Opposition anger over decision to delay devolving benefits
The Scottish Government has been urged to apologise over its decision to delay the full devolution of major benefits.
Speaking at Holyrood on Thursday, Social Security Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville indicated that full control over 11 social security benefits would be maintained by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) until Social Security Scotland has the capability to administer them in 2024.
Opposition MSPs criticised the Scottish Government for delaying the process, with Ms Somerville’s predecessor, Jeane Freeman, having previously pledged to implement the change by the end of the current Parliament.
Scottish Conservatives welfare spokeswoman Michelle Ballantyne accused the SNP of hypocrisy over the delay.
“The transition of these benefits must be handled properly. This is about making sure that people get the support they need, they are the priority in all of this,” she said.
“But the minister must see the utter hypocrisy this statement exposes. For two years, the SNP has slammed the DWP, you have used highly charged language on the UK Government’s administration of benefits, you have raised expectations and promised the earth to some of Scotland’s most vulnerable people.
“And after repeated promises that the new system would be up and running by the end of this Parliament, we now learn that it will be 2024 before PIP’s successor is in place.
“And this is from the party that said it could set up an independent country in 18 months.
“Can the minister not see that this is deeply embarrassing? She must apologise to the Scottish DWP staff she has repeatedly denigrated”.
Scottish Labour social security spokesman Mark Griffin described the delay as a “betrayal”.
“The SNP Government has left vulnerable people at the mercy of the callous DWP and the Tories for far too long already,” he said.
“Ministers must apologise to everyone in Scotland entitled to social security who is being left at the hands of the Tories.
“Delaying full control of the powers until 2024 is a betrayal of vulnerable people who were told the Scottish Government would assume responsibility within this parliamentary term.
“It also makes a mockery of SNP promises in 2014 that a separate Scottish state could be set up within 18 months – vulnerable people will have been waiting a decade for the devolution of social security powers.
“Today’s announcement also fails to make any mention of the SNP’s pledged income supplement. With almost a quarter of a million Scottish children living in poverty that just is not good enough.”
Ms Somerville indicated that changes made to social security would have to be implemented without being rushed.
She said: “The timescales I’ve set out remain very challenging and there are many unknowns, both within our work on social security devolution and beyond.
“We will therefore keep our plans under careful review and I will keep Parliament updated on our progress.
“We shouldn’t forget that we are the first government to begin the separation of a highly integrated welfare system between two countries.
“This cannot be done without taking difficult decisions on timing. But every day, as we break new ground, we gain more experience of how to accomplish the most complicated feat of devolution attempted since this Parliament was reconvened.”