Scotland politics

Holyrood minister Angela Constance answers your welfare questions

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Scotland's Social Security Minister Angela Constance answered a number of your welfare related questions last week. Here she answers more of your queries, sent via #ScotSocialSecurity on social media.

CPAG Scotland asked: How does the Scottish government plan to use its new powers to top-up reserved benefits and to create new ones?

Ms Constance said: "Our overriding priority is to ensure the safe and secure transition of the 11 benefits being devolved so everyone gets the right benefit, at the right time, in the right amount.

"We want to use our powers and resources to lift people out of poverty, not just to mitigate continually to a standing start. That is why we will increase carer's allowance, introduce a new job grant and replace the Sure Start maternity grant with a more generous Best Start Grant which will see support for all children being increased and substantially help families on low incomes."

MND Scotland asked: How does the Scottish government plan to ensure that people with conditions, such as MND, get benefits easily with or without assessment?

Ms Constance said: "We share people's concerns about this. That is why we are establishing a Disability Benefits Commission to provide recommendations and guidance on how often assessments should be, the potential for automatic or lifetime awards, and eligibility criteria."

Steven Kelly asked: Given all that has been said about the unfairness of sanctions in the current system, what does the minister see as alternatives if, for instance, claimants fail to carry out work-related activities and cannot supply a good - or any - reason?

Ms Constance said: "Unfortunately, the UK government remains responsible for the punitive benefit sanctions in Scotland. We have made clear on several occasions that we think the system needs to have an independent review because of the negative impact on people.

"It's important that individuals have meaningful support into employment as well as the real and credible opportunity to provide good reasons for not complying with conditionality which can then lead to being sanctioned. When questioned by the Scottish Parliament's Social Security Committee, earlier this month, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions said he recognised this point and the fact it can be the main cause for complaints about the sanctions regime. The Scottish Government Employment Programmes will be voluntary."

An anonymous contributor asked: Having been through the absolute nightmare that is the PIP assessment and having to involve my MP to get it sorted out I eventually got an "ongoing" award and I would like to know for myself and others who have managed to get such an award, will this award remain valid or will I/we have to go through another assessment before it runs out once the PIP is fully transferred to Scotland?

Ms Constance said: "The Personal Independence Payment (PIP) remains reserved to the UK Government but it is one of the benefits that will be devolved to the Scottish Parliament. We have heard through our consultation that many people have found the process of transitioning from Disability Living Allowance to Personal Independence Payment to be a stressful experience

"We do not want our system to mirror this. Instead we want dignity and respect at heart of our system and to avoid assessments where they are not necessary. This is why we are establishing Experience Panels so we test our system and processes with people who have lived experience of the benefit system to avoid just this."

"We want to introduce longer term awards and lifetime awards for some disabilities/conditions and our new Disability Benefits Commission will help us with that.

John Reich asked: Will you be planning to review the present system of unemployment in a situation where claimants can turn down employment opportunities and stick to employment that gives them 16 hours per week only and therefore access to benefits?

"Unemployment benefits, the conditions for people receiving them and the rules defining full-time or part-time work remain reserved to the UK Government and we do not have the powers to review this or make any changes.

"When people are moved to the new UK benefit Universal Credit, the 16 hour rule will not apply as the level of household income will determine whether benefit continues in payment when a person enters work."

An anonymous contributor asks: Are you able to change the Universal Credit system to pay housing costs direct to councils as this will only get worse as the rollout progresses?

"Yes, we will have some limited administrative flexibilities over Universal Credit.

"We have made clear that our priorities are to enable tenants to have the option of having their rent element paid direct to their social landlord (which might be their council), and the frequency of Universal Credit payments to be twice monthly instead of each month."

Sent on social media using #ScotSocialSecurity: Why is the Scottish government insisting the UK govt retain welfare powers for another 3.5 years? Is it scared of something?

"We have been clear that we will have a Scottish social security agency delivering devolved benefits by the end of this Parliamentary term. Our over-riding priority is the safe and secure transition of the devolved benefits for the 1.4 million people who rely on the benefits that will be devolved.

"Transferring the devolved benefits safely and securely requires a large-scale programme of transition, implementation and reform, and it is a joint programme with DWP. We need both a legislative framework and delivery infrastructure before we can do this. The process of building that infrastructure has already started. The consultation on our first social security bill finished at the end of October and the bill will go to the Scottish parliament for scrutiny next year."

Sent on social media using #ScotSocialSecurity: How will you work with citizens and the third sector to deliver #personcentredservices #dignity #respect

"We have listened to what goes well, but have also heard many reports of the problems so many people face when accessing benefits. We want to make sure these do not happen in our new system. We will do this by recruiting at least 2,000 people from across Scotland, who receive benefits, to sit on Experience Panels and help us shape and test our new system.

"We are determined our new social security system is built to support those people who need it most. This crucial involvement from people with direct experience of receiving social security payments will help make sure that we get it right. While our consultation has ended, our engagement with citizens, the third sector and other organisations has not.

"This is an ongoing process and we will continue to work together to ensure dignity and respect are at the heart of the new system."