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Would pro-unionists protect benefits?

The Chancellor, George Osborne, intends to cut a further £12 billion from Britain's annual welfare bill.

The benefit cap and the bedroom tax have already made life difficult for many on benefits, which are being uprated by less than the rate of inflation. It is wrong for the costs of the financial crisis to be borne overwhelmingly by those at the bottom, while those at the top see their taxes reduced.

Programmes such as Channel 4's Benefits Street portray the unemployed as workshy wasters. In reality the vast majority are eager to work. Life on benefits is not easy street. Jobseeker's Allowance in Britain is only £71 a week, £56 for under 25-year-olds - the lowest in Western Europe.

The fastest-growing group of benefit recipients are actually in work. According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, six million people living in poverty are in families where at least one person is employed. Wages are so low they still qualify for benefits.

Of course, some people are defrauding the system. About £1.6bn in benefits is overpaid every year, about 0.8% of the total welfare budget. We deplore this. However, a similar sum goes in benefits which are unpaid. And income tax fraud costs £14bn a year according to Government estimates.

The Deputy First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, is to be commended for refusing to participate in the victimisation of the "undeserving poor". Writing in today's Sunday Herald, she promises to scrap the bedroom tax, keep housing benefits and reject the forthcoming Universal Credit, which amalgamates a whole range of benefits into one payment. The Nationalists say they will increase social security benefits and the minimum wage annually by the rate of inflation.

However, they cannot secure these protections under the current constitutional arrangements.

We share the Deputy First Minister's belief that Scottish voters want no part of this war on benefits.

Welfare is likely to become a central issue in the referendum campaign, if only because it highlights the difference in political culture between Scotland and the south-east of England. The SNP say that only with independence can Scotland be protected from Tory policies.

Can Better Together persuade Scots that if we stick with the UK we will not be subject to the benefit reforms that are being driven through Westminster, and that there can still be what the former Labour Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, yesterday called "a union for social justice" in Britain?

Of course, Gordon Brown has no power to deliver the new powers he believes Scotland should have.

Nor are his proposals sufficient to ensure social justice in Scotland. The Unionists must come up with something more substantial if they want to prevent many Scots who aren't nationalists voting yes to independence to ensure that Tory policies stop at the Border.

Contextual targeting label: 
Local government

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