Scotland politics

New welfare powers for Scotland poses 'big challenge', says minister

Jeane Freeman
Image caption Jeane Freeman said there should not be grandstanding or a shouting match over the transfer of welfare powers

Holyrood's social security minister, Jeane Freeman, believes there are "big challenges" ahead of bringing new welfare powers to Scotland.

However, she said despite political differences between the administrations in Edinburgh and Holyrood it was important to avoid a "shouting match".

Powers, including DLA/PIP, Attendance Allowance and Carers Allowance, are to be transferred from Westminster.

Ms Freeman was giving an update to Holyrood's social security committee.

She was quizzed on recent remarks of her SNP colleagues who had highlighted the difficulties between the two governments.

This month, Equalities Secretary Angela Constance said the Scottish government was not going to give information or respond to inquiries if "we think that might lead to a sanction [of benefits]".

And First Minister Nicola Sturgeon also stated the government would not "co-operate in a scheme that is about piling human misery on human misery".

On Thursday, Ms Freeman was asked by Conservative MSP Adam Tomkins how such comments contributed to an "effective and co-operative" working relationship with the UK government.

'Big challenge'

She replied: "That is the big challenge. The big challenge is that the Scottish government and the UK government start from different political standpoints and those disagreements are not going to go away and we shouldn't pretend that they are going to go away.

"Which is why I also made the point that in this committee, with different members of this committee, in the chamber, we are going to have policy disagreements.

"That is not the same, though, as saying that we will have some kind of political grandstanding or shouting match around this, and that's the bit I want to avoid.

"We'd be daft to try and pretend amongst ourselves, far less to the wider population, that we don't disagree, because we disagree on some things."

Ms Freeman said the Scottish government had secured agreement from former UK work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith that it would be for Scottish ministers to decide whether devolved work programmes were voluntary or not.

She said clarification that this was still the case was being sought from his successor Damian Green.

Ms Freeman said the Scottish government had made it clear that it did not believe sanctions were "either fair or effective in their intended overall purpose as outlined to us by the UK government of incentivising people to enter the workplace".

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