Building a New Scotland: Social security in an independent Scotland

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

Scotland’s social security system – a new approach

The Scottish approach to social security, which has been developing over the last decade, is fundamentally different to that of the UK Government. From the outset, the developing principles were grounded in an ambition to deliver a system with dignity, fairness and respect at its heart.

The Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018 set this distinctive Scottish approach into legislation. It includes a set of social security principles which direct every aspect of design, development and delivery, as set out in Box 1.

Box 1 – The Scottish social security principles

Social security is an investment in the people of Scotland.

Social security is itself a human right and essential to the realisation of other human rights. The delivery of social security is a public service.

Respect for the dignity of individuals is to be at the heart of the Scottish social security system. The Scottish social security system is to contribute to reducing poverty in Scotland.

The Scottish social security system is to be designed with the people of Scotland on the basis of evidence.

Future improvements to the Scottish social security system will seek to:

  • put the needs of those who require assistance first and
  • advance equality and non-discrimination

The Scottish social security system is to be efficient and deliver value for money.

These principles are embedded in our social security charter,[61] which explains what people can expect from the Scottish Government and Social Security Scotland. The charter was also created in partnership with people with lived experience of social security and independent expert organisations.

The Scottish Government is required to report to Parliament on how the charter is being delivered and an independent scrutiny body, the Scottish Commission on Social Security, also publishes reports on how we are doing against it. The commitments in the charter are set out in Box 2.

Box 2 – The social security charter

A people’s service. We are here to help you get everything you’re entitled to.

Processes that work. We will design services with the people who use them.

A learning system. We will encourage feedback and empower people to deliver the best service possible.

A better future. We will invest in the people of Scotland – making a positive difference to all our lives.

‘Experience Panels’ are one concrete example of how the principles and the charter work in practice. These panels were made up of the people who understand social security best – those who have applied for benefits themselves: they have informed the development of the new system. Over 2,000 people told us what mattered most to them when applying for and receiving benefits and what needed to be done differently. They told personal stories about processes for applying to the DWP for benefits that left them feeling stigmatised. Their feedback has helped design a new model for social security for Scotland, as well as new benefits, under devolution.

These commitments are borne out in the experiences of people applying for or in receipt of benefits. Social Security Scotland’s most recent ‘Client Survey’ reported that almost 9 in 10 people reported that they had been treated with fairness, dignity and respect and that their overall experience of applying for a benefit was ‘good’ or ‘very good’.[62]

New Scottish benefits

Establishing a new social security system from scratch has been the most complex delivery programme undertaken in Scotland since devolution in 1999. It has been a challenging journey which has had to adjust and respond to unprecedented challenges. However, despite Brexit and Covid, substantial progress has already been made.[63]

Fourteen Scottish social security benefits are now in place, seven of which are entirely new. As of June this year, Social Security Scotland directly employed more than 4,000 staff[64] across offices in Dundee and Glasgow. When all benefits have been introduced and clients safely and securely transferred from the DWP, it is expected that Social Security Scotland could support around two million children and adults nationwide.[65] The Scottish Government is forecast to spend £5.3 billion on benefit expenditure in 2023-24.[66]

In order to introduce these benefits, underpinning systems have been built to administer them. These include a case management system, document management, routes to allow clients to challenge decisions, fraud, error and debt capabilities, telephony, data warehousing, advocacy, and appointment booking, to name but a few. In addition, Social Security Scotland has had to recruit the people and skills it needs to deliver a successful service.

An example of the Scottish approach to social security is the ‘five family payments’ that provide additional financial support for low-income families with children. Investing in early years is a key priority for the Scottish Government and tackling child poverty is a national mission. The Scottish Parliament, recognising the harm caused by poverty, has set stretching child poverty targets in statute, to be met in 2023 and 2030.[67] Social security is one way to support families at risk.

The five family payments are:

  • Best Start Foods, providing financial support to buy healthy foods for pregnant women (£19.80 every four weeks) and young children (£39.60 every four weeks up to the age of one and £19.80 every four weeks for children aged one to three)
  • the three Best Start Grant payments, providing targeted support at key stages of birth (£707.25 for a first child, £353.65 for subsequent children), early years (£294.70), and school age (£294.70)
  • and the ‘game-changing’ Scottish Child Payment[68] (£25 per week for each child aged under 16)

Over £200 million was paid to low-income families through the Scottish Child Payment alone in 2022-23. Now that eligibility has been extended to include all eligible children under 16, expenditure is forecast to increase to over £400 million in 2023-24 and around 310,000 children in low-income households across Scotland are expected to benefit from this support every year.[69]

These payments could together be worth around £10,000 by the time a child reaches six and over £20,000 by the time a child reaches sixteen: they provide a level of support far greater than anywhere else in the UK.

Feedback from those receiving the benefits is overwhelmingly positive with people noting how straightforward it is to apply and how positive the process is.[70] They are making a real difference to real people – one recipient explained the impact the payments have had:

‘I have two daughters and a son. I got Pregnancy and Baby Payment first and that opened the doors to getting other payments, including Scottish Child Payment. That really helped me. It helped with shopping for food and milk, especially now when everything is going up. It made a massive difference.’

‘My advice to other parents is to call Social Security Scotland – it’s very easy to pick up the phone and you get a lot of help to go through the process.’

This is supported by research which shows that positive outcomes are being delivered for children and their parents and carers alike, easing financial strain on low-income families at key stages for their children. The payments are preventing families from going into debt and increasing the confidence of parents and carers.[71]

Crucially, the Scottish Child Payment could lift 50,000 children out of relative poverty, reducing the relative child poverty rate (after housing costs) by an estimated five percentage points in 2023-24.[72]

This illustrates the Scottish Government’s commitments to use social security to reduce poverty and improve outcomes using the powers it has. It indicates what might be possible with the full powers of independence.

A new approach to carer and disability benefits

The Scottish approach to carer and disability benefits illustrates the different approach now being taken.

The Scottish Government recognises the massive contribution made by unpaid carers to the people they care for and our communities. It is estimated that the economic value of the contribution made by carers in Scotland is £13.1 billion per year.[73] Devolution has already provided greater opportunities to improve support for unpaid carers and help address gender inequality through improvements to Carer’s Allowance. The first major change with the new social security powers in 2018 was to introduce the Carer’s Allowance Supplement. This increased Carer’s Allowance to the level of Jobseeker’s Allowance, and now exceeds it. At the end of 2023, the Scottish Government will have provided those continually in receipt of Carer’s Allowance with £3,300 more than equivalent carers in other parts of the UK.[74]

In addition, we introduced the Young Carer Grant in 2019, which now provides an annual payment of over £350 to carers aged 16 to 18 with significant caring responsibilities.

The Scottish Government is working to ensure that carer benefits align better with the strategic approach set out in the National Carer Strategy[75] to address the different aspects of support for unpaid carers, better enabling them to provide the right support for the people they care for while living full, rounded lives. Our work to deliver the Carer Support Payment is just one part of a range of work already underway – such as the introduction of a National Care Service and work to look at a Minimum Income Guarantee for all – which has the potential to deliver significant improvements for carers.

The Carer Support Payment, the replacement for Carer’s Allowance, will be available across the whole of Scotland by autumn 2024, and will deliver improved support and an improved service, designed with carer and support organisations to better meet the needs of those who use it.

The Scottish Government is also extending entitlement to many unpaid carers who wish to study full-time, reducing barriers to education, and providing better links to wider services to help carers access all the support they are entitled to, helping to provide more stable incomes.

After launch, the priority is to safely and securely transfer the awards of people in Scotland receiving Carer’s Allowance from the DWP and onto the Carer Support Payment. Once this transfer is complete, further improvements will be made to the Carer Support Payment, such as an additional payment for those that care for more than one person and extending the run-on of the benefit to the carer if the person they care for passes away.

By the end of 2025, it is expected that approximately 700,000 people in Scotland currently receiving disability or carer’s benefits from DWP will have their awards transferred to Social Security Scotland and onto the new replacement Scottish disability and carers benefits.[76]

Transferring the awards of so many people from one case management system to another and from one legal framework to another is a huge undertaking. This is a joint project with the DWP to ensure that the right information is provided at the right time and in the right format to allow this to happen.

Listening to benefit recipients and learning from their experiences has been fundamental to designing this process. Through this engagement, ‘case transfer’ principles have been designed to give people assurance about how the process will work in practice:

  • no one will be required to re-apply for their benefit as part of the transfer process
  • the case transfer process will be completed as soon as possible, while ensuring that it remains safe and secure
  • people will continue to receive the right payment at the right time
  • people’s awards will, wherever possible, be transferred before they would be subject to a DWP face-to-face assessment
  • we will clearly communicate with people transferring

Significant and substantial improvements have already been made to applying for and receiving disability benefits. Input from the Experience Panels, together with extensive independent advice from the Disability and Carer’s Expert Advisory Group and other stakeholders including members of the Ill Health and Disability Stakeholder Reference Group, has helped transform the new approach to disability benefits.

A case study on the new Adult Disability Payment, which replaces PIP in Scotland, is provided in Annex B.[77] This shows how the new approach makes applying easier, aims to get decisions right first time by trusting people, ends routine face-to-face assessments and removes the role of the private sector in assessments.

And the work hasn’t stopped. The Scottish Government is committed to continuing to improve the experience of people receiving Adult Disability Payment. A year on from the national launch of Adult Disability Payment, it is time for an independent review to ensure we meet the needs of disabled people both now and in the future.

The independent review builds upon a consultation on the eligibility criteria for the mobility component of Adult Disability Payment, conducted between January and April 2023. The review will consider the current eligibility criteria, people’s experiences of Adult Disability Payment, the consultations process and staff guidance, and initial priorities for early action. Disabled people and stakeholders will have the opportunity to contribute throughout the review, to ensure that a diverse range of views are considered in making recommendations. The independent review will also ensure all evidence is considered holistically, to ensure coherence and consistency in recommendations for future improvement.


The Scottish Government is also using its limited powers to mitigate some of the worst impacts of UK Government policy. In this financial year, we are investing almost £3 billion to support polices which tackle poverty and protect people during this ongoing cost of living crisis.[78] Of this, £127 million[79] is spent mitigating UK Government welfare reform policies, including around £71 million to fully mitigate the bedroom tax, helping over 92,000 households to sustain their tenancies; around £6 million to mitigate the benefit cap as fully as possible within our current powers; and around £8 million to mitigate the damaging impact of other UK Government welfare cuts including the ongoing freeze of Local Housing Allowance rates.

We have also used our very limited powers to improve delivery of Universal Credit through the introduction of ‘Scottish Choices’ in 2017. Scottish Choices allows households to decide to receive their Universal Credit payments every two weeks instead of every four and to have their rent payments made directly to their landlord, helping with budgeting and cash flow.

As mentioned earlier in this paper, the Scottish Government is also working with DWP to offer ‘split payments’ to Scottish households in receipt of Universal Credit. This would address the inequalities created within the single household payments, which tends to favour male partners and embeds gendered inequality within the social security system. Split payments would provide each of the adults in a household with access to an independent income, based on their needs, and reduce the risk of financial control and coercion within households. Just as we did with Scottish Choices, the Scottish Government would pay for DWP’s necessary systems changes and development and an ongoing administrative delivery fee.

The limitations of devolved powers

Scotland has already changed the devolved approach to social security in many ways and has been ambitious in creating new benefits. Nevertheless, most social security powers exercised in Scotland remain with the UK Government. While this remains the case there will continue to be limitations and constraints on how the Scottish Government exercises its existing powers, and impacts on the individuals and families.

The UK Government’s Health and Disability White Paper is just one example of this, where proposed changes to reserved benefits could have implications for those in receipt of devolved benefits such as Adult Disability Payment. The White Paper sets out plans to remove the Work Capability Assessment for Universal Credit and Employment Support Allowance, and removing the Limited Capability for Work benefit top-up worth over £390 a month. Instead, the existing Personal Independence Payment assessment will be used to determine eligibility for a new Universal Credit health element.

As described elsewhere in this paper, the Adult Disability Payment replaced the Personal Independence Payment in Scotland and introduced a very different approach to assessments. The Scottish Government are currently working closely with the UK Government to make sure that people receiving Adult Disability Payment are treated in the same way as those receiving PIP in the rest of the UK. Similarly, plans for further improvements to Carer Support Payment are dependent on reaching agreement with the UK Government that Carer Support Payment will continue to be treated the same as Carer’s Allowance to protect carers’ existing reserved benefits and premiums. However, the UK Government has indicated that this may not be the case if Scottish disability and carer benefits change in the future.

We are also curtailed in our ambitions for Employment Injury Assistance by key aspects of related policy remaining reserved to the UK Government.

The Scottish Government has also been forced to rethink plans for a new Parental Transitions Fund, as a result of the interaction of proposed payments with reserved tax and benefit rules and the limits of devolved powers to support people to access and retain employment.

Despite Scotland’s best efforts to mitigate the UK Government’s worst social security policies, including the bedroom tax and the benefit cap, it is not possible to mitigate them all. The impacts of the benefit freeze, the two-child limit and the ‘rape clause’ – all UK Government spending decisions – continue to push poverty levels higher, and squeeze the income of those with the least.

Under devolution, Scottish governments have very limited influence on what Westminster chooses to do. As a result, this government has had to use its own budgets to mitigate against the worst of UK welfare reform, but it is impossible with limited fiscal powers to mitigate against every negative policy change.

The spillover provisions within the Fiscal Framework agreement[80] correspond with the ‘no detriment’ principle articulated by the 2014 Smith Commission, but add a further layer of uncertainty when balancing the spending decisions of the Scottish Government. A spillover can occur when one government makes a policy change that impacts on the budget position (either tax receipts or expenditure) of the other. For example, if the Scottish Government made a change to benefit eligibility which in turn makes more people eligible for ‘passported’ reserved benefits, then the Scottish Government may be expected to pay for any increased UK Government spend.

We have an opportunity with independence to reset the role of social security in our society. The next section sets out some of the government’s early commitments for an independent social security system.



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