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We CAN protect our people from poverty

Despite the best efforts of the No campaign to keep it under wraps, the reality of a No vote in this year's referendum on Scottish independence is slowly seeping out.

Chancellor George Osborne gave the game away this week when he launched his search for a further £25 billion of cuts to public spending, with at least £12bn set to come from social security.

Welfare cuts have been a key ideological target for the current Coalition Government and with Labour's welfare spokeswoman Rachel Reeves claiming they would be even tougher than the Tories, it appears that there is no let-up in sight, no matter which party forms the next Westminster government.

The cuts in welfare to date mean that by 2014-15, Scotland will have seen annual spending on welfare reduced by £2bn. The cuts Osborne announced this week will make things even worse.

And we already know what effect these drastic cuts are having. There are daily reports of the impact of the iniquitous bedroom tax on people who are disabled, who need a spare room to care for their children or who have raised their family in council or social housing and now face being charged as soon as those children grow up and leave home.

It is important to remember who these cuts are hurting. More than half of children in poverty live in families with at least one person working. The effective way to reduce the welfare bill for those in work is to encourage a living wage and a ensure a decent minimum wage - this would mean that workers received a fair day's pay for a fair day's work and be less reliant on state support.

Instead, cuts to child benefit mean that families with two children have lost a total of £1400 a year in vital support so far. Child tax credits have been cut, the working tax credit which compensates for low wages has been cut and the disabled have felt the brunt of much of Westminster's so-called reforms.

The Child Poverty Action Group estimate that Westminster's current programme of cuts will push up to 100,000 more children into poverty. It's not the "scroungers" of Conservative rhetoric that are paying the price, it is working families and children across the country.

A No vote and a new round of welfare cuts will pile further pressure on the 600,000 families in Scotland in receipt of child benefit or working tax credits and this will push even more children into poverty. Cuts to housing benefit could affect 32,000 under-25s in Scotland, making it harder for our young people - many of whom will be taking the first steps into work and creating a family life - to have homes that are safe and secure.

There is an alternative.

The Scottish Parliament has a strong track record of supporting those in need. Our decision to set up a council tax reduction scheme when Westminster abolished council tax benefit has helped more than half-a-million people. It has also acted where Westminster has failed and is providing an additional £20 million of support this year and next to people affected by the bedroom tax.

In the Scotland's Future White Paper, we set out the principles that would underlie our social security system and the first steps we will take to reverse Westminster's damaging approach.

An independent Scotland will not continue with the rollout of the chaotic and ill-thought-out Universal Credit or personal independence payments, and we will ensure that housing benefit remains a standalone benefit that can be paid directly to social landlords to secure housing for some of our most vulnerable citizens.

And just as we will ensure the minimum wage keeps pace with inflation, we will do the same for benefits and tax credits so the poorest families do not fall further into poverty.

A Scottish social security system, integrated with tax policy, will seek to protect people from poverty and help them to fulfil their potential. It will be a system that everyone should contribute to during their lives, on the understanding that they will benefit from it should they ever need to.

And we can choose to protect key elements of our welfare state - the right to healthcare, for example - in a written constitution, ensuring that they cannot be eroded.

In September, people across Scotland have a choice of two futures. We do not have to sit back and accept what will be done to us by Westminster governments. We can take responsibility into our own hands and protect the values that underpin social security for all.

Contextual targeting label: 
Local government

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