Have SNP abandoned their plans to reverse welfare reforms?

Nicola Sturgeon gave a speech on tackling poverty today. In it, there is much that I think many Liberal Democrats could agree with.

The First Minister announced that SNP MPs will use their influence after May’s election to:

·  Push for child tax credits and child benefit to be uprated instead of frozen as the Conservatives plan.

·  Promote action that supports in-work families by calling for an increase in the minimum wage to £8.70 by the end of the next parliament.

·  Support an increase in the work allowance – helping those in work benefit from their earnings.

·  Deliver an end to austerity and oppose the renewal of nuclear weapons to help fund a further expansion of childcare.

·  The SNP Government has already extended free childcare provision to 600 hours and has pledged that if re-elected at the next Holyrood election, childcare provision will be extended further still to 1,140 hours per year.

We’ll gloss over the fact that the SNP had to be dragged kicking and screaming to provide better childcare for the poorest 2 year olds. In England, Nick Clegg has made sure that 40% of the poorest 2 year olds get nursery education to give them the best chance in life. It took a persistent and tenacious campaign by Willie Rennie and the Scottish Liberal Democrats before the SNP expanded Scottish provision.

It’s also worth mentioning in passing that the Liberal Democrats have ensured that people can benefit from their earnings with a £4000 per year increase in the amount you can earn before you pay tax.

There are a couple of glaring omissions from her speech though. The SNP Government, with Liberal Democrat and Labour support, has mitigated the effects of the “Bedroom Tax” in Scotland, but there’s no mention of making sure it’s properly abolished in today’s speech. Given that the Bedroom Tax was used at least 40 times a day before breakfast by pro-independence campaigners to justify a Yes vote in the referendum, that’s a surprising omission. You would have thought it would be a priority. If asked, I presume she’ll say that’s still policy, but we could do with a bit of clarification on it.

The second thing is that, during the referendum, we were told that in an independent Scotland, all the welfare cuts would be reversed at a cost of £2.5 billion. Of course, the SNP based all of its figures on a wildly optimistic and unrealistic forecast of oil revenues. The fall in oil prices over the last few months has made many Scots breathe a massive sigh of relief that we didn’t choose to leave the security of the UK.

You would think, therefore, that having slated the welfare reforms on every occasion (despite their own Welfare Commission suggesting something similar to the Universal Credit and a sanctions regime) that they would continue that policy to reverse them. There’s no mention of that in the speech.

Sir Malcolm Bruce said that if the SNP was abandoning that policy, they needed to tell us, and if they weren’t, they needed to tell us how they were going to pay for it across the UK, at a cost of £30 billion.

The SNP need to come clean. Are they planning to reverse welfare changes since 2010? This is what they have spent five years telling people.

If so, where are they going to find the money that they have said would be £2.5bn for Scotland alone?

If they are not, people will expect them to admit that they are not going back to 2010.

SNP voters will believe they’ve been led up the garden path.

Only Liberal Democrats have set out costed and credible plans to balance the books by 2018, building a stronger economy and a fairer society. The SNP are all over the place when it comes to balancing the books.

The SNP position appears to be changing and we do need clarity on theirs and all parties’ plans.

We do need to be careful, though, that this doesn’t become a sterile debate about figures. This has to be first and foremost about people and the difference that we can make to their lives. Personally, I do want to look again at some of the welfare reforms, particularly the time limiting of Employment and Support Allowance and the benefits cap, because I think that neither of these measures were particularly fair. We’re not hearing anything from Labour about tackling either of these things, but, as Rachel Reeves tellingly said, they are the party of people in work, not people on benefits. That’s a shocking thing for any politician to say.

While we have to live within the country’s means, we need to make sure that our social security system is based on need, opportunity and dignity. There’s no doubt that the Tories governing alone would have slashed the budget further. They would have removed housing benefit from under 25s and capped child benefit at 2 children just to start with.

No party has a perfect record on this. In Scotland, the SNP have cut back on social housing. Decent investment in this would go some way to tackling child poverty. We know that Liberal Democrats have ambitious plans to build more houses and garden cities in England, but even they don’t match need.

We need to make sure that the people don’t get lost in the election rhetoric.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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3 Comments

  • Tony Greaves 8th Apr '15 - 11:31am

    This may be the most seriously relevant posting in the current batch. And no comments…

    Tony Greaves

  • Jane Ann Liston 8th Apr '15 - 12:24pm

    Maybe because nobody disagrees with it. All good and useful stuff.

  • I have just seen this and the two posts and so feel someone should post. Perhaps it is unfair to expect the SNP to wish to implement the same policies for the whole of the UK as they wish to pursue in Scotland. If we have priorities why shouldn’t the SNP have priorities?

    With regard to Employment and Support Allowance Caron’s article implies people can only receive it for a limited time. This is not true. If someone gets enough points from their Work Capability Assessment then that person is eligible for the benefit. It is my understanding that the time limit is for when means testing takes place. I believe this time limit is longer than for Jobseekers Allowance.

    Perhaps Caron would like to make the case for why the individual who has enough WCA points to qualify for Employment and Support Allowance and has an unearned income of over £20,000 pa should receive the benefit from the state long term. If a partners income is taken in account when means testing for Jobseekers Allowance why is it wrong to take it into account for Employment and Support Allowance when the claimant is means tested?

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