Report of the Welfare Reform Committee

The Scottish Parliament’s Welfare Reform Committee has issued its stage 1 report. They express “grave concern” about the current progress of welfare reform, making these points:

• changes to the benefits system will remove lifeline benefits from large numbers of vulnerable people;
• the means of applying for new benefits is complex …
• 330.000 people are caught within an appeals system that overturns two thirds of these assessment results …
• there will be major impacts on the independence of disabled people, and on child poverty and homelessness levels;
• the likelihood of individuals and families getting into serious debt … is increased;
• the Department of Work and Pensions … has done limited work to assess the impacts on different groups …

There is also a short section on the issue I have been raising:

Social Fund
103. In its early consideration of the Bill the Committee harboured some concerns about the absence from it of powers in relation to the discretionary elements of the Social Fund, which have been devolved.
104. The Committee also received written evidence from Professor Paul Spicker, Grampian Chair of Public Policy at the Robert Gordon University. In his evidence Professor Spicker contends that there are legal competence issues for the Scottish Government in undertaking some aspects of welfare reform, including the discretionary elements of the social fund that have been devolved:
Professor Paul Spicker – There needs in particular to be a residual power to promote welfare and to give financial assistance to any person – the same power currently possessed by English local authorities. As things stand, the promotion of welfare, and payments of financial assistance to individuals by way of benefits, are ultra vires.
105. In her evidence to the Committee on 1 May, the Cabinet Secretary explained that the Scottish Government will put in place interim arrangements using the general power of wellbeing that local authorities possess, along with a section 30 order to facilitate that 107 . In the longer term the proposal is to introduce a social fund bill in 2013-4, coming into force in 2015. The Committee welcomes the clarification from the Cabinet Secretary on interim arrangements for council tax discounts and the social fund and looks forward to assessing these arrangements and contributing to their development in due course.”

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