People here in Scotland recognise that, with only 9% of respondents to the recent YouGov poll believing that the ‘Vow’ has been delivered. Even former Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, a key architect of the vow, has admitted that it has not been fulfilled, going as far as to admit that the UK Government is “… falling short on the delivery of the recommendations of the Smith Commission on Scottish Devolution”.
During the General Election Scotland spoke loudly and clearly in favour of substantial new powers, but what’s on offer is limited tax power coupled with responsibility over around only 14% of spending on welfare. Under the current Westminster proposals 86% of welfare spending in Scotland will remain in the control of the UK Government.
Earlier today, Monday, Alex Neil, our Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Communities and Pensioners’ Rights, launched his paper on how these new social security powers could be used. Despite their limited scope, these new powers provide opportunities to develop different policies for Scotland. We are determined to create a system that focuses on fairness. A system that does not stigmatise or punish people who receive benefits.
We have already pledged to abolish the UK Government’s ’84 day rule’ which means families who face higher living costs due to their child’s illness or disability will not be penalised when their child goes into hospital or has necessary medical treatment. It will also mean that the child’s family can continue to receive Carer’s Allowance.
On disability benefits in particular we will strive to make sure that people are treated with respect and dignity, not only at the point of receipt of benefits but through the assessment process. It is clear that this does not happen at the moment with the reforms that have been put in place. MSPs hear this regularly at Parliament Committees, and I hear this all too often from constituents who visit my office and surgeries.
Through the current system many people, including carers, young people, families and those who can’t work because of disabilities, or physical or mental ill-health, have faced cuts and discrimination.
Analysis of the UK Government’s summer budget has found that 800,000 people in Scotland will lose out. The poorest 20% of households in Scotland will lose £520 per year due to the tax and benefit changes announced, compared to a gain of £110 for the top 20%. Shameful.
Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland, pledged to mitigate as far as possible the worst excesses of Westminster’s welfare reforms. She followed through with action to mitigate the bedroom tax. Her Government has maintained, and fully funded, the Council Tax Freeze. The Scottish Welfare Fund helps those suffering hardship. Free school meals are crucial to many families.
The UK Government should follow words with action. They said they would deliver the ‘Vow’ to meet the aspirations of Scotland – they haven’t. They keep insisting that the Smith Commission recommendations have been met – they haven’t. The Scotland Bill is being discussed at Westminster; there is time yet to beef this up and meet the promises. There is time yet to agree a fair financial framework that moves us forward.
Come on Secretary of State – step up for Scotland!