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Delivery of social security benefits praised but ‘substantial risks remain’

The Parliament in Holyrood (Jane Barlow/PA)
The Parliament in Holyrood (Jane Barlow/PA)

The delivery of social security benefits in Scotland has been praised in a new report – but “substantial” risks remain.

The report, published by Audit Scotland on Thursday, notes that “new and complex” benefits have been launched by the Scottish Government despite challenges presented by the pandemic, and acknowledges that existing programmes have continued successfully.

But the Auditor General for Scotland has warned that a “huge amount” of work remains.

New benefits introduced in Scotland as of late include the Scottish Child Payment, Child Disability Payment and Adult Disability Payment.

The Scottish Government has committed more than £3.9 billion for benefit expenditure in 2022-23, which is set to provide support to more than one million people.

Audit Scotland says that while people have voiced positivity about their experience of Social Security Scotland, the scale of activity undertaken by the department will increase over the next few years – with the direct administration of devolved benefits jumping from around 20% to more than 70% by 2025.

The number of benefits cases administered by Social Security Scotland is expected to rise – an example being the Adult Disability Payment, which is projected to increase from 20,000 in 2022 to 475,000 by 2026/27.

The department also requires a doubling of its current workforce within the next year in order to deal with growing administration needs.

However, the report suggests the Scottish Government is “well placed” for the next stages of implementation, calling the delivery to-date a “significant achievement”.

But on the issue of devolved benefits, it adds: “There is a lot still to be delivered and progress has been delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“It will be some time before the devolved benefits are fully administered within Scotland. Timescales are challenging and substantial risks remain, including accessing data, putting in place longer‑term digital solutions and getting operational staffing in place.”

Social security minister Ben Macpherson said: “I am pleased that this Audit Scotland report recognises the significant progress we have made in building a new public service from scratch since 2018 and delivering 12 benefits – seven of which are completely new forms of financial support that are not available anywhere else in the UK.

He added: “I am proud that we have built our social security system with the people who will use it, and appreciate that the report acknowledges our focus has delivered a service built on our principles of dignity, fairness and respect.

“The report also notes the positive feedback people have shared about their experiences of engaging with Social Security Scotland.

“We have been ambitious in our delivery timeline – including introducing new benefits while dealing with the pandemic – and we are ensuring that we transfer tens of thousands of cases safely and securely from the DWP to Social Security Scotland.

“As well as delivering benefits now and in the period ahead, we are responsibly and ambitiously developing a new social security system that will serve Scotland for many years to come, putting people at the heart of everything we do.”

Social security spokesperson for the Scottish Lib Dems, Caron Lindsay, said: “It’s now almost eight years since the Smith Commission recommended the devolution of welfare powers to Scotland and it will still not be complete until 2025.

“These powers represent a major opportunity for Scotland to do things differently, but because of the time taken by the Scottish Government, disability benefits are rising at a lower rate and many powers remain in the hands of the DWP.”

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