The Smith Commission has reported. It was tasked to “deliver more financial, welfare and taxation powers, strengthening the Scottish Parliament within the United Kingdom”. The powers that are promised in relation to benefits are limited:
- The size of the areas being devolved is limited. HM Government’s Scotland Analysis identified nearly £18bn of expenditure on benefits and tax credits for 2012/13. Smith proposes devolution of about £3bn out of that £18 bn.
- The powers that are being delivered are hemmed in by the framework of the systems they are currently part of. Income tax variation will be subject to UK rules on allowances and liability. Although there will be some variation, Housing Benefit is not being devolved; it will be locked into the structure of Universal Credit.
- Several important areas have been reserved, including the structure of the DWP and the imposition of conditionality and sanctions.
At the same time, there are some interesting movements towards devolution:
- The devolution of a substantial package of benefits covering disability and related issues: Attendance Allowance, Carer’s Allowance, Disability Living Allowance (DLA), Personal Independence Payment (PIP), Industrial Injuries Disablement Allowance and Severe Disablement Allowance. I had argued for devolving a group of inter-connected benefits, rather than taking Attendance Allowance in isolation; I’m pleased to see this here.
- The creation of powers to develop new benefits as appropriate, which I’d also argued for specifically;
- The devolution of employability provision, which will take hold as current contracts expire.
The continued reservations seem to indicate that the Commission began with a presumption against devolution, rather than a presumption in its favour. The only reason I can see for reserving conditionality and sanctions seems to be a fear that the Scottish Government might have chosen to do something differently.