Social Security principles and a rights based approach

Social Security (Scotland) Bill - Policy Position Paper

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This paper is one of a series through which the Scottish Government aims to support scrutiny of the Bill by setting out its current policy thinking on key matters to be examined during stage 1. This specific paper is focused on the principles set out at section 1 of the Bill and the Scottish Government's commitment to a human rights based approach.

The Core Principles

The Scottish Government has made clear it will use opportunities presented by devolution to take a different approach to social security. The intention is to eradicate the adversarial nature of the present system, replacing it with a new, distinctly Scottish system founded on dignity, respect and human rights. In line with the strong support for this approach evident in the Consultation on Social Security, all aspects of the design, development and delivery of this new system will therefore be defined by adherence to the key principles set out in section 1 of the Bill, as introduced. The Scottish social security principles are:

  • 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
  • respect for the dignity of individuals is to be at the heart of the Scottish social security system
  • the Scottish Ministers have a role in ensuring that individuals are given what they are eligible to be given under the Scottish social security system
  • the Scottish social security system is to be designed with the people of Scotland on the basis of evidence
  • opportunities are to be sought to continuously improve the Scottish social security system in ways which put the needs of those who require assistance first
  • the Scottish social security system is to be efficient and deliver value for money

As is acknowledged in the Scottish Human Rights Commission's submission to the Committee, these seven core principles deliberately correspond to some of the fundamental aspects of the right to social security, as set out in key human rights instruments such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European Social Charter. These principles are the foundation upon which all aspects of the new system will be built. They are established on the face of the Bill, in line with strong stakeholder and public support, with the intention of embedding the more positive, supportive ethos of the Scottish system from the very outset.

The Bill includes the principle that 'Scottish Ministers have a role in ensuring that individuals are given what they are eligible to be given under the Scottish social security system.' This reflects the Scottish Government's commitment to help maximise people's incomes and to ensure that those who are eligible, but who are not currently making claims, receive the assistance to which they are entitled. The Scottish Government is already giving practical effect to this principle by delivering a programme of activity throughout this Parliamentary term, to raise awareness of social security assistance, and ensure that people are receiving what they are entitled to. This will include a benefit take up campaign, to help ensure people maximise their incomes and a new Financial Health Check service for people on low incomes. In addition, in 2016/17 the Scottish Government provided around £21 million of funding for advice service-related projects and a similar level of investment is planned for 2017/18. Placing this principle on the face of the Bill cements this commitment in legislation, making it an intrinsic part of the Scottish system.

The Scottish Government notes some concern that the final principle that 'the Scottish social security system is to be efficient and deliver value for money' may conflict with the other principles. The Scottish Government understands this concern. However, as the preceding principle makes clear, the needs of those who require assistance will always be the first and most important consideration. Achieving efficiency and value for money simply reflects the need to ensure that every penny of public money achieves maximum value for those who should benefit most from the system – the people who rely on social security. As the other principles and our wider approach make clear, this is principle is firmly not, and never will be, about using public finances as an ideological excuse to breach or undermine people's rights.

The evidence submitted to the Committee contains many thoughtful and worthwhile proposals to adapt or expand on the principles contained in the Bill. The Scottish Government is committed to working with the Committee, stakeholders and those with direct lived experience of social security to consider whether the principles identified through the previous consultation process can be improved in light of these proposals.

A Human Rights Based Approach

The new system will seek to reverse the stigma currently associated with accessing assistance and will seek to support and encourage people to exercise their rights to the fullest possible extent. This is reflected in the principle that 'Social security is itself a human right, essential to the realisation of other human rights.'

That said, the Scottish Government recognises that its commitment to human rights must go well beyond articulating these values in legislation. A rights based approach must be the cornerstone of the new system; from policy development and service design, all the way through to the delivery of benefits, the way that agency staff are recruited and trained, and the interaction between staff and the people who use the new service. The work to develop the full services, systems and procedures that will be necessary to operate the new system is still in its relatively early stages. As a consequence, the full picture of all of the different ways in which a rights based approach will be given practical effect will only fully emerge over time. However, the Scottish Government considers that its actions and commitments so far demonstrate that a rights based approach is at the core of everything that it is doing on social security. For example:

  • Public campaigns to raise public awareness of entitlement, with the ultimate aim of improving take-up
  • The commitment to increase Carer's Allowance to the level of Job Seeker's Allowance, including early introduction through an interim, supplementary payment
  • The commitment to bring forward a new package of support for young carers
  • The commitment to increasing Carer's Allowance for carers looking after more than one disabled child
  • The substantial increase in support offered by Best Start Grant (BSG) in comparison with the UK's Sure Start Maternity Grant. For a family with two children, the BSG will provide £1900 of support over the period of their early years, compared to £500 that is currently available from the UK Government
  • The commitment to end unnecessary re-assessments for the disability benefits, and to reducing as far as possible the need for face to face assessments
  • To ensure that, where assessments are required, they are not carried out by the private sector, instead being conducted by trained professionals with expertise of the conditions they are tasked with assessing. Profit will never be put before people
  • The recruitment of over 2,400 people with direct experience of the current system to help design a new and better social security model for Scotland
  • The agency will provide locally accessible face-to-face pre-claims advice and support co-located, where possible, in places people already visit
  • Commitment to ensure agency staff are trained in a way that is consistent with the principles and Charter and to see people as individuals with specific needs and to be responsive to the specific help and support that each person requires

To ensure that all aspects of its work continues to meet the very high standard of a rights based approach, the Scottish Government is working closely with the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and the Scottish Human Rights Commission (SHRC). These expert organisations are acting as a critical friend and sounding board, advising the Scottish Government on where it can deepen and improve its approach. For example, they have agreed to develop sessions for Scottish Government officials to ensure they fully understand and apply a rights based approach in all of their work to develop the new system. Similarly they are advising on the best way of ensuring that all agency staff undertake mandatory training on applying a rights based approach in their everyday interactions with the people using the system.

The Scottish Government will also seek to learn and apply lessons from the research recently published by the University of Ulster on international examples of public services founded on dignity and respect. The Scottish Government is confident that the new system will itself come to be regarded as an international exemplar in this regard.


Stephen O’Neill
5 Atlantic Quay
150 Broomielaw
G2 8LU

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