Child poverty campaigners respond to Smith Commission
- New powers must be used to prevent child poverty
- “Real opportunities to improve support for families in Scotland”, but:
- Bulk of family benefits and wider levers needed to tackle poverty remain at UK level
- “Fundamental changes still needed to Westminster’s approach to social security, low pay and job insecurity”
The Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) in Scotland today responded to the publication of the Report of the Smith Commission.
The Director of CPAG in Scotland, John Dickie, said;
“It is vital that new powers for the Scottish Parliament are used alongside existing powers to prevent the child poverty that blights too many lives.
Whilst the vast bulk of benefit support for families both in and out of work looks set to remain reserved, powers over disability benefits and the ability to create and top up wider benefits create real opportunities to ensure financial support for families keeps pace with the actual cost of living.
Nevertheless key levers for tackling poverty, including the national minimum wage, child benefit and wider economic and fiscal powers, remain at Westminster. It is vital that as anti-poverty campaigners we continue to focus attention on the fundamental changes needed in the approach of UK politicians to social security, low pay and job insecurity.”
Mr. Dickie went on to welcome specific recommendations that the Scottish Government will be given administrative powers over Universal Credit payment options and the power to vary the housing costs element of the new UK benefit.
“New administrative powers could be used to make a real difference to families in Scotland as Universal Credit is rolled out, ensuring main carers are paid direct and that payments are made in ways that help families budget. Powers over housing costs must be used to help ensure all families get the support they need to secure and sustain their homes. However the cruel sanctions regime that is leaving too many families in severe crisis and often nowhere to go but food banks will remain as long as the UK parliament pursues its current approach to so called ‘welfare reform’”
On the proposed devolution of benefits for carers and disabled people Mr. Dickie said
“The devil will be in the detail on the potential benefits and risks of devolution. The commitment that any new benefits must provide additional income and not result in reduction in entitlement to reserved benefits (para 55) will be crucial to ensuring additional support is not lost through means-testing of carers’ and disabled peoples’ UK benefits, and that Scottish benefits still act as a passport to extra entitlements within reserved means-tested benefits.
It is also vital that the design and administration of new Scottish disability related benefits protects them as a key source of direct income, supporting people with the additional costs of disability, and that they are not lost to individuals through any potential pooling with social care budgets.”
On administration of devolved benefits the Child Poverty Action Group said
“ Key issues still need to be though through in terms of how devolved benefits will be administered and delivered. It is critical that the infrastructure is in place to ensure minimum standards of entitlement are protected across Scotland, with adequate national accountability and oversight, and with rights to appeal decisions to an independent agency quickly. Will existing UK agencies deliver benefits within a different policy regime? Are new Scottish delivery agencies required to maintain national consistency?
Care needs to be taken to ensure any devolution is not a cover for further cuts to social security under the guise of ‘localisation’. Local delivery of the discretionary Scottish Welfare Fund has already led to significant variation in how support is accessed and provided dependent on where people live, a pattern that needs to be avoided as further welfare powers are devolved.”
Finally on proposal to devolve the Sure Start Maternity Grant Mr Dickie said;
“Devolution of maternity grants provides a real opportunity to more closely align their delivery with the health service in Scotland, potentially improving take up levels, the value of support provided and restoration of the grant for second and subsequent children.”