Scottish social security system must be respectful Equality Chief says

Published: 09 Aug 2017

Punishing people for a lack of jobs, or for discrimination in the labour market against disabled people or young carers, simply doesn’t work the Scottish Equality Commissioner has said today.

The call comes as the Equality and Human Rights Commission publishes a report into dignity and respect in the Scottish social security system.

The research, commissioned by the EHRC and conducted by Ulster University, looks at comparable systems across Europe to identify how other countries have met their international human rights obligations in the design of their own systems. Professor Lesley Sawers, the EHRC Scotland Commissioner said:

“The reality in Scotland today is that most people living in poverty are in work or actively seeking it. Punishing people for a lack of jobs, or for discrimination in the labour market against disabled people or young carers, simply doesn’t work.  We need to create a system which is more attuned to the realities of life in Scotland today.

We welcome the Governments’ commitment to put the dignity of claimants at the heart of the new system. Today’s research sets out how we might measure if this has been achieved in five years’ time”.

The research probes questions like:

  • How can the state support people out of poverty?
  • How do we ensure that people are supported to ensure they get their full entitlements?
  • How do we deal with allegations of fraud or overpayment in a way which doesn’t push vulnerable people into destitution?

The authors set out a series of recommendations of their own which include:

  • Establishing a constitutional right to social security such as in Spain or Holland
  • Ensuring that “human dignity” is a founding principle of the Scottish system similar to Germany, Belgium and Finland.
  • Ensuring that any Social Security Charter has “teeth” which allows claimants to enforce their rights
  • Ensuring that the new system is created with claimants and not imposed on them.
  • Ensuring that when disputes arise people have the right to a fair hearing which takes account of all of the circumstances of their lives.

Professor Sawers continued:

“This is an important and timely publication which asks some fundamental questions about how Scotland treats those furthest from power. Rather than simply adopt the current UK system Scotland has the opportunity to shape its own relationship with people who rely on benefits and create a system based on dignity – what we would all want – rather than branding them as being lazy or scroungers.

International Conventions on Social Rights and the Rights of Child, to which we are signatories, are clear that citizens should be entitled to an income which enables them to participate in society – not just to subsist. 

The Scottish Government has made a bold commitment and has anticipated many of the issues in this report. We at the Commission are working with them to ensure that these commitments become realties."

Notes for Editors

  1. The Equality and Human Rights Commission is a statutory body established under the Equality Act 2006. It operates as an independent body to protect and promote equality and human rights in Great Britain. It aims to encourage equality and diversity, eliminate unlawful discrimination, and promote and protect human rights. The Commission enforces equality legislation on age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation. It encourages compliance with the Human Rights Act 1998 and is accredited by the UN as an ‘A status’ National Human Rights Institution.
  2. The research, “Social security systems based on dignity and respect”, was commissioned by the EHRC and conducted by Mark Simpson, Gráinne McKeever and Anne Marie Gray of the University of Ulster. The research will be published on Wednesday 7th August on the EHRCs Scotland news pages of the EHRCs website –
  3. The research was conducted in response to the Social Security (Scotland) Bill which sets out how the Scottish Government intends to take forward their new devolved powers. Section 1 (c) of the Bill states that “respect for the dignity of individuals is to be at the heart of the Scottish social security system,”

For further information and comment please contact Chris Oswald on 0141 228 5964/ 07846889425 or