It now seems that Scotland will get control of at least some of, what are now, national benefits. In particular it seems that Housing Benefit will be devolved to Edinburgh. According to the BBC, on the morning of the result, the Tories and Labour have agreed on this while the Libdems have not.
The move seems, in some ways, to be logical. The very similar Council Tax Reduction scheme has been devolved to Scotland already and, administratively, it would be a relatively simple undertaking.
What does this mean for Universal Credit?
UC is meant to be a universal ‘one benefit fits all’ for working age people; originally Council Tax Benefit was meant to be included as well – which would, as an aside, have been much better than the current mess. Pulling rent support out of it would be a serious dilution. Pulling it out only in Scotland would be difficult, confusing and add considerably to the IT woes of the project.
There are more fundamental problems though. Rent is integral to much of the UC scheme.
To point to only one, the variable levels of earnings disregards in UC depend on the rent element in the calculation. Reintroducing multiple tapers in different means-tested benefits will make things very difficult technically, more complex for claimants and a nightmare to administer. A mix of weekly and monthly benefit cycles, minimum notional income in some of them and the necessity to separately consider the needs of children and disability in each scheme will be ‘interesting’ to say the least.
Even if it works, socially, benefit tourism might become attractive if a bedroom tax exists outside Scotland and the rent caps and overall benefit cap may add to the differential between nations.
If it works is the big question though. My own feeling is that it will make Universal Credit unworkable, driving a rethink of the future – or provide a much sought for excuse to exit the mess.