Give Scotland more welfare powers - report
Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Central Government and also in Regulation
The Scottish government should be given greater powers over welfare, a new report has argued.
In its study, think tank IPPR calls for the devolution of some benefits to Scotland, as well as giving devolved governments the power to supplement UK levels of welfare to reflect local circumstances and voter choice.
IPPR argues that such a move would give devolved institutions more levers to improve social and economic outcomes and leave them more able to pursue "joined-up policy".
The authors argue that it would also be in line with public opinion in Scotland where there is strong support for greater national control over welfare - 57% in favour in January 2013, according to the Scottish social attitudes survey.
The report recommends devolving both housing benefit (around £1.7 billion in Scotland in 2010/11) and attendance allowance (around £481million in 2010/11).
The report - 'Devo More and Welfare' - also recommends:
• Devolving responsibility for getting the long term unemployed back to work by handing control of the work programme over to the devolved institutions. This would allow policy to be more responsive to local labour market conditions.
• The expansion of universal childcare which because of greater tax devolution would mean that the potential financial benefits arising from boosting female labour participation rates would flow to the Scottish government.
The authors claim the three main reasons why devolved governments should take control of some benefits are:
• They relate to or overlap with already devolved functions.
• They are ‘place based’ benefits.
• Having power over these benefits would help to boost growth and improve social outcomes.
However, the report warns that there are limits to how far welfare devolution should go.
It shows that Scotland benefits from being part of the UK because it is able to draw on the resources of the tax base of the UK as a whole, which it claims is "particularly beneficial" when it comes to paying for pensions.
Scotland has a disproportionate number of people of or approaching pensionable age and fewer working age people paying for those pensions. But by being part of the Union, this problem is reduced because the burden and risks can be shared across the UK.
IPPR's associate director, Guy Lodge, said: “There are powerful reasons for devolving welfare both as a way of improving social and economic outcomes and as a way of reinforcing the Union.
"The UK government and the devolved governments should continue to share provision of welfare in complementary and mutually reinforcing ways. The UK government provides a strong backbone for the social union – pooling risk and allowing for redistribution – while the devolved governments are best placed to respond to local needs and pressures.
"Welfare devolution would improve policy without undermining the fundamental level of shared UK-wide social citizenship. This is a win/win outcome, while Scotland going it alone would inhibit its ability to provide a stable and resilient form of social protection.”