Social security

The social security system (sometimes called the benefits system) is an important influence on the distribution of income. The social security system matters for health because it provides financial support for people across society including

  • disabled people
  • unemployed people
  • people on low incomes
  • people with long term conditions.

Social security can also reduce or increase psychological stress to people who use it due to 

  • priorities
  • attitudes
  • transparency of rules
  • competence and capacity of staff
  • limited ability to put things right quickly when mistakes are made.

How social security affects health

Our report, 'Working and hurting', highlights that the number of people claiming out of work benefits in Scotland fell steeply between 2012 and 2015. 

However, this was driven almost exclusively by falls in people claiming unemployment benefits. The number of working-age adults claiming health-related benefits, who make up the majority of people on out of work benefits, stopped falling around 2011.

The report also highlights that some aspects of the benefits system, such as applying conditions and sanctions (especially for those with health problems or disabilities) may be detrimental to health and may have made it harder for people to find work.

Together with rises in health inequalities since 2013, this suggests that concerns that austerity and welfare reform pose a risk to health should be taken seriously.

Our report 'Working and hurting' recommends we use our powers more to

  • strengthen action against things that are bad for Scotland's health, such as removing benefits sanctions that affect those with ill health or who are lone parents
  • do more on measures that improve health, such as reducing poverty (especially child poverty) and promoting good work.

It also asks that the reasons for the mortality level changes are investigated and supports current actions to improve mental health and reduce harm from alcohol and drugs.

This replaces our previous report 'Pulling in different directions'.

Welfare reform working groups

The Welfare Reform and Health Impact Delivery Group have produced a Welfare Reform – NHS Outcome Focussed Plan. This plan was produced in consultation with representatives from NHS Boards. The plan looks at reducing the impact of the UK Government's welfare reforms on health and NHS services in Scotland. It identifies the actions and measures that NHS Boards can take to mitigate the worst of the negative effects of welfare reform.

The Welfare Reform, Health and Employability Forum supports local health boards to use the Outcomes Focused Plan to reduce the impact of welfare reform on health and NHS services. The forum promotes learning and development through information sharing, good practice and collaborative working.

You can find out more about the Welfare Reform, Health and Employability Forum by visiting their section on the Employability in Scotland website (external site).

You can also contact our Income and good work team for more information on our work.