If the recent spat between sources close to the Chancellor and insiders at the Department of Work and Pensions is anything to go by, the political temperature is rising on welfare in the Cabinet room, just as much as talk outside it is being fuelled by the Channel 4 series Benefits Street.

Despite protestations to the contrary, opinion polling consistently shows that the average Scot is little different to counterparts from the rest of the UK, in generally believing that "benefits are too high, and something needs to be done".

The only trouble is that their political representatives are failing to show the leadership required to tackle the problem properly.

Loading article content

On this issue, they are completely failing to explain where the true problem lies in tackling the explosion in welfare. For the real ticking time bomb is really not the out-of-work benefits that are the weekly subject of debate after Benefits Street.

However much it appeals to voyeurs or panders to the predetermined opinions of the majority, the real problem is less appealing to programme makers and governments alike.

In truth, successive governments have stuck their heads in the sand when it comes to the scale of increasing support for the elderly.

David Cameron and George Osborne are right to highlight the need to tackle welfare for the long term, but wrong to continue to pander to the grey vote with continued unaffordable and unjustified spending commitments.

How can it be right for the Prime Minister to pledge a continuance of the "triple lock" on the old age pension, so that pensioners are guaranteed an increase of at least 2.5% up to and beyond the next General Election, when the reality is that a large percentage of recipients simply do not need that support?

This profligacy is compounded by the continued refusal to contemplate means testing of winter fuel benefit, bus passes, free TV licences and the rest. Evidence suggests Labour see them as beyond question too. Insiders at the DWP are surely right to suggest that the Coalition Government cannot keep drinking from the well of out-of-work and social-protection benefits for those of working age, whilst party strategists continue to place elderly support out of reach of those looking for savings.

It is a continuation of the recent political trend away from taking hard decisions based on proper debate and review, in favour of "protecting" large parts of government spending from any budget cuts.

To make further substantial progress in reducing our fiscal deficit, it needs to stop.

I support further significant cuts to the welfare budget, but let's have a real debate on whether it is more important for golf club members to use their free bus pass to get home after one too many at lunchtime, or for under-25s to be entitled to housing support if they need it.

Let's see an honest discussion on why we need a winter fuel payment paid to everyone when it is used to bolster the holiday fund of those wealthy pensioners who hardly notice its receipt.

And while we're at it, why not have a real conversation on whether child benefit should not be further targeted towards those who really need it?

I'm not one of those who has his head in the sand on the need to take accelerate action to restore our public finances. I just believe we need to take a much more pragmatic view on where those next steps need to be taken.

In truth, politics on both left and right is failing us on this central issue.

Both are in the same position they used to be in on immigration.

Knowing in their hearts that it was an issue that needed talked about, needed to be aired. Yet suspecting that the first to do so risks a huge political hit.

In fact, the first to do so risks being perceived as someone who knows what they are talking about.benefitsd