Column: Scottish Social Security system

As Parliament rises for recess, it gives me the opportunity to spend more time in my constituency, to engage with the people I represent and plan for the year ahead.

Last week I toured Lanark and Hamilton East for the second time since my election – travelling from Uddingston to Tarbrax and from Hamilton to Braehead.

Too many politicians visit the far-flung places on the campaign trail, gather the votes, and never again set foot in the villages they represent, leaving rural constituents without a voice.

I am determined to buck that trend. I travelled all my constituency during the general election campaign, not only the doorsteps of urban Hamilton, but all over the rural areas I cover in Lanarkshire.

It was refreshing to meet so many of my constituents again, listen to their concerns and make their voices heard.

Time and time again, I heard about the real affects the Government’s Welfare Reform agenda was having on my constituents.

I heard from one constituent, an army veteran who had been given a life-time award of Disability Living Allowance, only to be told that his entitlement was no longer applicable.

His only option was to go through another degrading disability assessment.

For me, that is not what a social security system is in place for. A social security system should be built to help people at time of need, not punish people for requiring help.

However, for people relying on the safety net, there is hope for a break away from the status quo. Stemming from the Scotland Bill passed last year, the Scottish Government will have more powers over welfare.

As a result, the Scottish Parliament will be able to make legislation in relation to a limited number of benefits, including disability and carer’s payments.

The process of Scotland taking control of these powers passed an important milestone this month when regulations were laid at Westminster to begin the transfer.

The Scottish Government is now a step closer to bringing forward its own social security legislation, to implement these changes over a number of years.

Once fully devolved, these social security powers will account for around £2.7 billion, or 15 per cent of total benefit spending in Scotland. The remaining 85 per cent of Scotland’s social security powers will remain under the control of the UK Government.

These limited new powers will not be a magic wand – 85 per cent of benefit spending which remains  in the hands of a Conservative-led UK Government.

However, they will however enable the Scottish Government to put in place a number of measures that will help people across Scotland, including increasing Carer’s Allowance to the level of Jobseeker’s Allowance, and replacing the Sure Start Maternity Grant with an expanded Maternity and Early Years Allowance.

The Scottish Government has launched a consultation on the implementation of the new powers, which will run for a total of 13 weeks – allowing everyone to have their voice heard.

The consultation on Social Security in Scotland is open to the public and aims to take on the perspectives of people who wish to see real changes to the way Scots access benefits.

I would therefore urge everyone with an interest in the social justice to take part in the consultation and help us ensure that we are able to build a Scottish Welfare System that is based on the fundamental values of dignity and respect.

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