An open letter to Iain Duncan Smith – published in yesterday’s Sunday Herald – calls on the Secretary of State to immediately suspend the roll out of Universal-Credit in Scotland, until the process of legislating for new powers for the Scottish Parliament is complete.

The letter is signed by the leaders of 57 civic organisations from across Scotland – ranging from business and finance to social care and foodbanks – and Housing Associations that are due to be part of the next stage of the roll-out of Universal Credit that is scheduled to start in February. (A full list of signatories is at the end of this press release.)

The letter says:

Dear Mr Duncan Smith,

We – the undersigned – are writing with a united voice from across Civic Scotland to call on the UK Government to immediately suspend the further implementation of Universal Credit in Scotland until the process of legislating for new powers for the Scottish Parliament is complete.

We know from the Smith Agreement that the bill for further powers that is currently being drafted will include significant new welfare powers. The detail of how these powers will interact with the Universal Credit system will be complex and require careful consideration and planning. The legislation around welfare is complex and is regularly being adapted: since the enactment of the Welfare Reform Act 2012, there have already been over 40 Statutory Instruments passed by Westminster to bring into force many of its provisions. Any system of welfare has to be safe and secure. Driving through Universal Credit in Scotland at this stage will create unnecessary administrative complication in an already complex process.
The sensible way to roll-out Universal Credit in Scotland is to do it once, when the Scotland-specific elements have been carefully planned and incorporated into it. This would avoid wasting precious time and scarce resources, and would protect vulnerable people in our society from bureaucratic change that could wreak havoc.

A key recommendation of the Smith Commission was to significantly improve intergovernmental working between Westminster and Holyrood, this is a golden opportunity to do just that.

So we ask you to act immediately to suspend the next phase of the roll-out of Universal Credit in Scotland, before it is scheduled to start in February.

Our diverse, united voices demonstrate that our call is not about politics. It is about protecting the most vulnerable people in our society and creating an effective, robust new system for delivering welfare. Our call is about responsible, effective governance.

We would welcome the opportunity for dialogue with you on this important matter.
The open letter has been coordinated by the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA). Some of its members have been part of the pilot of Universal Credit and more will be affected as it is rolled out. Mary Taylor, Chief Executive of the SFHA said:

“With the next phase of Universal Credit due to be rolled out in February Iain Duncan Smith MP still has time to take the decision to suspend that process in Scotland, and the Smith Agreement gives him a legitimate reason to do that. With the backing of so many respected voices from across Civic Scotland, we hope the Secretary of State will choose to give further time for the new Scottish powers to be integrated into Universal Credit, thus protecting the most vulnerable people in our society and creating an effective, robust new system for delivering welfare.”

Calum Irving, CEO of Voluntary Action Scotland, added:

“Our members, Scotland’s 32 third sector interfaces, are already dealing first hand with the impact of the Welfare Reform Act 2012 and working hard to mitigate against its negative impacts. We are clear in our belief that rolling out Universal Credit at present will cause significant disruption and have an overwhelmingly negative impact on society. We were keen to sign this joint letter and add our voice to that of many others in civic Scotland. It’s important that organisations such as ourselves speak out at this time and support the most vulnerable in our society.”

The signatories to the open letter are:

Age Scotland – Brian Sloan, CEO
Business for Scotland – Brandon Malone, Interim Chair
Church of Scotland – Rt Rev John Chalmers, Moderator of the General Assembly
Coalition of Care Support Providers in Scotland – Annie Gunner Logan, Director,
Common Weal – The Board
Constitutional Commission – John Drummond, Chairman
Council of Mortgage Lenders – Kennedy Foster, Policy Consultant, Scotland
Cyrenians – Ewan Aitken, CEO
Development Trusts Association – Ian Cooke, Director
East Lothian Tenants and Residents Panel – Mark Ormiston, Chair Person
Edinburgh Tenants Federation – Betty Stevenson, Convenor
Engender – Emma Ritch, Executive Director
Food Train – Michelle McCrindle, CEO
Glasgow & West of Scotland Forum of Housing Associations – David Bookbinder, Director
Health & Social Care Alliance Scotland – Ian Welsh, CEO
Inclusion Scotland – Bill Scott, Director of Policy
Money Advice Scotland – Yvonne MacDermid OBE, CEO
Quarriers – Alice Drife, CEO
Scottish Association of Social Work – Trisha Hall, Country Manager
Scottish Children’s Services Coalition – Sophie Pilgrim, Member
Scottish Community Alliance – Angus Hardie, Director
Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations – Martin Sime, CEO
Scottish Federation of Housing Associations – Mary Taylor, CEO
Scottish Out of School Care Network – Irene Audain MBE, CEO
Scottish Trade Unions Council – David Moxham, Deputy General Secretary
Scottish Women’s Aid – Lily Greenan, CEO
Sense Scotland – Andy Kerr, CEO
Social Enterprise Scotland – Fraser Kelly, CEO
Social Firms Scotland – Pauline Graham, CEO
St Martins Parish Pastoral Council, Tranent – Fr James Smith. Parish Priest
The Equality Network – Tim Hopkins, Director
The Jimmy Reid Foundation – Bob Thomson, Convener
The Poverty Alliance Peter Kelly, Director
The Wise Group – Laurie Russell, CEO
The Trussell Trust – David McAuley, CEO
Turning Point Scotland – Martin Cawley, CEO
Who Cares? Scotland – Duncan Dunlop, CEO
Voluntary Action Scotland – Calum Irving, CEO
Voluntary Health Scotland – Claire Stevens, CEO
YouthLink Scotland – Jim Sweeney, CEO
Zero Tolerance – Laura Tomson, Co-director
Signatories from Housing Associations in Scotland that are due to be part of the next stage of the Universal Credit roll-out:
ARK Housing Association – Jane Gray, CEO
Barony Housing Association – Rebecca Wilson, CEO
Bield Housing & Care – Brian Logan, CEO
Blackwood – Fanchea Kelly, CEO
Cairn Housing Association – Jason MacGilp, CEO
Castle Rock Edinvar Housing Association – Alister Steele, Managing Director
Dunedin Canmore Group – Ewan Fraser, CEO
Hanover (Scotland) Housing Association – Helen Murdoch, CEO
Knowes Housing Association – Pierre De Fence, Director
Lister Housing Co-operative – Alistair Cant, Director
Manor Estates Housing Association – Lynn McDonald, Director
Melville Housing Association – Andrew Noble, CEO
Prospect Community Housing – Brendan Fowler, Director
Trafalgar Housing Association – Paul McShane, Director
Trust Housing Association – Bob McDougall, CEO
West Granton Housing Co-operative – Gerry Gillies, CEO