House of Commons Library

Scottish welfare powers

Published Friday, March 16, 2018

This House of Commons Library briefing page has been prepared in advance of a debate entitled "Scottish welfare powers", which will be led by Bill Grant MP. It will take place in Westminster Hall on Tuesday 20th March 2018 at 4.30pm, lasting for one hour.

The Scotland Act 2016 gives the Scottish Parliament powers over benefits falling within certain categories (see the table below).  The Scottish Parliament will have the power to determine the structure and value of these benefits, or replace these existing benefits with new benefits, in line with the legislative framework.

Benefit category

Current UK benefits

Disability, industrial injuries and carers’ benefits

Attendance Allowance, Carer’s Allowance, Disability Living Allowance, Personal Independence Payment, Industrial Injuries Benefit, Severe Disablement Allowance

Benefits for maternity, funeral and heating expenses

Cold Weather Payment, Funeral Payment, Sure Start Maternity Grant, Winter Fuel Payment

Other benefits

Discretionary Housing Payments

In addition, other powers are devolved:

  • An expanded power to provide Discretionary Payments and Assistance (beyond the powers under which the Scottish Welfare Fund is currently delivered)
  • The power to top-up reserved benefits
  • The power to create other new social security benefits (other than pensions) in areas not otherwise connected with reserved matters
  • The power to legislate for Welfare Foods
  • Powers to vary the housing cost element of Universal Credit for rented accommodation and change payment arrangements for Universal Credit

The Scottish Parliament also has powers over support for unemployed people through employment programmes.

Total expenditure on the benefits to be devolved to Scotland is forecast in 2017-18 to be approximately £2.9 billion, or around 15% of total expenditure on benefits in Scotland (Social Security (Scotland) Bill Financial Memorandum, SP Bill 18-FM, para 10).

Information on the scope of the new powers can be found in Part 3 of the Scotland Act 2016 and the accompanying Explanatory Notes.  The Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe) has also produced a briefing, New Social Security Powers, SPICe briefing SB 16-45.

Scottish Government actions

Information on the Scottish Government’s plans in respect of the new social security powers can be found on the Social Security pages of its website.  The Scottish Government says that it intends to use the new powers “to create a Scottish social security system based on dignity, fairness and respect, which will help to support those who need it, when they need it.”  Its top priority is “…to ensure the safe and secure transition of the 11 benefits for the 1.4 million people who rely on them.”

The Scottish Government summarises the actions it is taking as follows:

We are:


Social Security (Scotland) Bill

The Social Security (Scotland) Bill was introduced in the Scottish Parliament on 20 June 2017.  The Bill sets out the framework of a new Scottish social security system, and the principles that will underpin it.  This will be used to deliver the social security benefits devolved by the Scotland Act 2016, once a new Scottish social security agency has been set up.  The Bill completed Stage 2 on 1 March 2018.

The Bill, together with policy statements and explanatory notes, can be found on the Scottish Parliament website.  Further background can also be found in the SPICe briefing on the Social Security (Scotland) Bill (SB 17-57, 31 August 2017).

The Scottish Parliament’s Social Security Committee has also been scrutinising the Bill.  Its Stage One Report on the Social Security (Scotland) Bill was published on 11 December 2017.  The Scottish Government response to the Committee’s Stage One report was published on 15 December.


case loads Devolved benefit

Estimate 2017-18

Estimate 2017-18


Scottish Caseload (thousands)

Brief description & range of amounts (average)

Attendance Allowance



To help with personal care for individuals aged 65 or over with a physical or mental disability. Higher rate £83.10, lower rate £55.65 per week.

Carers Allowance



To help an individual look after someone with substantial caring needs. The individual must be over 16 and spend at least 35 hours per week caring. £62.70 per week.

Cold Weather Payments



A payment for individuals on certain benefits when the temperature is either zero degrees Celsius or below for 7 consecutive days. £25 is paid for each 7 day period of very cold weather between 1 November and 31 March.

Disability Living



A tax-free benefit for disabled people over the age of 16 who need help with mobility or care

Commons Debate packs CDP-2018-0073

Authors: Andrew Mackley; Steven Kennedy; Manjit Gheera; David Foster

Topics: Benefits administration, Benefits policy, Devolution, Scottish Parliament

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