I’m intrigued to read, in Scotland on Sunday, a pledge from Jim Murphy, the Labour leader in Scotland, to introduce a “Future Fund” for 18-19 year olds who do not go into higher or further education.
Whatever the merits or demerits of the idea, this is a proposal for a new benefit. The Scottish Parliament has no power to introduce new benefits. They are reserved under the 1998 Scotland Act, which prevents the Scottish Parliament from introducing any “Schemes supported from central or local funds which provide assistance for social security purposes to or in respect of individuals by way of benefits.”
In my submission to Smith Commission, I argued that the Scottish Parliament really ought to have the power to introduce new benefits if it thought them appropriate. The Smith Report said there should be those powers. However, the White Paper makes no such provision, and the draft clauses in the Bill retain the general reservation of all powers relating to social security that are not explicitly exempted.
As things stand, the only mechanism by which Murphy’s proposed benefit could be introduced would be through primary legislation in the UK Parliament. Murphy needs to get the approval and support of a future UK government to do it, and that will be difficult. It may make more sense for him to campaign for the Scottish Parliament to have the powers to do the kinds of thing that he wants to do.