Angela Constance, the Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities, made a statement yesterday about the first changes to benefits reflecting the shift in powers in the Scotland Act. The new schemes for maternity (the “Best Start” scheme) and for funeral payments will come on line in 2019; although the application process will be “simplified”, they will continue to be one-off, means-tested payments.
Carers Allowance will be the first new benefit to come on line, starting in Summer 2018. The purpose of the benefit is to bring up the rate of Carers Allowance (currently £62.70 pw) to equal the rate of Jobseekers’ Allowance (£73.10 pw for those over 25). Rather than taking over Carers Allowance, the Scottish Government has opted to pay a supplement to the DWP-administered benefit. It will be done by making two payments a year, and while the payment will be made by the new Scottish Social Security Agency, it depends on information drawn from the systems and processes of the DWP.
Transferring responsibility from the DWP to the new agency would have been complex task; that has been avoided. Paying a supplement weekly or monthly would involve constantly passing information back and forth; that has been avoided, too. However, the decision will have some substantive implications. Currently Carers Allowance is not actually paid to many people who are nominally entitled; that will still be true. Claiming Carers Allowance may have negative effects on a disabled person’s entitlement to the severe disability premium; that will still be true. There had been talk of extending the benefit to younger people or those in full time education; it looks like that is not going to happen. So, for the while at least, the decision is going to lock the basis of payment a little more firmly to the status quo.