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By Bob Doris MSP

I was able to speak in the member’s debate on Social Security Scotland’s first anniversary on 19 September 2019. You can read my full contribution below.

“As others have done, I thank Shona Robison for bringing the debate to Parliament. I also thank the team at Social Security Scotland: the public-facing side of the operation—the front line—and those behind the scenes who make a substantial effort in developing IT systems and the structures that underpin the entire Social Security Scotland network.

Another key “Thank you” must go to the people who have lived experience of the benefits system, who have been key and have been at the heart of developing, implementing and rolling out a variety of benefits, through experience panels and other extensive consultation. Lived experience is crucial, as are the key principles of how Social Security Scotland should conduct its business, as outlined in the social security charter, which people who have lived experience helped to create.

Social Security Scotland has sought—as it should—to build a strong and positive relationship with claimants and potential claimants on the bases of dignity, respect and trust. The new Scottish social security system is already, in its infancy, making a significant difference to the lives of many of my constituents.

The carers allowance supplement will put an extra £452 into the hands of 83,000 carers each and every year, going forward. Many of them will be constituents of mine. The best start grant includes a number of payments, from the pregnancy and baby payment to the early learning payment to the school-age payment, which have been rolled out incrementally over the past year. Some 42,000 payments have already been made to 10,000 low-income families, and £13 million has been paid out, to date. That will have benefited many of my constituents in Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn, and many others. It is a more generous contribution than the previous UK benefit: people in Scotland with two children receive £1,900, which is £1,400 than if they would receive if they stayed elsewhere in the UK. That is a substantial contribution.

As we have heard, this week saw the launch of the funeral assistance grant which is, on average, £1,300. There is no set amount. That will contribute to costs for people on low incomes at a distressing time when, as Jenny Marra outlined, they should not have to worry about money. The grant will make a significant contribution to their giving loved ones a fitting service. The grants are being promoted on social media, and I note that people can fill out paper applications or do online applications, and that there is a telephone helpline. The idea that application is not digital by default is an important principle.

I also very much welcome the expected job start payments. Up to £400 for young long-term unemployed people will be paid from around spring next year.

There is a lot to welcome, and it all builds up trust. I have not even mentioned the child payments. It is right that low-income households are seeing delivery of the child payments of £10 per week being accelerated, such that the first delivery for under-six-year-olds will be in 2021.

That brings us to disability assistance, which has been mentioned by a few members. The key thing for me—I have sought assurances on this from the First Minister at a Conveners’ Group meeting on the programme for government—is the commitment to make sure that those who will undergo a new personal independence payment assessment by the end of this session of Parliament will do so under the new Scottish disability assistance and not under the flawed, dreadful and punitive UK system. That reassurance has been consistently given. Of course, it is a challenge and we will have to scrutinise that, but let us do it in a supportive and constructive way for the better Scottish social security system that we all want.

My constituents would want me to finish by saying that this is money that they are entitled to and that there should be sufficient funds to deliver it. My goodness! How much more we could do if every social security benefit was devolved to the Scottish Parliament—not least the hideous universal credit, which causes my constituents so much misery.

I thank Shirley-Anne Somerville for her efforts, Shona Robison for bringing the debate to the chamber, and the team at Social Security Scotland for making a success of its first year. I wish it a happy birthday.”

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