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SNP vows universal benefit support

MINISTERS will highlight their unwavering support for universal benefits today after Labour pledged to reassess the fairness of Government giveaways.

Health Secretary Alex Neil will tell MSPs independence is the only way to protect entitlements, including free prescriptions for all and free bus travel for the over-60s.

The Scottish Government has taken the unusual step of calling a Holyrood debate on an opposition initiative.

In September, Scots Labour leader Johann Lamont launched a review of spending plans after questioning whether some benefits enjoyed by the better off were fair.

She hinted that a future Labour administration may not provide free tuition and prescriptions for all but a range of spending commitments is being considered.

But Mr Neil will say: "The Scottish Government's commitment to maintain universal benefits is clear and unwavering. It is simply not right to tax ill health through prescription charging, not right for older people to spend time in hospital or be prematurely put in care homes due to a lack of support, or for adults to forego eye examinations due to the cost."

Labour claimed the Government was inconsistent in its support for benefits after ministers slashed access to legal aid payments on cost grounds.

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