Demands Over Devolved Benefits

8 February 2015, 08:03

SNP Ministers demand that the UK Government must secure the agreement of the Scottish Government before making any changes to benefits due for devolution.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney and Scottish Social Justice Secretary Alex Neil will meet UK ministers on Wednesday at the first ministerial steering group on the implementation of the Smith Agreement.

The UK Government said it expects the Scottish Government to approach the steering group "in a responsible way'' and avoid "playing politics''.

The Scottish ministers will request a halt to the roll-out of personal independence payments (PIP) and swift action to allow Holyrood to scrap the spare room subsidy - known as the "bedroom tax''.

They will also ask the UK Government to secure the agreement of the Scottish Government before making any changes to benefits due for devolution.

A clause in the devolution settlement which requires the Scottish Government to secure the agreement of the UK Government before making any changes to devolved benefits has angered Scottish ministers who have described it as "an effective veto''.

The UK Government has stressed "there is no veto'', said Scotland already has the power to make decisions on the spare room subsidy, and said it cannot switch off PIP until the Scottish Government creates something to replace it with.

Mr Neil said: "This forum has been agreed to get the transfer of welfare powers right and ensure UK legislation is clear, fit for purpose and reflects the spirit and intention of the Smith Agreement.

"Above all, it must give us the tools to help people on benefits.

"I want to abolish the 'bedroom tax' as soon as possible. Reflecting significant concerns across Scotland, I also believe that the roll out of new Personal Independence Payments should be stopped and we should consider options for the future of disability benefits in Scotland, as they will be devolved in the near future.

"More generally, the UK Government should not take decisions on areas identified for further devolution without the Scottish Government's agreement.

"I want to use the administrative flexibilities offered around Universal Credit to do things differently, more quickly and on Scotland's own terms.

"In consultation with our partners, I want to consider paying housing costs direct to landlords and changing how frequently benefits are paid. I also expect to receive further clarity on the timescales for devolution of employment services, in particular the Work Programme.

"Through the ministerial group, we will work constructively with the UK Government to transfer these powers to Scotland smoothly.

"The UK Government must give us the clarity we need in all of these areas, before the pre-election period, to get the best deal for the people of Scotland.''

A UK Government spokesman said: "Following Smith, both governments agreed to establish a group to look at how we implement those recommendations in a responsible way. We expect the Scottish Government to approach the task in that spirit.

"The primary focus of our thinking in this process should be the individual depending on our welfare and benefits system rather than playing politics, as the Scotland Office minister David Mundell made clear at the Scottish Parliament welfare committee this week.

"We must ensure there are no unintended consequences for those who depend on benefits. It is already within the Scottish Government's power to make decisions on the spare room subsidy following the devolution of discretionary housing payments. We have also been clear there is no veto on welfare powers in Smith.

"On personal independence payments, switching off welfare support now when the Scottish Government has nothing ready to replace it with is simply not an option and not what Smith recommended. Switching off the system that provides support for those who need it most without a viable or costed policy to replace it would be irresponsible.''