UK ministers failing to match pace on devolved benefits, Freeman says

UK ministers are failing to match the pace of the Scottish Government in the handover of new welfare powers to Holyrood, Scotland's Social Security Minister has said.

Jeane Freeman said the UK's Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) has "reneged on agreements" and "pushed back dates" ahead of the first devolved benefit payments - a supplementary payment to increase Carers Allowance - this summer.

Ms Freeman wrote to Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey last month to express concerns after the DWP said it would no longer be able to meet an agreement to deliver necessary data on carers.

She said the absence of the data would impact on "the level of service the Scottish Government can provide".

Holyrood is taking control of 11 benefits, accounting for about 15% of current social security spend, roughly £3 million in total.

However, speaking at the SNP conference in Aberdeen, Ms Freeman said the partial handover had left Scottish ministers relying on the DWP to provide "the information, the data, the security codes, the processes that we need from them for each step that we have to take".

"So it frustrates me hugely that the DWP are just not keeping up with us," she said.

"We're setting the pace and they aren't matching it.

"Scotland comes bottom of their to-do list, and they have renegaded on agreements and pushed back on agreed dates to give us what we need.

"Three times in as many months they have not provided all the detail we need on Carer's Allowance meaning that we can't communicate with people the way we want to.

"A four-month delay in passing over a computer code, and the casual off-hand notification of a one-year delay from an agreed date to abolish the bedroom tax at source."

"Our commitment as always has been to get the job done and to get it done well. Building a new public service that exemplifies the founding principles of dignity, fairness and respect.

"It's time Esther McVey in the DWP stepped us matched us, and stopped standing in our way."

Ms Freeman also used her address to attack Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson and her stance on welfare.

"She's the Tory chameleon with a policy change and a new soundbite to suit every occasion," she said.

"Crocodile tears when she calculates she needs to look caring and hard-nosed right-wing ideology running all the way through.

"Do you think Boris Johnson ever spoke up in Cabinet about the crisis people face when sanctioned for weeks and or months, neither has Ruth Davidson.

"Do you think Jacob Rees-Mogg has ever given a single thought to the poverty caused by capping benefits, well neither has Ruth Davidson.

"Do you think sitting for years in the Home Office, one of the top three ministers under David Cameron, Theresa May ever said introducing a rape clause is simply wrong, well neither has Ruth Davidson.

She added: "Be clear, Westminster or Holyrood - the Tories are the Tories and they never ever put people first."