Building a New Scotland: Social security in an independent Scotland

Sets out the Scottish Government’s proposals for social security in an independent Scotland.

Foreword by the Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice

Social security is among the most important responsibilities of any government. All of us benefit from it, directly or indirectly, at some point in our lives and it is vital for the wellbeing of any society. This was never more apparent than during the Covid-19 pandemic.

But for too long, the Westminster Government’s approach to social security in the UK has been to provide inadequate levels of financial support. Social security has been stigmatised and the value of benefits has been cut back to the point where allowances are not sufficient to meet basic essentials such as food and utility costs.

What’s more, because of its poor handling of the economy over recent years, the UK is now facing a return to austerity and increased levels of poverty in the middle of a cost of living crisis.

These increasing risks of poverty are not a short-term problem for the UK. For many years, UK poverty levels have been higher than in independent, European countries comparable to Scotland, as well as in larger countries like France and Germany. While there are a number of factors why so many families with children and older people are at risk of poverty, what is undeniable is that the UK social security system does not currently protect people as it should.

With independence, Scotland can do better. The Scottish Government has already demonstrated this with an approach to social security that treats people with dignity, fairness and respect. And we have introduced seven new entitlements, including the Scottish Child Payment, that tackle poverty and reduce inequality. We have made much needed improvements to carer and disability benefits – but we are constrained by the need to deliver these changes within the confines of the wider reserved social security and tax system.

We believe that a high-quality social security system is a human right that should be a safety net for all of us, whenever we need it, throughout our lives.

With independence, the Scottish Government could deliver a new approach across the whole social security system. No more ‘benefit cap’ or ‘two-child limit’ pushing families into poverty. No more ‘bedroom tax’ restricting the choices people make about their housing. The ability to make changes to create an integrated system of support that works for everyone, lifting people out of poverty, supporting those who can access paid work and supporting the labour market and underpinning a flourishing economy. A system that can deliver a Minimum Income Guarantee for every household in Scotland.

A strong social security system is a fundamental part of a fair and equal society and a strong economy. Of course, the key challenge for any society is balancing ambition with resource – and some choices might not always be easy. But what is already clear is that, with independence, Scotland could deliver a social security system that moves far beyond the inadequacies of the current approach.

A starting point is recognising that social security is a human right. It is an investment in people and society, an investment that, as is shown in other countries, delivers better outcomes and helps to support a stronger and more prosperous economy. Over time, Scotland could match the performance of other independent, European countries that have low levels of poverty and inequality and high levels of economic success.

We can become a stronger, fairer and more prosperous country – this government believes that independence is the best route to getting there.

Shirley-Anne Somerville MSP

Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice



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