Minister under fire over agreement with DWP on disability benefit
The Scottish Government has been accused of secretly ditching plans to take over the running of a benefit paid out to severely disabled people.
Social Security Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville confirmed to MSPs the Severe Disablement Allowance (SDA) will be delivered “through an agency agreement” with the UK Government’s Department for Work and Pensions.
It is one of 11 benefits Holyrood is due to take charge of under devolution reforms introduced in the wake of the 2014 independence referendum.
But opposition MSPs said Ms Somerville had failed to make clear to them that it would continue to be administered from Westminster when she gave a statement in the Scottish Parliament last week.
Conservative social security spokeswoman Michelle Ballantyne said: “This is smoke and mirrors. You’re actually saying you want everything devolved but actually you are increasingly pushing things back to be administered under agreement by the DWP.
“The SNP has repeatedly denigrated the DWP but they are quick to rely on DWP help when they need it.
“The fact that this has been done in secret is further evidence that the SNP are far more concerned with spin over delivery.
“This seriously undermines the SNP’s credibility to administer a social security system that thousands of Scots depend on.”
About 2,000 people in Scotland receive SDA payments, and Labour social security spokesman Mark Griffiths said it is “outrageous” the SNP Government is leaving them “at the hands of the Tories”.
He added: “Carers, disabled people and pensioners are being forced to wait for change while the SNP leave new powers on the shelf gathering dust. That is a disgusting dereliction of duty. ”
Ms Somerville stressed the benefit had been closed to new applicants since 2001, and Scottish Government consultations had not revealed any desire for the existing arrangements to be changed.
“No-one suggested any changes and no-one suggested any particular issues we needed to address,” she told Holyrood.
With the payments also being made in the form of a top-up to pensions, she added it was a “prime example of why it would be easier to have full responsibility of social security” in Scotland.
While the SDA will be delivered under agreement with the DWP, Ms Somerville said: “None of the 11 benefits included in the Scotland Act will remain reserved to the DWP.
“The Scottish Government will take responsibility for all 11 devolved benefits from April 1, 2020. That remains the case and it includes Severe Disablement Allowance.
“That means all funding decisions, delivery decisions and policy decisions are taken by the Scottish Government.”