Dignity, fairness and respect is much more than a strapline
Last month, we released the new visual identity for Social Security Scotland when we advertised the first 80 jobs for the new agency. Alongside the new logo are the words ‘Dignity, fairness and respect’.
From our insight so far in listening to our Experience Panels and our stakeholders – the people who have the most experience of the current UK system – all of it tells us that dignity and respect – and often human rights – are not being upheld by the current UK benefits system. In a survey of our Experience Panel members last year, 3 out of 5 people said that their experience of the current system was ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’.
For us, the words dignity and respect mean a great deal more. I am very conscious that we have to show, in everything that we do, that they are much more than simply words. In less than a fortnight’s time, the Scottish Parliament will take its final vote on the Social Security (Scotland) Bill. When MSPs vote for the Bill, they will make dignity, respect and a commitment to human rights a central part of the law that will be the foundation of this new public service for Scotland.
Scottish Ministers already have a duty to meet the human rights obligations set out in the European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act 1998. But we wanted to set that out very clearly and explicitly in this Bill to make sure that dignity and respect are at the heart of everything this, and future, governments do.
And there is more in our Bill that is distinctive and responds directly to all that we have heard from the consultation in 2016 right through to the feedback we are getting from Experience Panel members today. When MSPs vote on this Bill they will be voting on landmark legislation that enables Scotland to do things differently for the areas in social security that we have the powers to deliver.
It is way past time to reassert that social security is an investment we make collectively, in ourselves and in each other. And time to significantly change how people are treated and their rights upheld when we deliver the 11 separate benefits that account for around £3.3 billion pounds of investment every year in vital support for 1.4 million people in Scotland.
In the Bill, there are a number of important commitments to make good on our words and improve significantly how people are treated. Amongst these are:
- Making sure everyone who uses our system has the right to have someone with them – a supporter – every step of the way, whether it’s for a meeting or an assessment.
- Making sure people have the right to challenge our decisions and making sure that their money will not be stopped or cut if they do.
- Always providing payments in cash unless people specifically choose otherwise.
- Guaranteeing that we will get the information and advice to everyone who may be entitled to a devolved benefit in an inclusive way to encourage take-up and maximise incomes.
- Having social security staff in every local authority area of Scotland – the human face to help you know what you are entitled to and to help you make the application to get it.
We have shaped this Bill together, and we all have a stake in it. And that work doesn’t end with the legislation.
This is the year where we will start to deliver these benefits. So we’ll keep working closely with our stakeholders, Experience Panel work continues and it proving to be invaluable to us and we are already testing the way that we will deliver with people who will use the system once it is up and running
Only by doing this together will we make sure that dignity, fairness and respect becomes tangible. It will be evident every day and in every interaction – in the way we speak to each other, in the way we treat each other, in our processes and in the spaces where we work with those who come to us for the financial support they are entitled to.
Scotland is about to create a brand new public service that will sustain people for generations to come. It’s on all of us to get it right and to create a service that Scotland can be proud of.