The Social Security (Residence Requirements) (Ukraine) (Scotland) Regulations 2022: scrutiny report

The Scottish Commission on Social Security's scrutiny report on the Social Security (Residence Requirements) (Ukraine) (Scotland) Regulations 2022

5. Opening up access and advancing equality and non-discrimination

As we noted in our report on the Afghanistan regulations, there are questions about equality and non-discrimination and whether scope exists for the Scottish Government to advance equitable treatment of displaced people.

The purpose of an Equality Impact Assessment is to identify and pre-empt inadvertent inequality arising, which is why the assessment needs to be completed in advance of policy development, not retrospectively, wherever possible. We note that no Equality Impact Assessment had been carried out regarding the Regulations and that time factors would, presumably, have made this impossible in advance of laying them. There are understandable challenges to producing any form of impact assessment in advance of emergency legislation.

Nonetheless, there are significant equalities issues for displaced people coming to Scotland, and there are already more than one set of emergency regulations relating to displaced people. There could still be merit in carrying out an equality analysis of some kind, to identify equalities issues as a baseline for continuous improvement. This also applies to the other forms of impact assessment the Scottish Government carries out as a routine part of its policy development.

One way or another, equalities issues need to be identified and addressed to prevent discrimination (Part 3, expectation 5 of Our Charter)[21] and in pursuance of principle (g). Undertaking these impact assessments retrospectively could be beneficial in designing appropriate regulatory and delivery functions for similar situations in the future.

Observation 1: While time may well not permit the drawing up of impact assessments in advance of the laying of regulations of this kind, there may be a case for doing so retrospectively, as a means of drawing on learning as a preparatory measure should similar regulations be required in future.

Recommendation 6: The Scottish Government undertakes an equality analysis of the impact of these Regulations.

Displaced people previously resident in Ukraine will have specific communications needs, such as for language support, and this may have a particular bearing on Social Security Charter expectations including those on adapting processes and methods of communication[22]. Section 5 of the Act also covers the provision of accessible information[23]. We welcome confirmation from Social Security Scotland that it is producing factsheets in Ukrainian and Russian. However, given that access to disability benefits may well be a significant issue for displaced disabled people previously resident in Ukraine, it is clearly important to ensure other forms of communication barriers are similarly addressed and accessible forms of communication are produced in Ukrainian and Russian.

Recommendation 7: Social Security Scotland is invited to set out details of action taken to ensure accessibility of information to people arriving under these schemes who have additional disability-related communication barriers.

The Charter also includes expectations on independent advocacy provision for disabled people (Part 1, expectation 6 of Our Charter), and ensuring staff understand the needs of different people and the barriers they face, so that no-one experiences discrimination. This puts into practice the provisions in section 10 of the Act ensuring the right of access of disabled people to independent advocacy in connection with the determination of social security.

We were informed that hosts of displaced people previously resident in Ukraine are helping the people they sponsor to apply for social security support where they can, but that a high volume of calls to helplines (such as that run by the Scottish Refugee Council) for welfare rights advice suggest that many are not aware of the social security system or find it complex to navigate. We were also informed that the majority of displaced people moving to Scotland require independent support to engage directly with benefits system because of its complexity.

Independent advocacy could be of specific value to displaced people previously resident in Ukraine, or their hosts who are attempting to navigate the Scottish social security system with little or no experience. This has particular relevance to the achievement of principle (e) in the Act (the Scottish social security system is to contribute to reducing poverty in Scotland). Where these Regulations are concerned, independent advocates could play a significant role in supporting displaced people previously resident in Ukraine to understand their rights and ensure that they are being upheld with reference to their residency status.

Social Security Scotland has noted that there had been discussions with Voiceability, the body charged with providing independent advocacy on behalf of the Scottish Government, about direct referrals. In response to a question from the SCoSS board, Voiceability noted that it was actively seeking opportunities to engage with displaced people from Ukraine as part of its awareness raising and outreach work.. There may be some useful join-up between this work and that of other bodies who are experiencing an increased demand for welfare advice support.

Observation 2: Independent, accessible and rapidly available advocacy on devolved social security may well be of particular importance to displaced people previously resident in Ukraine coming to Scotland. 

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