Can the Scottish Government
top up Pension Credit?
There was a row in the House of Commons this week about changes to Pension Credit. SNP’s Hannah Bardell MP said the Scottish Government is powerless because the Pension Credit is reserved to Westminster.
Is she right?
“[UK Cabinet Minister] David Lidington… made a major error by suggesting the Scottish Government could ‘top up’ those pension credits when in fact they are reserved. #backtoschool.”
Hannah Bardell MP, Twitter, 6th February 2019.
The State Pension and the Pension Credit remain reserved to the UK Government.
Following the Smith Commission on devolved powers after the independence referendum, the Scottish Government has major new welfare powers.
The Scotland Act 2016 (section 24) enables the Scottish Parliament to provide 'top-up' payments to those in receipt of existing, reserved social security benefits.
What the experts say
“While the provision on new benefits cannot be used for pensions, there is no such explicit restriction on the power to top up reserved benefits.”
Scottish Parliament Information Centre, June 2016.
“The Smith Commission recommended that the Scottish Government should be given the administrative power to vary elements of Universal Credit, including the housing cost element, and that the Scottish Parliament be given powers to create new benefits in areas of devolved responsibility, and to top-up reserved benefits. Part three of the Scotland Act 2016 has been enacted to implement these recommendations.”
Scottish Government, Welfare Reform (Further Provision) (Scotland) Act 2012: annual report 2016
Scotland in Union Fact Check Conclusion:
The Department for Work and Pensions is planning changes to Pension Credit, which will affect everyone in the UK and has triggered a political row. The SNP is perfectly entitled
to oppose those changes.
But as Cabinet Minister David Lidington said in the Commons, the SNP ‘knows that it is in the power of the Scottish Government, under devolution legislation, to top up social security benefits if they choose to do so’.
The powers to do this have been specifically devolved to the Scottish Parliament as a result of the Smith Commission. And even before this was the case, the SNP has shown that it will mitigate the impact of a policy when there has been significant political pressure on it to do so (the Bedroom Tax).
Hannah Bardell is wrong to claim the Scottish Government could not top up Pension Credit for pensioners in Scotland. It could choose to do so using its existing budget or raise taxes to pay for it.
The SNP must stop blaming Westminster and start making difficult decisions.
In an independent Scotland, state pensions and benefits in Scotland would be the full responsibility of the Scottish Government, which would have to find a way to pay them.
Does the Scottish Government lack the powers to top up
Hannah Bardell is wrong to claim the Scottish Government could not top up Pension Credit for pensioners in Scotland.