Part 1: Significance of principles and human rights
Several social security principles and human rights conventions have a direct bearing on the approach to uprating.
Failure to maintain the real value of any form of devolved benefit would represent a reduction in the value of investment in the people of Scotland, unless money saved is redirected into other forms of support. In that event, it would be necessary to carry out an Equality Impact Assessment to ensure that redistributing funds did not result in any detriment to groups with protected characteristics.
As social security is itself a human right, it is necessary to establish how human rights apply to the approach taken to uprating benefits. The requirement to work towards the progressive realisation of human rights, particularly rights to social security and an adequate standard of living, to avoid discrimination in the enjoyment of rights and the implied non-retrogression principle, are all of direct significance.
Failure to uprate social security assistance to reflect increases in inflation would, over time, bring about a reduction in its real value. This would risk the retrogression in Scottish people’s enjoyment of the right to social security. The Scottish Government would be required to justify any such trend by demonstrating that this allowed it to make better use of resources for the realisation of the full suite of social rights protected by the Covenant.
Benefits serve different purposes. All play roles in meeting the right to an adequate standard of living. Other human rights will be relevant to some forms of assistance that are particularly targeted at protected characteristic groups. In the first instance, compliance with these rights requires the setting of an appropriate rate of social security assistance, or all uprating would achieve is the maintenance of an inadequate level. However, a sustained fall in the real value of payments would eventually raise questions about compliance.
Regardless of the primary purpose of a given form of assistance, failure to uprate any form of benefit could have an impact on poverty levels, as could the nature of the index used for uprating. Means-tested benefits are generally considered the main benefits for directly relieving poverty and key ones are currently reserved. However, devolved benefits clearly have important roles to play too. If payments rise at a slower rate than average incomes, relative income poverty will be higher. If payments rise at a slower rate than prices, material deprivation can be expected to increase. This would have implications for the achievement of the targets in the Child Poverty (Scotland) Act 2017 as well as conformity with this principle.
This principle overlaps considerably with Article 2 of the Covenant, which includes a non-discrimination provision alongside the progressive realisation provision. A fall in the real value of benefits raises questions about conformity with Article 2, or with Article 19 CRPD, and would raise the same questions in respect of this principle.
Recommendation 1: In establishing the approach to be taken to uprating, both in the short and longer-term, the Scottish Government should explicitly consider how it conforms to the principles in the Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018 and human rights conventions. The agreed approach should be clearly, accessibly and publicly communicated.