency will be around £150 million.

Vision for assessments

Presiding Officer, before concluding, I want to say a little about the assessment model we will use for the disability and ill-health related benefits. In the past 11 months, I have learned a great deal about how the current UK system goes about assessments. Over and over again, I have heard the personal experiences of so very many who have found this to be one of the most difficult, distressing and demeaning aspects of their whole experience.

And I am in no doubt that the current UK assessment model must be substantially changed.

So I am clear. The approach we will take will give due recognition to self-assessment and to clear third party, professionally founded supporting evidence.

With relevant information secured at first decision point in the overwhelming majority of cases, we can speed up decisions, getting more right first time and reducing the demand for appeals which itself currently places additional psychological and financial strain on individuals.

We will be guided by the personal experience of people through our Experience Panels and the expertise of our Expert Advisory Group on Disability and Carers' Benefits, which met for the first time last week.

And we will be guided by our principles.

One of those principles is that profit should never be a motive, nor play any part, in making decisions or assessing people's health and eligibility.

I have seen and heard enough evidence to know that the private sector should not be involved in assessments for Scotland's benefits. So I can confirm to the Chamber that in our assessment model there will be no contracting with the private sector.

I have begun to explore the potential to use the existing information and expertise of the health and social care sector.

I want a genuine partnership to access only the already known information which is relevant to social security decisions, with appropriate consents and robust safeguards.

And in doing so, to limit the time health and other professionals spend dealing with the negative impact of the current UK system on individuals, so our skilled and professional health and social care staff can focus on the role they have trained to do – care for and support their patients' and clients' health and social care.

We need to get this absolutely right. So we'll be working as a Scottish public sector, with the professional interests of those in the health and social care sector, drawing on the views of our Experience Panels and asking the Expert Advisory Group to clearly map out the application and assessment process so that we can gather evidence as early as possible and get our first and subsequent decisions right first time.

I will return in the autumn to provide members with an update and detail our next steps.

Concluding remarks

Presiding Officer, today's announcement is not just the culmination of a major and robust options appraisal. It is also the starting point for the design of more detailed operational arrangements: agency locations, staff numbers and service design.

Next will be our forthcoming Social Security Bill – on track for introduction to this Parliament by the summer – and a timescale for the first suite of benefits that we will deliver.

Our number one priority remains the safe and secure transition of 11 benefits for the 1.4 million people who rely on them.

Our social security agency will deliver the benefits in an efficient and person-centred way, tailored to meet individual needs.

It will provide major economic gain with a significant number of new jobs.

It will demonstrate that social security is an ongoing investment in the people of Scotland.

And we will demonstrate that there is a better and fairer way of delivering social security to those who are entitled to, and who rely on, that support.

This Government will build a social security system that will stand both the test of time and the test of trust from the people of Scotland relying on it.

This is a challenging time. It is, as Audit Scotland said, an 'exceptionally complex task'. But it is also a golden opportunity. And one I am determined we will get right.


Email: – Central Enquiry Unit

Phone: 0300 244 4000 – Central Enquiry Unit

The Scottish Government
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