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The Scottish Government recently launched a consultation on what will be the new Scottish Social Security System which will deliver devolved benefits in Scotland. This development comes on the back of the Smith Commission which was set up after the Scottish referendum and is part of a host of new powers recommended to be devolved to Scotland. The Scottish Government now has a unique opportunity to begin building a system that will improve the lives of thousands of people in Scotland and make real and tangible progress towards reducing social inequalities – and this consultation marks the start of that process.

Shelter Scotland are keen for the Scottish Government to take this chance to build a social security system which seeks to pull people out of poverty and overcome the inequalities which are reinforced by the current, often punitive, system. The new system should support people when they need it most and allow them to access and sustain their home, which, as the Commission on Housing and Wellbeing highlighted, is the cornerstone of healthy and successful lives. An effective and fair system of social security can even go as far as to narrow educational attainment gaps between rich and poor  by pulling families out of poverty and allowing children more opportunities to succeed.

Importantly, the Scottish Government has moved away from talking about “welfare” and “benefits” and turned the conversation towards social security. This seemingly small difference is hugely important in changing how the public thinks about the system, with the aim of restoring trust and confidence and directing perception towards social security as a safety net that everyone is entitled to when they need it.

Under the new devolution settlement, the payments due to be devolved account for around 15% of social security expenditure in Scotland and are mainly centred around older people and people with disabilities. This means that Ministers must design the new system with the particular needs of these groups of people in mind. This consultation presents a fantastic opportunity for Scotland to do things differently and to take a new approach. The new  agency must provide a variety of access options which simplifies an otherwise complicated system and helps people to access their full entitlement.  Designing and implementing a Scottish system of social security will be a major challenge, not least because it will have to run in parallel with a UK wide system of benefits and Universal Credit. We must ensure that no one falls through the gaps what could become a complex system.

Shelter Scotland strongly supports the Scottish Government intention to continue to use Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP) to offset the bedroom tax, effectively abolishing it in Scotland until it has the power to actually abolish it in legislation. But we must be aware that although the majority of DHP funding goes to covering the bedroom tax, there are also other urgent and legitimate calls on the DHP budget. We must not overlook the needs of other tenants, especially private tenants, who may need short term discretionary support which housing benefit does not meet. We must ensure that both the budget for DHPs and the administration of the payments supports all tenants, and not just those subject to the bedroom tax.

We will be submitting our formal response to the consultation shortly and are delighted to have the opportunity to help shape a system that is fair and treats people with dignity and respect at a time when they need it most.

The full consultation is available here and is open until the 28th October.

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