Thank you, Presiding Officer.
In April, I informed Parliament about the areas of the social security programme that had had to be put on hold because of Covid-19, and said I would update the Chamber again when we had assessed the impact of the pandemic further.
Clearly that impact is significant and continuing in all areas of life, and social security is no different. Therefore today I want to set out my expectations for when we will be able to deliver the first of our Scottish Disability Assistance benefits.
To provide some context about the considerable impact of the pandemic on social security: face-to-face user research and testing had to be paused, around 60 social security staff were redeployed to support the Covid response elsewhere in Government, and of course all staff had to work from home. This impacted on frontline staff at Social Security Scotland in particular but also Programme staff, who had to try to replicate face-to-face “agile” methodologies to build our future benefits while working remotely.
But the impact on our delivery partners was, and is still, even more marked. Health and social care professionals, whose expertise we need to deliver disability and carer benefits, have been rightly redeployed to the frontline. Local authorities are focused on supporting people during this incredibly difficult time, from keeping schools open to providing our new Self-Isolation Support Grant. And the Department for Work and Pensions, whose partnership is imperative to our work, has had to divert resources, understandably, to respond to unprecedented demand for Universal Credit as the economic impact of the pandemic hit.
I don’t want to dwell on this, Presiding Officer, because Covid-19 affects us all, and across society, the way we live, work, and socialise has utterly changed but it is an important context.
And despite the impact on future social security benefits I am very proud of what this Government and social security have achieved this year.
We’ve continued to deliver and pay our benefits to people – Social Security Scotland is forecast to spend £111 million this financial year to support 262,000 people. We’ve introduced three new benefits. And we’ve provided a raft of increased support to people to mitigate the pressures the pandemic has caused.
We’ve supported people through significantly increasing the Scottish Welfare Fund and Discretionary Housing Payments, as well as other housing support. We paid an additional Coronavirus Carer’s Allowance Supplement in June, providing carers in Scotland with up to £690 more this year than elsewhere in the UK. And we’ve introduced a brand new form of support to respond to the pandemic through our £500 Self-Isolation Support Grant for low-income workers.
Over the past four months we’ve also introduced three brand new benefits to support the people of Scotland. Our Job Start Payment helps young people returning to the workplace, and from next week our Child Winter Heating Assistance will help heat the homes of severely disabled children. And through our prioritisation of the game-changing Scottish Child Payment, we were able to open applications for children under 6 last week. This payment has never been more needed, and we have delivered it at a speed unprecedented in the UK: from under 18 months from announcement to delivery.
That is what we have achieved and I want now to give Parliament clarity on when, in my judgment, we will be able to deliver some of the benefits whose introduction the pandemic has delayed.
I am mindful of the continued uncertainty of Covid-19. While our own resources have now returned to near pre-pandemic levels, the same is not true for our delivery partners, who are still heavily impacted in key areas. Accordingly work to re-plan our timetable is still continuing; but I am able to tell Parliament about the decisions made so far.
My ambition remains to roll out the Scottish Child Payment to under 16s by the end of 2022 as we recognise the profound positive impact it will have on tackling child poverty. It could support up to half a million children, with an annual investment of £184 million.
But as I have consistently made clear, in order to deliver the payment on time we are absolutely dependent on the DWP giving us the data we need on 6 to 16 year old children. We cannot proceed without it and currently do not have clarity on that point. Conversations continue and just last week I spoke to the UK Government’s Minister for Disabled People, and emphasised once again the crucial importance of DWP’s support in delivering this payment and I will continue to make that case.
Turning now to disability benefits. Had it not been for the pandemic, I believe that we would by now have been delivering Child Disability Payment, with Adult Disability Payment on course to launch early next year, in line with our previous plans. So it was hugely disappointing for me personally when in April I announced that Covid-19 would delay these new benefits. But I know that disappointment is nothing when compared to that felt by disabled people who are rightly looking forward to a better service, based on dignity, fairness and respect.
We have therefore worked hard over the summer, in partnership with DWP and importantly the health and social care professionals we will need, to determine when it might be possible to introduce these two benefits.
My decision, which DWP have agreed to support, is that we will introduce Child Disability Payment from summer next year. There will be an initial pilot to test our systems and processes, followed by full national rollout in the autumn. The following year, Adult Disability Payment will replace DWP’s Personal Independence Payment, again beginning with a pilot in spring 2022, with full rollout by summer.
The first Scottish clients who currently receive Child DLA and PIP will begin to transfer across to Social Security Scotland as soon as the new benefits are rolled out nationally.
Whilst it remains a disappointment to me that the pandemic has led to this inevitable change in our programme, it has not, and does not stop the work we are doing. Members will have seen the set of policy papers we published recently on disability benefits, showing how the new service will look, from when people apply through to how decisions are taken and what support can be provided. Work has continued to ensure that we have respect, dignity and fairness built into how our disability benefits will look, feel and support people. And I am grateful to our stakeholders and Experience Panel members for helping us make those values a reality.
The work on the necessary legislation is also well underway. The Scottish Commission on Social Security is currently scrutinising our Child Disability Payment regulations, and we will consult shortly on the regulations for Adult Disability Payment.
Turning to the remaining devolved benefits, which I discussed last week with the Minister for Disabled People. Now that our respective officials have the capacity to do so, we reaffirmed our commitment to take forward the necessary detailed planning work on these benefits, having prioritised reaching an agreement on Child and Adult Disability Payment over the last few months. I want to thank DWP for their continued support in that work of re-planning.
This includes Carer’s Assistance, the other disability benefits and our winter benefits. People will continue to get their payments under agency agreements with DWP in the meantime. I will of course keep Parliament updated.
As with disability benefits, we will also progress the important policy work necessary. We will consult early next year on the strategic direction for Carer’s Assistance in Scotland, to ensure that both Carer’s Allowance and the new Carer’s Additional Child Payment will meet the needs of Scottish carers.
It remains my intention and my ambition to launch all our benefits, and complete the work of case transfer, by 2025, in line with the timetable I announced last year – though as I have always said, we will not do so if this would put people’s payments at risk. I’ve listened to recent advice from the Disability and Carer Benefits Expert Advisory Group that our wish to transfer people’s cases as soon as possible, and I quote, “must not jeopardise the safe and secure transfer process”. I will always prioritise making sure that people get their payments they are entitled to, in these troubled times above all.
Presiding Officer, I know that the changes to our timetable, and the continuing uncertainty, will be disappointing to many people. Social security is just one of many areas of our lives that the all-pervasive impact of the pandemic has thrown off-course.
Yet as we remain focused on delivering a system that looks and feels substantially different – founded on dignity, fairness and respect – I am confident about what we can and what we will achieve despite the difficulties caused by Covid-19.
This time next week, families of severely disabled children will begin receiving an additional £200 towards their heating costs.
In three months’ time, Scottish Child Payment will start to be paid to families of children under 6.
And this time next year, disabled children across Scotland will be getting support from our new Child Disability Payment, and we will have begun work on the transferring of existing Scottish clients safely and securely from DWP to Social Security Scotland. The following year we will replace PIP, and with UK Government cooperation roll out the Scottish Child Payment to under 16s and help lift 30,000 children out of poverty.
Presiding Officer, there is no denying that we are living through unprecedented and difficult times. But despite this adversity, and in partnership with the people of Scotland, we are continuing to change lives for the better through our new social security system.
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