Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, I beg to move that the draft order laid before the House on 17 May 2021 be approved, and I am grateful for the opportunity to debate it today. The order is made under Section 104 of the Scotland Act 1998, which allows for necessary legislative amendments in consequence of an Act of the Scottish Parliament. In this case, the draft order amends various pieces of social security and tax legislation in the United Kingdom as a consequence of the Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018, which I shall refer to as the 2018 Act, and regulations made under that Act. This order has been brought forward as a result of the close, continuing co-operation of the UK and Scottish Governments.
The 2018 Act gave the Scottish Government the authority to make legislation and to deliver social security powers devolved to them through the Scotland Act 2016. Section 31 of the 2018 Act allows the Scottish Government to introduce a payment to provide financial assistance for disabled people in Scotland, called disability assistance. Disability assistance will replace the three existing payments currently delivered by the Department for Work and Pensions: the disability living allowance, personal independence payments and the attendance allowance. Through these powers, the Scottish Government have legislated that, from July 2021, disability assistance for children and young people, to be known as the child disability payment, will start to replace the disability living allowance for children in Scotland and will operate in broadly the same way. This new form of assistance will be available to disabled children and young people up to the age of 18.
If passed today, the order will ensure equal treatment of individuals in receipt of the child disability payment and the disability living allowance for children with regard to the same specialist tax treatments and benefit disregards from the point of introduction. The changes made by this order are outwith the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament, and therefore the UK Government are facilitating them through this order.
The Scottish Government have also developed the Accessible Vehicles and Equipment Scheme, which enables individuals in receipt of qualifying social security assistance to have that assistance paid directly to a provider of vehicles for disabled people. This order amends various pieces of legislation to ensure that people who are eligible for disability assistance are eligible for the same tax exemptions, or zero-rating in this case, as those in receipt of the mobility component of the two reserved benefits: the disability living allowance or personal independence payments.
In making these changes, the order also amends reserved social security legislation to ensure that the child disability payment is disregarded in the calculation of reserved income-related benefits, in the same way as the disability living allowance is disregarded. This, too, is outside the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament. Therefore, this order has to be taken forward by the UK Government to facilitate the Scottish Government’s required changes. It will ensure that individuals in Scotland are not disadvantaged by devolution, thus meeting the principles set out in the Smith commission.
Lastly, the 2018 Act also gave the Scottish Government the power to introduce child winter heating assistance, young carer’s grants and short-term assistance. Amendments were made to the law of England, Wales and Scotland through a previous Scotland Act order, which disregarded these benefits as income or capital when determining an individual’s entitlement to reserved income-related benefits. This order therefore makes equivalent provision for Northern Ireland in respect of assistance payable under Sections 28, 30 and 36 of the 2018 Act.
The UK and Scottish Governments have worked closely together to ensure that the two systems of social security operate effectively alongside each other, and that the required legislation that underpins them is delivered successfully for the people of Scotland. This order highlights the importance that the UK Government place on the effective functioning of devolution and the strength of the union.
I therefore commend the order to the Committee.
I wish to express my gratitude to the Minister for her clear explanation of the terms of this order and her openness in advance of today’s debate in making available to me any information that I needed in relation to it. I am grateful for that.
We do not oppose this order. It is necessary to make various provisions introduced by the Scottish Government under the 2018 Act work. There are no particular points that I wish to draw attention to in relation to the order. However, I want to make three general points.
First, the implementation of the social security powers under the 2018 Act in Scotland should be moving at a much faster pace. When the Scottish Government announced the Scottish child payment policy back in 2019, they said that 170,000 children could benefit, but the Scottish Government’s priority appears to be announcements, not delivery. As a result, families only started to receive their first payments more than 20 months after the SNP Government said that they would offer them.
The Scottish Welfare Fund should act as a lifeline to many. However, many third-sector organisations have mounting evidence that the fund is offering neither adequate nor accessible support, with best-practice models of delivery not always implemented. These concerns have been highlighted further during the pandemic. It is time for a full independent review of the Scottish Welfare Fund, examining its delivery with a focus on local authority administration costs, the standard and consistency of the service provided, and access to and promotion of the fund. A report late last year revealed that, in some local authorities, up to 69% of crisis grant applications had been rejected.
The devolution of some social security powers under the 2018 Act was supposed to create a more caring benefit system, yet the SNP has delayed on transferring the powers and is failing to use them properly to tackle poverty. Almost a third of Scottish children with a disabled family member are growing up in poverty, according to the Child Poverty Action Group. We have called for an additional £5 per week on top of the Scottish child payment for families with someone who has a disability in order to help to alleviate poverty. There were far too many people living in poverty before the pandemic, and there can be no doubt that the pandemic must have made things much worse.
We believe that the Scottish Parliament should act harder and faster to tackle both in-work and out-of-work poverty. This should be an absolute priority of the Parliament. The SNP has not used the full powers available to it to tackle poverty and inequality. We need to shift from merely transitioning benefits to the Scottish Parliament and start reforming the eligibility and adequacy of benefits so that people across Scotland have enough income to live a life of proper dignity. It is the responsibility of both the Scottish and the UK Governments to work towards the eradication of poverty. We strongly condemn the welfare policies of the current Tory Government at Westminster, including the two-child cap and the potential end to the £20 uplift in universal credit, which exacerbate poverty.
As is clear, these are general points. As I have indicated already, we do not oppose the making of this order.
My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for his contribution to the debate and for his support for the order.
The pace and delivery of welfare is a matter for the Scottish Government and outside the scope of this debate, as I know the noble and learned Lord will understand. Nor are we here to debate the benefits policy of the wider UK Government, which, again, is outside this statutory instrument, but it is DWP’s clear policy intent to disregard Scottish disability assistance in the calculation of means-tested benefits, in line with the Smith commission agreement. This instrument will effect that.
We recognise that divergence of policies of the UK Government and the Scottish Government was always going to be the outcome of devolving these powers. Making devolution work for our joint customers is of paramount importance. The UK Government will continue to work closely and constructively with the Scottish Government to ensure the safe and secure transfer of powers and individuals throughout the process.
This instrument demonstrates the UK Government’s continued commitment to work with the Scottish Government to deliver for Scotland and to maintain a functioning settlement for Scotland. On that basis, I commend the order.
The Grand Committee stands adjourned until 3.50 pm. I remind Members to sanitise their desks and chairs before leaving the Room.