How Scotland could transform its social security system after independence

Scotland has been debating the possibility of becoming an independent country for many years, but the issue has gained more momentum after the Brexit referendum in 2016 and the recent Scottish Parliament elections in 2021. One of the key arguments in favour of independence is that it would allow Scotland to design and implement its own social security system, tailored to the needs and preferences of its people.

The current situation of social security in Scotland

Social security is the term used to describe the benefits and services that people receive from the state to support them in times of need, such as unemployment, disability, old age, or poverty. Social security is funded by taxes and contributions from workers and employers, and is administered by different levels of government.

In the United Kingdom, social security is mostly a reserved matter, meaning that it is controlled by the Westminster Parliament and the UK Government. However, some aspects of social security have been devolved to the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government, such as the power to create new benefits, top up existing benefits, and vary some aspects of Universal Credit (a benefit that combines several other benefits into one payment).

The Scottish Government has used these powers to introduce some changes to the social security system in Scotland, such as:

How Scotland could transform its social security system after independence

  • Creating new benefits, such as the Scottish Child Payment, which provides £10 per week for each eligible child under six years old, and the Best Start Grant, which provides cash payments to low-income families at key stages of their children’s lives.
  • Increasing the value of some benefits, such as the Carer’s Allowance Supplement, which provides an extra £230.10 every six months to carers who receive the Carer’s Allowance, and the Funeral Support Payment, which helps with the costs of a funeral.
  • Changing the delivery of some benefits, such as the Personal Independence Payment (PIP), which is a benefit for people with disabilities or long-term health conditions. The Scottish Government plans to replace PIP with a new benefit called Adult Disability Payment, which will have a more flexible and person-centred assessment process.

The Scottish Government has also established a new public agency, called Social Security Scotland, to administer the devolved benefits. The agency is guided by a set of principles that aim to ensure that the social security system in Scotland is fair, dignified, respectful, and human rights-based.

The potential benefits of independence for social security in Scotland

Despite the devolution of some powers, the majority of the social security system in Scotland is still determined by the UK Government, which has pursued a policy of austerity and welfare reform since 2010. This policy has involved reducing the value and eligibility of many benefits, introducing stricter conditionality and sanctions for claimants, and implementing the controversial Universal Credit system, which has been criticised for causing delays, errors, and hardship for many people.

According to the Scottish Government, these changes have had a negative impact on the income and well-being of many people in Scotland, especially those who are already disadvantaged or vulnerable. For example, the Scottish Government estimates that the UK Government’s welfare reforms will reduce the income of people in Scotland by £3.9 billion per year by 2024-25, and that 65,000 more children in Scotland will be living in poverty by 2020-21 as a result of these reforms.

The Scottish Government argues that independence would give Scotland full control over its social security system, and enable it to create a system that reflects the values and priorities of the Scottish people. For example, independence would allow Scotland to:

  • Reverse the cuts and reforms imposed by the UK Government, and restore the value and accessibility of benefits for people in need.
  • Expand the range and scope of benefits, and provide more generous and universal support for people at different stages of their lives, such as children, students, workers, carers, parents, disabled people, and pensioners.
  • Simplify the system and make it easier for people to understand and access their entitlements, and reduce the stigma and bureaucracy associated with claiming benefits.
  • Align the social security system with other policy areas, such as health, education, housing, and the environment, and create a more integrated and holistic approach to tackling poverty and inequality in Scotland.
  • Innovate and experiment with new ideas and models, such as a universal basic income, which is a regular and unconditional payment to every citizen regardless of their income or circumstances.

The challenges and risks of independence for social security in Scotland

However, independence would also pose some challenges and risks for the social security system in Scotland, such as:

  • The cost and complexity of setting up a new and independent system, and ensuring a smooth and seamless transition for people who currently receive benefits from the UK Government.
  • The fiscal and economic implications of creating a more generous and expansive system, and finding the necessary resources and revenues to fund it, especially in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic and its aftermath.
  • The legal and constitutional issues of disentangling the social security system from the UK, and negotiating the terms and conditions of the separation, such as the division of assets and liabilities, the allocation of pension rights, and the protection of cross-border rights and arrangements.
  • The political and social challenges of building consensus and support for a new system, and addressing the diversity and divergence of views and interests among the Scottish people, as well as the potential impact on the relations with the rest of the UK and the wider world.


In conclusion, independence would offer Scotland the opportunity to transform its social security system, and create a system that is more suited to the needs and aspirations of its people. However, independence would also entail some difficulties and uncertainties, and require careful planning and preparation. Ultimately, the decision on whether to pursue independence and what kind of social security system to adopt would depend on the preferences and choices of the Scottish people, who would have to weigh the benefits and costs of different options.

By Ishan Crawford

Prior to the position, Ishan was senior vice president, strategy & development for Cumbernauld-media Company since April 2013. He joined the Company in 2004 and has served in several corporate developments, business development and strategic planning roles for three chief executives. During that time, he helped transform the Company from a traditional U.S. media conglomerate into a global digital subscription service, unified by the journalism and brand of Cumbernauld-media.

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