Opinion piece by Cabinet Secretary for Social Security, Shirley-Anne Somerville.
From this week, thousands of families across Scotland will start to get letters telling them they are entitled to new Scottish benefits. This is a first in Scotland and shows that when it comes to social security – we’re doing things differently.
We’re taking information from DWP and HMRC to identify people who are on certain benefits or tax credits and have children of the right age, and we’re writing to tell them about the financial support we have available and actively inviting them to apply.
This is all part of our commitment to making sure people get all the financial support that they are entitled to – helping to maximise incomes and tackle poverty.
This builds on the work we do to promote benefits. In the past year, we’ve advertised online, in newspapers on the radio and on TV to get the message out there.
We also work closely with organisations to get more people to access social security. Earlier this year we launched the £600,000 benefit take up and income maximisation funds to support charities and third sector organisations in their work to address barriers that prevent people from applying for benefits.
This is markedly different from what we see from the DWP. They reserve their promotional efforts to encourage people to report fraud or convince people to overlook Universal Credit’s known flaws.
We are launching this invite to apply now as we know that many families are under pressure as they cope with the financial impact of COVID-19. It is something that we were able to do quickly with the powers and resources we have available.
However, we know that this won’t reach everyone who could be due this support. Many people won’t be accessing the UK benefits or tax credits that they are entitled to and therefore won’t be on the qualifying benefits they need to apply for our help too.
To help people understand what financial assistance they could get, we continue to work in partnership with Citizens Advice Scotland. We have funded the Money Talk initiative since 2018 to provide families with advice on finances. And since the start of lockdown, we’ve launched a further support line with Citizens Advice Scotland for anyone who needs information and advice on things like bills, benefits and more – you can call the freephone number 0800 028 1456 or visit cas.org.uk
You can also get in touch with other local welfare advice offices to find out what support you are eligible for.
I’d call on the UK Government to do the same – to use its powers to make urgent changes to its benefit system, to help people through this very challenging time, and actively let people know what they could be entitled to.
I urge them to reverse their welfare cuts, by removing the benefit cap, bedroom tax, and two child limit, as well as increasing the Child Element of Universal Credit. It is vital that the UK Government match our efforts and take the necessary steps to ensure the benefit system is fit for purpose and is able to work for people who need it – because that safety net is needed more than ever right now.
Which is why we are determined to do everything we can to increase the take-up of Scottish social security payments as part of our commitment to support families.