Transforming social security

After seven years of rising poverty and inequality, Labour will rebuild and transform our social security system. Like the NHS, our social security system is there for all of us in our time of need, providing security and dignity in retirement and the basics in life should we become sick or disabled, or fall on hard times.

Dignity for those who cannot work

Poverty in Scotland – and across the UK –  is rising due to SNP and Tory attempts to balance the books on the backs of the poorest, slashing funding to public services and to social security payments.

One-in-five people in Scotland are living in poverty and the latest figures show that Scotland’s food banks have handed out 488,766 three-day emergency food parcels since 2011 – with more than 150,000 going to children.

While the Tories promised to make work pay, the reality is that they have completely failed. Over half of those in poverty in Scotland live in a household where at least one adult works.

Research from the Centre for Regional and Economic Social Research at Sheffield Hallam University estimates that, under a Tory government, Scotland will lose over £1 billion in social security payments by 2020/21 – on top of the £1 billion that has already been taken out of the system since 2010.

Labour fought for, and won, enhanced powers over social security for the Scotland Act 2016, to allow the Scottish Parliament to create new benefits in devolved areas and top-up reserved benefits.

The majority of spending on social security in Scotland – including Jobseeker’s Allowance, Universal Credit, and the state pension – remains under the control of the UK government. But with the powers of the Scottish Parliament we can make different, fairer choices to those of a Tory government.

We want to see these powers used as soon as is practicable, while recognising that the immediate priority must be to ensure a smooth transition from the existing system.

However, when 26 per cent of people in poverty in Scotland are disabled, the second highest rate in the UK, it is morally wrong that the SNP government willingly left powers over disability payments in the hands of the Tories.

A Labour government will act immediately to end the worst excesses of the Tory government’s changes, and will rebuild and transform our social security system.

We will:

  • Scrap the punitive sanctions regime
  • Scrap the “bedroom tax” across the UK
  • Reinstate housing benefit for under-21s
  • Scrap cuts to Bereavement Support Payment

The cuts to work allowances in Universal Credit (UC), and the decision to limit tax credit and UC payments to the first two children in a family, are an attack on low-income families which will increase child poverty. Labour will reform and redesign UC, ending six-week delays in payment and abolishing the abhorrent “rape clause”, a shocking policy which has been supported by Tories in Westminster and Holyrood.

Labour’s decision to scrap the “bedroom tax” across the UK would free up the £47 million a year currently used to mitigate the awful effects the tax would wreak on Scotland’s poorest and most vulnerable people.

Scottish Labour has been campaigning for Carers’ Allowance to be raised to the same level as Jobseeker’s Allowance, helping 69,848 Scottish carers. A Labour government will make this one of its top priorities in its first year.

Labour will also scrap the punitive sanctions regime and reinstate housing benefit for under-21s, which would allow the Scottish Welfare Fund to use the money it currently spends mitigating this policy in other ways. We will also scrap Bereavement Support Payment cuts.

The Tories have failed to honour their promise to tackle the barriers to work faced by people with disabilities.

Labour supports a social model of disability. People may have a condition or an impairment but are disabled by society. We need to remove the barriers in society that restrict opportunities and choices for people with disabilities.

We will build on the previous Labour government’s commitment to people with disabilities in 2009 when we became signatories to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and incorporate it into UK law.

Labour will repeal many of the cuts in social security support to disabled people through a new Social Security Bill published in our first year of office.

We will:

  • Increase Employment and Support Allowance by £30 per week for those in the work-related activity group and repeal cuts in Universal Credit Limited Capability for Work – benefitting almost 60,000 people in Scotland
  • Increase Carers’ Allowance by £11 a week to the level of Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • Implement the court decision on Personal Independence Payments (PIP) so that there is real parity of esteem between those with physical and mental health conditions
  • Scrap the Work Capability and PIP assessments and replace them with a personalised, holistic assessment process which provides each individual with a tailored plan, building on their strengths and addressing barriers. Labour will end the privatisation of assessments
  • End the pointless stress of reassessments for people with severe long-term conditions
  • Commission a report into expanding the Access to Work programme

We will change the culture of the social security system, from one that demonises people to one that is supportive and enabling.

As well as scrapping the Tories’ punitive sanctions regime, we will change how Jobcentre Plus staff are performance managed.

Labour will strengthen access to justice for disabled people by enhancing the 2010 Equality Act, enabling discrimination at work to be challenged. We will ensure that under the Istanbul Convention, disability hate crime and violence against disabled women is reported annually with national action plans to address these issues.

Dignity for pensioners

As the Tories abandon their commitments to older people, Labour will guarantee the state pension “triple lock” throughout the next Parliament. That means it will rise by at least 2.5 per cent a year or be increased to keep pace with inflation or earnings, whichever is higher.

The Winter Fuel Payment, and free bus passes at age 60, would be guaranteed by Scottish Labour as universal benefits.

We will protect the pensions of UK citizens living overseas in the EU or further afield.

Over 2.5 million women born in the 1950s have had their state pension age changed without fair notification, leaving many in poverty. These women deserve both recognition for the injustice they have suffered, and some kind of compensation for their losses. Around 253,000 Scottish women have been affected by this change, as highlighted by the Women Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI) campaign.

Alongside our commitment to extend Pension Credit to hundreds of thousands of the most vulnerable women, Labour is exploring options for further transitional protections, to ensure that all these women have security and dignity in older age.

This must never happen again. Labour will legislate so that accrued rights to the basic state pension cannot be changed, but future benefits can.

The pension age is due to rise to 66 by the end of 2020. Labour rejects the Tories’ proposal to increase the state pension age even further, and will commission a new review of the pension age, specifically tasked with developing a flexible retirement policy to reflect both the contributions made by people, the wide variations in life expectancy, and the arduous conditions of some work.

We will restore confidence in the workplace pension system and put people, rather than profit, at its centre. Labour will end rip-off hidden fees and charges and enable the development of large efficient pensions funds, which will mean more cash for scheme members and lower costs for employers.

A Labour government will commit to an immediate review of the Mineworkers’ Pension Scheme and British Coal Superannuation Scheme surplus, sharing arrangements between government and scheme beneficiaries.

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