SNP Minister Jeane Freeman Says Commission Would Stop Tories Bringing in Benefit Sanctions

Monday 29 January, 2018 Written by  Scottish Herald
Jeane Freeman MSP

A TORY Government at Holyrood could be blocked from introducing policies like the rape clause and benefit cuts, under plans unveiled by SNP ministers.

Ill health and disability benefits are being devolved to Holyrood, while unemployment payments and pensions remain reserved to Westminster.

Scotland’s minister for social security Jeane Freeman is to launch a Scottish commission on social security.

The body would seek to ensure that the new benefits system upholds the human rights of claimants.

"Ministers can't bypass it," Freeman said.

Freeman said this would make it harder to bring in policies such as benefit sanctions, as introduced by the UK's Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

She said that under her plans, any Scottish Government, whether it was SNP, Tory or Labour, would have to consult the commission over social security changes.

Freeman said that the Scottish Government would have to consult the body if it introduced a policy like the rape clause.

The rule requires rape victims to prove their third child was born as a result of non-consensual sex or while in a coercive relationship in order to claim tax credits.

Freeman said the UK Government had failed to consult the equivalent commission at Westminster over the policy.

She said: "At the moment while the UK government could consult its body they don't have to.

"In the case of the two child policy, or what's known as the rape clause, the UK government didn't consult.

"They introduced it and consulted after the fact

"If the (Scottish) Government brings forward changes to social security legislation that commission has to be consulted."

Under Freeman's plans the Scottish Government could in theory ignore what the commission says to it.

However, Freeman said that if it just pressed ahead regardless, it was more likely to be thrown out by parliament.

Freeman said Holyrood's Presiding Officer could also rule that it is not a competent piece of legislation if faults highlighted by the commission are ignored.

She said: "Of course a government could decide to fire ahead anyway.

"But it risks parliament saying the legislation is not competent or faces members in the chamber voting against it.

"Anything that a government has brought forward has to be agreed as competent by the Presiding Officer.

Freeman highlighted how a UN panel had found that the UK Government had failed to uphold the human rights of disabled people with its welfare policies.

She said: "They said they believed it contravenes the rights of disabled people.

"I would expect that if any government in Scotland proposed something similar or comparable that the commission would be saying very much along these lines that this is not compliant."

The creation of the commission is one of a number of amendments to the Social Security (Scotland) Bill being brought forward by ministers.

The bill will give the government the power to deliver 11 devolved benefits through a new Scottish social security agency, including disability living allowance, the winter fuel payment and the carer's allowance.

Holyrood

Image: Holyrood

It is shortly due to begin its second stage at Holyrood, with a final vote expected before the end of the parliamentary year.

The DWP said the commission was a matter for the Scottish Government.

A Scottish Tory spokesman said: “We are pleased that Jeanne Freeman and the SNP are already thinking ahead to a Conservative government at Holyrood."

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