Let’s move past the warm words on social security, and onto real action

MarkIMG_0757 Griffin MSP, Scottish Labour’s Social Security spokesperson, says having secured significant new powers to improve social security for tens of thousands of Scots, it’s high time we used them.


Today the Scottish Parliament Social Security Committee began considering a universal basic income for Scotland. What is in fact a decades old proposal to replace the benefits system and pay everyone a regular basic income irrespective of their age, work, or social class, is back in vogue.

Dusted down as we start to confront the challenges of insecure work, the gig economy and punitive welfare reform, it could strengthen the safety net Labour created and lift people out of poverty. The day after the Tories showed that they will continue to force harm on Scotland’s communities, it is entirely right that two Scottish Labour councils, Glasgow and Fife, have begun weighing up the benefits and risks of what could be a revolutionary reboot of our social security system.

The proposal also seeks to address the increasing unknowns flowing from technological change. While we get used to self-service tills and banking apps, technology is stripping away jobs and adding to the list of reasons why whole communities are increasingly being left with no real prospect of a right to meaningful work.

Besides the radical rethink of both our social security and tax systems, and the necessary funding, the trials are going to need something in short supply: political willpower from, and cooperation between, the UK and Scottish Governments.

When the ink dried on the Scotland Act last year, Holyrood was entrusted with new powers not only to make good on the Vow, but to make decisions in Scotland for people in Scotland. On tax and social security, as well as Scotrail and the question of fracking, the powers meant – political will permitting – we could make different decisions than the Tories.

A basic income won’t be rolled out tomorrow of course. What the Smith Commissioners agreed was that while Holyrood gained responsibilities, some pieces of the jigsaw would remain at Westminster so any basic income will require everyone at the table to work together to complete the jigsaw. The same is the case with the powers that have been fully devolved; snapping those pieces together requires political cooperation. However, what is clear is that what we do have in Scotland are powers to create our own social security system to change the lives of disabled people, tackle poverty and reinforce the safety net here in Scotland.

Credit where it is due, Jeane Freeman has set out proposals to pay housing benefit direct to landlords and embed human rights into social security in law, and is consulting with those who have had the tragedy of experiencing the Tories’ welfare reforms.  The cruel and inhumane hand the Tories have dealt continues to harm the poor, disabled, unemployed and elderly, and we support those first steps.

Yesterday’s Tory budget did nothing to reverse plans for a tax-credits rape clause, or reverse the yearly £1.1bn cuts to social security payments Scotland’s most vulnerable communities have faced since 2010, or the £1bn more which will follow by the end of the decade. The powers – our pieces of the jigsaw – can deliver the fairness, dignity and respect the SNP government has promised time and time again, as long as they are used in the right way.

Let’s be clear. Labour is signed up to make the powers a success – but much of what we have seen so far from the Scottish Government is simply warm words. Labour fought for new powers to not only to keep our country together, but to make our communities stronger. The fight now, it seems, is to ensure we use those powers to build a truly fairer Scotland. To move past warm words and onto real action.

Scotland must wait until the summer for its first ever Social Security Bill (which will have scant detail about the new benefits, entitlements or eligibility) and until that legislation is scrutinised, improved and passed, no agency will set out to use the powers.  That means no topping-up reserved benefits and certainly no changes to disability benefits or social fund payments. That means the Tories can keep on pulling the levers on the social security system until the end of the decade.

Or, to put it another way, no top-up to Carer’s Allowance, no increase in Child Benefit, and the Best Start Grant could still be a while off. The SNP’s failure to get on with the job means 140,000 people will have to suffer a PIP reassessment delivered by the private sector. And while the Tories can rush through regulations to stop thousands of Scots getting disability payments, Holyrood is standing back.

Carers, the disabled and struggling families are being left to ask when they will see the benefit of the new powers, not just read about them.

As they have done with our new tax powers, the SNP have left the social security powers on the shelf gathering dust.  Not only did last month’s austerity budget serve up the next round of cuts to the very services that the poorest communities rely on the most, it allocated just £80m to get on with implementing everything the Scotland Act has to offer – including social security.

While they willingly leave powers in the Tories hands, the SNP have instead obsessed over one thing: independence. Attempts in recent weeks to re-weaponise the bedroom tax have sought to tear open constitutional wounds and made headlines, but also struck fear into the hearts of thousands of families who cannot afford a hike in their rent bills.

We have a commitment to pay Universal Credit directly to mothers, but no regulations; we have a Child Poverty Bill with a promise to eradicate the desperate cycle of poverty that blights our communities, but no money to get on with the job. We have powers to deliver dignity and respect, but we don’t appear to have a government to ready to get on with it.

We also have a cross-party commitment to boost Carer’s Allowance to the same rate as JSA.  It’s a small increase, but to a hard-pressed carer it’s worth £600 a year. Not a single MSP would stand in the way of the plan. Yet when my colleagues and I ask when it will start to hit bank accounts, SNP ministers can’t and won’t say. To ask when tens of thousands of carers are going to get the increase they deserve is being described as ‘distressing’, ‘disgraceful’ and a ‘distortion’. In response, I would ask: where is the dignity and respect in keeping carers in the dark?

When I asked the First Minister last week to use the powers to top-up Child Benefit, to protect hard working families from the financial brunt of Brexit and lift around 30,000 children out of poverty, she simply ignored the question.

Labour’s commitment to increase Child Benefit by £240 per year, supporting the calls of civic Scotland, would be a game-changing use of the powers in the face of austerity and welfare reform. But when it comes to the crunch, the SNP lack the willingness to turn well-rehearsed warm words into action.

Basic income trials in Scotland are exciting but there are undoubtedly big challenges ahead in getting them off the ground.  The revolutionary reboot could tell us how social security might change in the decades to come. The challenges, however, are not likely to be in the idea, but in the timidity of a Scottish Government in standby mode.

There is no denying the political will borne out of the referendum was palpable, but when it comes to social security, the SNP are posted missing and those warm words have begun to fizzle out.

Two and a half years ago, we fought to secure the powers to create our own social security system. To make our communities and country stronger. To change the lives of disabled people, tackle poverty and reinforce the safety net here in Scotland.

Today not only are we continuing to fight to keep our country together but we are also fighting to move past the warm words the SNP are so famous for, and onto real action to build a truly fairer Scotland.

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34 thoughts on “Let’s move past the warm words on social security, and onto real action

  1. What new “Powers”? Once again we see “Responsibility” being described as “Power”. In order for a responsibility to become a power a means to fund it would first have to be found. With no new extra “POWERS” that allows extra funding to come to Scotland then there is no NEW POWERS.

    And lets never ever ever forget that Labour delivered Devo NANO MINUS in 1999 they refused to increase “POWERS” during the Calman fiasco and again failed to vote to increase “POWERS” during the Smith fiasco. And then of course the vow to deliver Devo Max Home Rule and Federation.

    The so called power of the Scottish parliament was exposed during the Brexit court hearing. It doesn’t even have the power to veto anything Westminster proposes. According to the yoonery it doesn’t even have the power to call for a referendum on its own constitution.

    “While they willingly leave powers in the Tories hands,”

    ONLY INDEPENDENCE CAN REMOVE POWERS FROM THE TORIES HANDS! Devolution is designed specifically to leave powers IN THE HANDS OF TORIES!

    FFS! Its beyond hypocrisy. This is wilful deliberate denial of all reality.

    1. This is wilful deliberate denial of all reality.

      This is an excellent summary of your contribution, Mike.

      Of COURSE powers to increase funding have also been devolved. Your precious SNP just refuse to USE them, mainly in order to keep their mewling idiot supporters like you onside on the “we can’t do anything without independence waaa” bandwagon.

      What a useful idiot you are.

      1. Really? What powers to increase funding have been Devolved Duncan? Bearing in mind that any increase in income tax or any revenue will result in a proportional reduction in the block grant.

        1. That’s simply untrue. A Wings lie which was debunked years ago. John Swinney confirmed this was a lie when he was finance minister.

          Are you incapable of honesty?

          1. Of course! And I’m one post away from being blown away by all the forth coming indisputable evidence you’re about to present.

      2. “mewling idiot supporters”!. Do you feel you have to resort to these offensive comments to defend your position? Having looked at both sides of the argument, your approach is not going to win any converts. But perhaps you already know that, and don’t care who you offend?

  2. I am on a lot of medication oxygen minimum 15 hours a day. An ill health retirement pension. I receive 2 benefits. I attended Crosshouse Hospital today. So when you are arguing about powers about benefits .You need a reality check. Also ch5 runs programmes nearly every night about life on benefit. It makes us out to be scroungers. I did not ask to have to retire I did not get a choice .If it was not for our excellent health service and staff at Crosshouse Hospital who saved me in 14 I would not be here. Between 14 and 16 I was a patient in 2 other hospitals. I have had continual outpatient since I am not a scrounger. So instead of arguing continualy about what powers you have or don’t have. I say to the SNP get a grip people like me need you to make the powers you have work. The reality is when I was at the hospital today none of us were talking about Brexit or Indy. We were talking about how busy the place was. The delays to the bus service caused by extensive roadworks along the entire route. I was struck at the cheerfulness of the staff working in difficult conditions. That Hospital badly needs money spent on it . It serves an area bigger than Glasgow . So get moving some of us live in the real world . Not SNP fantasy land. And incidently in 14 when I was in A GLASGOW HOSPITAL. I was not well enough to take part but listening to what patients and staff were saying I knew Indy 1 was in trouble. That was 4 weeks before the vote. Before you attack me I was always voting remain but I thought yes was doable. If yes had won I would have accepted it. I would not have started to agitate straight away for another ref. Where is the evidence that yes accepted the result. As I say right now the last thing I am looking for is another ref. But then I live in the real world

    1. What country anywhere has ever settled for less than self determination? What country ever gave up and said ok fuck it lets just have Devolution instead?
      We are fighting for a second Indyref BECAUSE we HAD to accept the result of the first. So stop dishonestly trying to pretend the result wasn’t accepted.
      You don’t have to participate in any more Indyrefs. You can choose to stay out not campaign not vote not participate. You can totally ignore it. That’s your prerogative. What you cant do is deny anybody else their right to campaign and participate in another Indyref as a CHOICE.
      The argument for Independence relative to Devolution economically is to free up Scotlands full fiscal and economic potential in order to spend it in Scotland.
      Your argument is to deprive Scotland of its full fiscal and economic levers and whine about the lack of funding as a direct result.
      It is to lie and pretend there is an overall UK pooling and sharing program of all UK resources when there clearly and absolutely isn’t!
      There is ONLY evidence of a massive unbalanced economic model which is progressively transferring public funding into the Private sector. A deliberate depriving of public funding for public services. Hence the enforced cuts and the funding squeeze at all levels of Government.
      This is being referred to by Government and the Media as “Austerity” measures. When in reality it is a criminal betrayal. A systematic THEFT of public funding.

      The ONLY answer as far as Scotland is concerned is for Scotland as a NATION to remove itself from the ideological powers that are enforcing this unnecessary austerity and criminal policy choices.

    2. BWhile the N.H.S. here has its problems, be grateful, David, that you don’t live in the part of the real world that comes under the jurisdiction of the N.H.S. in England.

  3. I find this very ironic to the point of insulting from a member of a party which fought tooth and nail in the Smith Commission to limit the powers of Holyrood. It o my that, they made sure that the powers we did get were the hardest to use. Differential income tax in what is, for now, a unitary state are the hardest to raise, especially if the area concerned has a flatter wage structure. Why don’t we have powers over V.A.T? or national insurance? or corporation tax? Or corporation tax? or fuel duty? I have asked this question here before, but never received an answer.
    There would be two great ways of avoiding the depredations of the tories, Mark. One is full fiscal autonomy. The other is even better. It is called self governance.

  4. So I’m no to be blown away with indisputable evidence. Its the other thing. The complete lack and void of evidence and actual substance from Duncan once again.

    No John Swinney disputed nothing with regards to the charge that any increase in Scottish revenues results in a proportional drop in Scottish funding and the Site that cannot be named by anybody but Duncan got it spot on. As usual.

  5. The simplest thing would be to run a pilot of Citizens Income on an island like Islay or Uist: try it, see what happens.

    1. Only Labour controlled Glasgow, Fife and North Ayshire are investigating Citizen’s income. Why are no SNP Councils doing this?

      1. Probably because it would take all the interconnected tax and welfare powers of a National State to make it work. To join up the dots and sort out the inevitable glitches.
        I will bet you a tenner it becomes a working feature of Sweden etc long before it’s implemented in any Labour council, no matter where.
        Phone when Glasgow, Fife or N Ayrshire have it implemented. Your £10 awaits!

  6. Yet another spending commitment from Scottish Labour, to add to all the rest.
    They want to spend lots more money on education, higher education, local government, transport, nationalising buses and trains, buying oil rigs or oil fields or whatever it was, social security, the NHS , etc etc —–and probably putting a man on the moon ( to join Kezia? who is already in space.).
    What Scottish Labour hasnt done, is cost these “promises” and tell us how they will pay for them. 1% on basic income tax wont cover a fraction of what they want.
    Its called hucksterism, or snake oil selling.

  7. The problem is that the mitigation of the bedroom tax by the Scottish Government is not guaranteed as any top ups to folks benefits could be clawed back by the UK government that is supported by the Labour Party, its a shame that the Gordon Brown Vow was only empty words and not delivered if Gordon Brown is wheeled out in the new Scottish Referendum to be announced at the end of next week then his credibility is in tatters and he will not be believed because of his broken Vow.

    1. Scaremongering nonsense. If the Scottish Government actually commits to topping up benefits then they will be topped up. This claim is as dishonest as the claim about tax rises meaning reduced block grant. Both are scare stories invented by Wings and regurgitated by the misinformed. The Scottish Government had the powers to change things and needs to stop making excuses and start using them.

      1. You said the claim regarding tax rises = reduced Scottish funding was debunked and Swinney himself debunked it.
        Still waiting in vain and forlorn hope for the indisputable evidence Duncan.

      2. Topping up benefits with what? How many more spending commitments is Labour going to pretend can be met with the ever decreasing overall Scottish budget allocation?

        The worst thing about Labour is its past track record of annual Tax increases coupled by its track record of public service cuts. The 2 went hand in hand.
        No matter how much Labour increased taxation we still ended up with public sector cuts AND Privatisation.

        You can still see them doing it in Wales. Tax hikes coupled with public sector cuts and still Wales is the worst performing constituent part of the UK on every issue.

        That’s not scaremongering that’s FACT!

      3. Their is a way of topping up both benefits and social services and labour and the rest of the Yoon parties would have a major part to play in this forward looking scheme.

        We could introduce a new tax, we would call it the liar tax. Just think of the contributions from Duncan, Jim, Andy and Scott, that would surely clear the 15 billion deficit they keep whinning about.

      4. The biggest problem is indisputable Duncan, and that is the FACT that an attempt by the Scottish Government to top-up benefits, has no guarantee that the UK government will not cut the persons benefit by the top-up ammount.

        The UK government would not be able to do this if the Scottish Government had control over our own Social Security Policy, so I have one question for Labour and it strikes at the heart of this whole issue:

        Did Labour Back Scotland having control over its own Social Security Policy at any time over the past 10 years?

        Does Labour support Scotland having Control over Social Security Policy Now?

        Please provide evidence Duncan, but failing this please tell your colleges to stop lying to us, because your actions when the ‘rubber hits the road’ show you don’t care how Westminster treats Scotland disabled or poorest people, you care only about scoring political points by these misleading claims about the government in Scotland being able to simply pay any amount of money to people to negate the impact of Westminster (I don’ call them Tory cuts, because Labour introduced most of them)

        If you ever start caring about the most vulnerable people in our society Duncan, you can join a cross party campaign to have all social security policy devolved to the Scottish Government.

        Of course the SNP might just enact policy that will benefit these vulnerable souls if they do get these powers, and that will look good to the majority of Scots, so Labour must turn their back on the poorest people in Scotland as political necessity is far more important eh Duncan?

  8. Heids the point I was trying to make is the NHS needs fixing here. None of the other patients I saw yesterday was in the least interested in debates about Indy or Brexit . Crosshouse hospital was very busy with people needing help yesterday . The GPS surgeries are at breaking point . This is here in Scotland it should be the Scottish governments top priority its not. I also think the NHS should no longer be a political football to be kicked around by the parties at Holyrood. But it would take a real politician to do that.

    1. Thats a stupid bare faced lie Davy boy. The NHS in Scotland is nowhere near breaking point. It will always need funding it will always need resources that’s the nature of the service but to stupidly lie about it being at breaking point that’s just despicable and is nothing but a political narrative. Just another measure of the dishonest and badly run SNP BAD campaign.
      While the SNP protect the Public function of the NHS in Scotland from the privatisation ambitions of both the Blue and Red Tories in the UK the NHS in England and Wales is being systematically dismantled and eroded in favour of Private health care.
      That’s the reality and the true political narrative.
      No political party in the UK is more willing to protect and look after the NHS than the SNP is.
      And all the worthless lying narrative in the world isn’t hiding that fact.

    2. I don’t think we’re disagreeing about much, David. I would point out, however, that funding for the N.H.S. in Scotland is contingent on funding levels in the privatised U.K. service. As these drop south of the border, it will have consequences here.

      1. Can I just correct a significant error of fact there.

        Funding for the NHS in Scotland is not contingent on funding levels in the UK service. Barnett consequentials come to Scotland based on what the UK government spends, but there is no requirement for that to be spent on the NHS in Scotland (indeed the SNP chose not to do that during its first term) and there is no block on the Scottish Government spending more than the Barnett consequentials on the NHS in Scotland (indeed the SNP’s pledge on NHS spending in 2016 clearly demonstrates this, as it was made long before UK NHS spending for the next five years could be known).

        The Scottish Government has tax varying powers (which it has only used thus far to cut taxes). It could easily choose to raise tax revenue and spend that on the NHS. Or it could choose to spend more of the block grant on the NHS and less on other areas – like it did in the most recent budget, increasing NHS spending while cutting local government spending.

        The idea that NHS spending in Scotland is constrained by what is done in England is simply a falsehood. It never has been, and it still isn’t. The amount spent on our NHS is entirely the responsibility of our elected Scottish Government.

  9. The IFS is stating, post budget, that wages in 2022 will be no better than in 2007. 15 years without an increase in pay,
    Yet Scottish Labour continue to advocate substantial spending increases without any apparent means of paying for them. They want a rise in income tax ( on people who have a stagnation of disposable income) of 1% which won’t meet the cost of a tenth of their “promises”.
    Duncan seems to think the devolution settlement is just hunkie dory (none of Browns federalism/Home Rule or Darlings Devo Max for old Dinkie), but Treeza May didn’t agree—-she and Ruthie want Westminster to be back in charge.

    1. “old Dinkie”??????
      I have no idea what I posted, but the spell checker took charge, and the rest is history.
      Just like Labour!

      Watching the rugby. Tough, tough game. Ireland have had a lot of the ball, but lack a cutting edge. Wales are the most street wise bunch out there, referee wise.

  10. OOP’S , labours real boss “Corbyn” has said labour will not oppose a second referendum on Scottish independence, kinda fucks the Scottish branch office.

    1. It puts them back ‘in their place’ something we saw happening to Jim Murphy when he tried to have a thought of his own.
      It just shows you that as far as Westminster MP’s are concerned, it’s not just the SNP who mustn’t get thoughts above their station, but any Scottish politicians.

      But as I thought would happen, I just looked on Kezias twitter feed and it said nothing about the JC intervention, because the last thing Kez wants, is a turf war that will result in the Westminster Labour Party letting the cat out the bag, and showing the so called Slab autonomy (no laughing at the back) as the fraud it has been from day one.

      Labour are finished in Scotland, it’s like watching someone you know destroying themselves with heroin, you tell them to stop, you tell them they are destroying themselves, they tell you they understand what you are saying is right and that they have turned over a new leaf, only for you to find them lying in a crumpled heap, with syringe in hand a few days later.

      It only ever ends when they eventually die, and only a handful of people mourn their passing.

      Labour in Scotland, RIP.

      1. Goodness! It’s even worse for Kez after she was spectacularly slapped down on the Marr show today (Sunday) as the Wesminster MP ‘reminded’ Marr by quoting Kez’s comments about how no one should try to prevent Scotland having another referendum on independence.

        It’s clear that Slab need genuine independence from the Westminster party and not the ‘pretendy’ type that both Jim Murphy and Kez have been telling everyone daft enough to listen about.

        Maybe Labour can be as progressive as one of their unionist partners Murdo Frazer, and attempt to create a genuinely separate party that will vote with the Westminster party on a vote by vote basis.

        What do you think Duncan?

    2. It used to be a bit of fun to watch Dugdale and Murray wriggle and wiggle and jump up and down, when twice elected Corbyn pulled rank.
      But now they want English/Welsh ( and their allies, the SDLP?) MP’s and Peers to veto a referendum Bill passing though the Commons and Lords, after it had passed through Holyrood..
      That is NOT funny. It is a constitutional danger to us all, and reminds us how out of her depth Dugdale is.

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