The Scottish Government is using new social security powers to set up a new public service, with dignity, fairness and respect enshrined in legislation.
In delivering this new public service, Scottish Ministers recognise the crucial importance of promoting Social Security Scotland benefits to ensure that all those who are eligible for financial support get it. Encouraging individuals to claim the benefits and assistance that they are entitled to is a duty for government – both national and local – and a social responsibility.
We have already seen great success – with the Best Start Grant Pregnancy and Baby Payment paying out more money to Scottish families in its first two months of operation than the DWP benefit it replaced paid out in a year – and we are confident that we will continue to deliver positive change.
This take-up strategy is the first to be published under the provision of the Social Security (Scotland) Act, and outlines our work on take-up to date, as well as setting out our next steps. This includes introducing a series of new activities and initiatives aimed at increasing awareness of and access to Scottish benefits and supporting those who are eligible to access them.
It also shows how we aim to remove the barriers to applying for benefits – a key first step in improving take-up which we have built in from the outset – and how we ensure that direct lived experience plays a vital part in getting that right.
With this in mind, and in acknowledging the vital role that our partners in the voluntary sector play in driving take-up, I am delighted to be launching two new funds in this strategy, totalling £600,000. A preparation fund of £500,000 will assist organisations to prepare resources and train staff to support people applying for Scottish benefits. A second fund of £100,000 will support organisations to maximise incomes among seldom-heard groups, and those which have historically faced barriers to accessing social security.
I have heard from many people who have a negative view of the current system. I know they feel anxiety and stress and that the 'dread of the brown envelope' is itself a barrier to accessing financial support people are eligible for. I am determined we do not replicate that.
It should be remembered, we are not alone in delivering vital social security payments to the people of Scotland. I believe the Department for Work and Pensions should do much more to increase the take-up of benefits they are responsible for, and should also be actively promoting the financial support that so many need but may not know how to access or realise they are eligible for.
The Scottish Government's approach to tackling poverty is based on increasing household incomes. Social Security payments are a key lever available to us in achieving this. We are also seeking to increase income from employment and reduce household costs. We are working in a range of ways to ensure that people across Scotland can access the money they are entitled to and receive any support in kind they might be due. We also want people to have easy access to opportunities that can save them money – improving energy efficiency for example. We are working with a range of organisations, across the third sector in particular, to make sure that people have access to the best advice and can get the support they need.
As further benefits are delivered by Social Security Scotland, we will build on the learning gathered through the work outlined here to guarantee that our approach is dynamic and reactive – ensuring the best outcomes for the people of Scotland.
Cabinet Secretary for Social Security and Older People