The Welfare Reform Committee has expressed that it is “extremely disappointed at the lack of cooperation” of the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith MP.
The statement follows Mr Duncan Smith’s refusal to appear before the Committee to assist them in their scrutiny of the impact of welfare reform on Scotland.
The invitation was extended to Mr Duncan Smith following an emotive evidence session where witnesses described being made to feel like a “criminal” during the assessment process.
Committee Convener Michael McMahon MSP said:
“Our Committee is clear that the UK Government needs to answer the questions that we have and those raised with us by witnesses. It is our job as a Scottish Parliament Committee to scrutinise the implementation of welfare reform and passported benefits in Scotland. To do this without input from the responsible Secretary of State is difficult indeed. We are extremely disappointed at the lack of cooperation shown by Mr Duncan Smith, particularly in light of his previous public commitments to engage.
“Our Committee is working on behalf of all the people of Scotland but most especially for the vulnerable. To refuse to work with us is unacceptable. We are writing to ask him to reconsider.”
Deputy Committee Convener Jamie Hepburn MSP said:
“We asked the Secretary of State to come and brief us publicly so that the people of Scotland can get answers to some of the questions we have uncovered. Mr Duncan Smith suggested to us that one of his senior officials could attend, demonstrating his total lack of understanding of the importance of this issue for the people of Scotland. For him to refuse to engage with us like this is disappointing in the extreme.”
The Committee is writing to Mr Duncan Smith today urging him to review his decision immediately.
In a further development, Atos has also declined to attend a Committee meeting. However, it has invited the Committee to visit its Edinburgh Assessment Centre and committed to submitting written evidence. Given the confidential nature of some of Atos’ work, the Committee has agreed to this as a way forward and a small group of MSPs from the Committee will visit in due course. Following their visit, the MSPs will publicly brief the wider Committee on their findings.
Committee Convener Michael McMahon continued:
“Whilst we are not happy at the response from Atos, their offer of access, information and meetings does demonstrate a willingness to engage with the Committee and work with us to ensure those elected to represent the people of Scotland can do their jobs thoroughly.”
The Scottish Parliament’s Welfare Reform Committee was established on 25 January 2012. The committee's role is to keep under review the passage of the UK Welfare Reform Act 2012 and monitor its implementation as it affects welfare provision in Scotland and to consider relevant Scottish legislation and other consequential arrangements.
From February to June, the Committee considered the (now enacted) Welfare Reform (Further Provision) (Scotland) Bill introduced by the Scottish Government on elements of welfare reform stemming from the UK Welfare Reform Act . In September the Committee began looking into specific aspects of welfare reform.
The Committee has 7 Members and the Convener is Michael McMahon MSP. The Deputy Convener is Jamie Hepburn MSP.