NICOLA STURGEON was dealt a huge blow after it emerged that the UK had to bail out Scotland over welfare.
Under the 2016 Scotland Act that followed the No vote, Holyrood was given power over 11 benefits worth £3billion, roughly 15 percent of social security spending north of the border. Despite criticising how the UK Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) oversees these benefits, initially, the SNP ministers decided to wait to deliver some of them because of the complexity of the process and the need to set up a new Scottish benefits agency. Holyrood then promised they would be fully operational by the end of the current parliamentary term in 2021.
In a surprise statement in February, 2019, though, former Social Security Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville announced that, to get the system right, the group of benefits would have not been fully devolved until 2024.
A key hold-up is the transfer of cases from the DWP for the Scottish replacement for the personal independent payment (PIP).
There are 190,000 PIP claims in Scotland, worth up to £145.35 a week for a working age person with long-term ill-health or disability.
Ms Somerville said: “We will start the work of transferring people from DWP to our agency next year. This involves moving more than half a million cases – 10 percent of people in Scotland.
“Such transfers have in the past caused huge problems when DWP has migrated people within its own benefits systems.
“What hasn’t been done before is transferring people from one government’s agency to another’s, and we must do this effectively and securely and in conjunction with the DWP. With their cooperation I expect the majority of people to be transferred by 2023, with all cases fully transferred by 2024.”
Former Tory MSP Michelle Ballantyne accused the SNP of “utter hypocrisy”.
She said: “For two years, the SNP has slammed the DWP… raised expectations and promised the earth to some of Scotland’s most vulnerable people.
“And after repeated promises that the new system would be up and running by the end of this Parliament, we now learn that it will be 2024 before PIP’s successor is in place.
“And this is from the party that said it could set up an independent country in 18 months. [Ms Somerville] must apologise to the Scottish DWP staff she has repeatedly denigrated.”
Labour MSP Mark Griffin said: “The SNP Government has left vulnerable people at the mercy of the callous DWP and the Tories for far too long already.
“Ministers must apologise to everyone in Scotland entitled to social security who is being left at the hands of the Tories.
“Delaying full control of the powers until 2024 is a betrayal of vulnerable people who were told the Scottish Government would assume responsibility within this term.
“It also makes a mockery of SNP promises in 2014 that a separate Scottish state could be set up within 18 months – vulnerable people will have been waiting a decade for the devolution of social security powers.”
A Scottish government timetable, last updated in June 2019, said that the final handover of cases from the DWP will not take place until 2025.
In April, 2018, contingency plans had been put in place to deal exactly with this situation.
The former Work and Pensions Secretary, Esther McVey, told members of the Scottish Parliament that more information was needed on how the Scottish Government planned to deliver these benefits, particularly in relation to £1.8billion in disability assistance each year.
She said: “We need to know at pace and quicker what it is the Scottish Government would like to do with these benefits…for them to be able to deliver things in a safe and timely manner.”