The Scotland Bill: Improving But Must Try Harder

Kate Wane gives her view on the progress of the Scotland Bill after it was given the seal of approval by the House of Commons on Monday 9 November. This article was first published on the SCVO website


The Scotland Bill – so after Monday’s session in the Commons where are we?

The most interesting addition to the Bill is the power to create new benefits in areas of devolved responsibility. It’s something that was promised by Smith, but until Monday had not looked likely to be delivered. The power is not without its limits. For example, like discretionary payments, a benefit cannot be created in order to provide assistance where the need arises from sanctions. The new clause also makes it very clear that when it comes to creating new benefits, it’s the Scottish Government who will have to foot the bill.

The power to create new benefits is an exciting prospect. It opens us up to all sorts of ideas. I hope, I know, that many of us in the sector will – now we know it’s a possibility – start to think about how this power might be used. Of course the problem is the money. We can come up with ideas for all the new, no doubt deserving, support we like but the Scottish Government has to figure out where the money will come from.

There’s going to be difficult decisions to be made, not just around new benefits but in taking over responsibility for disability benefits for example, about how much is spent where.

Given this, and the prospect of selling to the public ‘a cut here to make way for a benefit there’, I guess the crux of the matter is this: while Holyrood will have the power to create benefits, will it have the political resolve to actually do so?

In other areas, the much welcomed amendment on Carers has been passed, removing the restrictive eligibility criteria and giving the Scottish Parliament far greater flexibility. Disappointingly, an amendment from Labour’s Ian Murray to amend the definition of disability fell, so this remains restrictive.

Amendments were also made to powers relating to equalities that, as we stated in our briefing ahead of Report Stage we are generally supportive of. However, like the Equality Network we remain concerned the reference to ‘protected characteristics’ may have unintended consequences.  Also I for one am still not 100% sure I understand what the Bill will actually give the Scottish Parliament the power to do in this area.

Unfortunately, a number of opposition amendments we supported fell. Therefore, the employment support provisions still fall short of what was agreed by Smith, references to sanctions and conditionally in relation to discretionary payments remain and families facing exceptional pressure continue to be excluded.

Overall this is a better Bill than it was on Monday morning but it’s still by no means perfect.

The Bill now moves to the Lords. It’s going to be an interesting to see how the Bill progresses in the second chamber, given that the Conservatives don’t have a majority there. If, for example, Labour were to propose amendments that garnered Liberal and Cross-Bench support from Peers the Bill could be amended contrary to the Government’s wishes.

For me this marks the end of my work on the Bill – for SCVO at least. I’m sure it will follow me in my new role and as a Scottish resident it will undoubtedly affect me, and all of us, in the future.

Important: Opinions expressed by bloggers are their own and don't represent those of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations.

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