January 23, 2015 12:53 am Published by

Following today’s publication, the UK Government will undertake an engagement programme across Scotland to ensure that people have the opportunity to contribute their views as work continues to prepare the draft legislation for introduction in Parliament. The following points are of particular interest to the sector:

 

Overview of employment support

  • The Scottish Parliament will have all powers over support for unemployed people through the employment programmes currently contracted by DWP (which are presently delivered mainly, but not exclusively, through the Work Programme and Work Choice) on expiry of the current commercial arrangements. The Scottish Parliament will have the power to decide how it operates these core employment support services. Funding for these services will be transferred from the UK Parliament.
  • Clause 22 of the draft bill makes provision to give the Scottish Parliament legislative competence to pass its own laws in relation to making employment schemes to assist those at risk of becoming long-term unemployed, and to help disabled people into work.
  • The Scottish Parliament will have the competence to create powers which enable the design of new employment programmes – for example through work search support, provision of skills and training, and community placements, or through other new techniques. Any support provided by the Scottish Government for those at risk of long term unemployment must assist the claimant for at least one year in order to ensure a robust approach to tackling unemployment. The clause does not affect UK Ministers’ broader powers which enable them to ensure that appropriate support is available at every stage of the claimant journey, including core Jobcentre Plus functions which remain reserved.
  • The Scottish Parliament may choose to create powers for similar functions to those which the UK Government delivers in this area, which currently attracts over 95% of funding for centrally contracted employment programmes. As stated in the Smith Commission Agreement, conditionality and sanctions will remain reserved, including the ability to make mandatory referrals to Scottish Government programmes. The Scottish Government may also choose to offer support to those who are eligible to take part in any scheme of their making.
  • The Scottish Parliament will have the ability to legislate for the creation of schemes as defined in the draft clause. Separate Scottish schemes will therefore need to be coordinated with the UK-wide system of employment support (as currently delivered by Jobcentre Plus, which the Smith Commission Agreement recommended remain a reserved matter).
  • To ensure that Scottish and UK designed schemes both operate successfully as intended, and work together coherently in the best interest of claimants, it will be essential for both the UK and Scottish Governments to work closely together in the design, implementation and operation of their respective programmes, to ensure that claimants can transition smoothly from one system to the other. Such discussions will be facilitated through forums such as the Joint Ministerial Working Group on Welfare and at an operational level through established local partnerships.

 

Other welfare provisions

  • The UK Government, in line with the recommendations made by the Calman Commission on Scottish devolution, has also reformed the Social Fund by abolishing some of the discretionary elements, Community Care Grants and crisis loans, and devolving the funding for them.
  • Key issues still to be considered include how to deal with existing benefit awards, the timing of any transfer of responsibility (so as to allow time for the Scottish Government to put new arrangements in place), and the extent to which the existing links with reserved welfare benefits need to be maintained going forward, this includes:

– Where entitlement to one benefit or service automatically qualifies the recipient for another benefit, payment or service

– Overlapping rules which, to avoid duplication of state or local provision for a similar purpose

– Cross- boundary issues, for example in respect of Carer’s Allowance where the carer may live in one jurisdiction whilst caring for someone in the other jurisdiction

– EU and international issues, for example, migrants’ access to benefits, the exportability of certain benefits within the European Economic Area

– Issues relating to how benefits or services are administered, for example provisions covering claims to and payments of benefits; fraud, error, recovery of overpayments and other deductions from benefit; the sharing of information and recovery of benefit from compensation payments.

  • The UK Government will need to consider with the Scottish Government how any transfer of responsibility for existing caseloads will proceed and will work together with the Scottish Government to ensure that any transition is smooth with no unintended consequences for those currently in receipt of benefits or payments.
  • A joint Ministerial Working Group on Welfare has been established to provide a forum in which UK Ministers and Scottish Ministers can discuss the operation of the new arrangements – both in advance of legislation being delivered, and also to provide a forum for discussion post Royal Assent.

 

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