The Social Security (Up-rating) (Miscellaneous Amendments) (Scotland) Regulations 2023: scrutiny report

The Scottish Commission on Social Security's scrutiny report on the Social Security (Up-rating) (Miscellaneous Amendments) (Scotland) Regulations 2023

3. Scottish Child Payment

SCoSS welcomes the Scottish Government’s decision to increase the Scottish Child Payment (SCP) from £20 to by £25 per week in November 2022 as part of its strategy to tackle child poverty and notes that this above-inflation increase is in keeping with the progressive realisation principle, increasing its contribution to realisation of the rights to social security and an adequate standard of living. This  exceeds the figure that would have been arrived at had the April 2022 rate of SCP simply been up-rated by 10.1% which would be £22.02. This means that, from April 2022 to April 2023, the overall value of SCP will have increased in real terms.

SCoSS notes that the Section 86A report calculates an inflation adjusted figure for Scottish Child Payment using £20 as the ‘relevant figure’ in the calculation required by section 86A(4), rather than using the £25 rate that had been introduced in November 2022. Section 86A(3)(b) does not allow the use in the up-rating calculation of ‘a figure which is so prescribed to apply only in respect of periods that have ended, or events that occurred, before a particular date’. In response to a question raised by SCoSS about the decision-making process on SCP up-rating, officials noted that at the time that the relevant up-rating decisions were made, the current figure for SCP was £20, and that the payment had been up-rated in advance of other payments alongside its extension to children under 16. There is therefore a certain ambiguity regarding what is the appropriate ‘relevant figure’ for the purposes of the up-rating report, so that, when comparing November 2022 with April 2023, the decision not to further up-rate the £25 rate of payment can be interpreted as a real-terms reduction in its value. Had the increase to SCP been implemented earlier in the year prior to up-rating decisions having been made, it may not have been appropriate to describe the increase as an early up-rating.

“The Finance Secretary stated that a key priority for this budget was tackling child poverty and it is therefore disappointing that the budget failed to uprate the Scottish Child Payment in line with other Scottish benefits. This will mean a real term cut in the value of the payment at a time when families on low incomes need more support to stay afloat.” – Poverty Alliance

The rationale used to determine the specific £5 increase is not presented, so it would be helpful to understand why this figure was chosen and how this increase sits within the wider context of up-rating of social security payments. For example, some third sector organisations have called on the Scottish Government to go further and increase the Scottish Child Payment to £40 per week in recognition of “the fiscal context we now find ourselves” in.[43]

The increase in SCP was included as an action within the Scottish Government’s Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan 2022-26, which was published on 24 March 2022.[44] It is not clear how any predicted September 2022 CPI rate was taken into account when this amount of increase was decided. Further information on the decision-making process in relation to these points would be helpful both to SCoSS and interested third-sector organisations.

Recommendation 2: Given the Scottish Government used its discretion this year to up-rate Scottish Child Payment beyond the rate of the Consumer Prices Index, we invite the Scottish Government to clarify the rationale for the £5 increase.

Recommendation 3: Where a rate of assistance is increased in-year, outwith the usual up-rating process, the Scottish Government should make clear at that time whether or not that increase represents early up-rating in fulfilment of its duty under section 86B. Where it does, the reasons behind its decision to use its discretion to bring the up-rating forward in that case should be made clear.

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