Social Security (Residence Requirements) (Afghanistan) (Scotland) Regulations 2021: scrutiny report

The Scottish Commission on Social Security's scrutiny report on the draft Social Security (Residence Requirements) (Afghanistan) (Scotland) Regulations 2021 with recommendations for the Scottish Government.

Overview: Social Security Principles and

Although these Regulations apply just to specific groups of refugees from one country, it is clear that the social security principles have implications not just in this instance but for the approach of devolved social security pertaining to refugees.

In effect the starting point is who qualifies as ‘people of Scotland’. When it comes to refugees that is for the UK Government Home Office to determine. However, it is clear that their conclusions can have a direct impact on devolved matters, including social security as ‘an investment in the people of Scotland’. Moreover, there may perhaps on occasion be scope in some areas for Scottish Government to extend entitlements, or at least initiate exploratory dialogue with DWP where their approach remains a constraint.

The human rights of refugees can reasonably be expected to be far from secure, even down to the right to life. The removal of obstacles to payments clearly contributes to human rights and the reduction in poverty, which may well be acute. We comment below on whether these Regulations are technically drafted to achieve that, with regard to the forms of assistance and groups in question, along with practical and delivery implications to consider.

The extent to which social security serves as a human right that supports the realisation of other human rights (b) may be contingent on the efficacy of co-ordination with other forms of support. There are several expectations in the Social Security Charter which suggest a facilitative role for Social Security Scotland which we discuss below.

It is clear just from these Regulations that there is some complexity about who is covered by which Home Office schemes and who is not, and, therefore, potentially very different treatment of people arriving in this country, even if their immediate circumstances are much the same. That might include refugees arriving from Afghanistan via other routes as well as refugees more generally – anyone granted leave to remain for humanitarian, or discretionary reasons.  This should always prompt questions about equality and non-discrimination and whether scope exists for Scottish Government to advance equitable treatment – as it has already committed to do on this occasion with respect to the subsequent amendment previously flagged.

This underlines the point about the importance of efficient, rapid delivery if policy goals for are to be met and value for money achieved. There may be staff training and communications issues to address when it comes to understanding of other cultures, meeting their needs and preferences, so that no one experiences discrimination.

Clearly, on this occasion, there was no time to ‘design with the people of Scotland’ (f). However, it may be worth carrying out further exploration with stakeholders working with refugees and asylum seekers, and of course people with lived experience of being refugees, or asylum seekers themselves, to ensure understanding of their needs, the implications for the design and delivery of devolved social security policy and to collect feedback on how well this works for refugees.

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