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Benefits could switch easily after a Yes vote, say SNP expert group

AN independent Scotland would have more than enough dedicated infrastructure and personnel to deliver pensions and other welfare benefits on day one, according to a Scottish Government-commissioned report published this week.

In its first findings since its creation in January to look at a benefits system with "Scottish values", the Expert Working Group on Welfare will say Scotland is already home to enough Department of Work and Pension (DWP) offices to ensure continuity of service.

For instance, while just in excess of one million Scots receive a state pension, the DWP's offices in Motherwell and Dundee currently handle a caseload of almost 2.8 million pensions.

The same offices also process 620,000 pension credit cases, one- quarter of the UK total, and again more than twice the 250,000 cases in Scotland. Most of the pensions handled by the Scottish offices are paid to people living in England.

The SNP Government argues this capacity could be switched to paying Scots, and there is no reason to fear a break in delivering benefits despite the complexity of the system.

Precisely which properties, staff and IT an independent Scotland would inherit would be subject to negotiation with Westminster.

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon set up the group in January to develop alternatives to the welfare cuts being imposed by Westminster that would be in tune with "Scottish values".

Its remit included offering views on which of the UK Government's current reforms to working-age benefits "should be an immediate priority for change in an independent Scotland".

Its members included Darra Singh, former chief executive of JobCentre Plus; Martyn Evans, chief executive of the Carnegie Trust; Douglas Griffin, a former finance director at NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde; and Mike Brewer, a research fellow at the Institute of Fiscal Studies.

After complaints about the all-male line-up, it was expanded to include carer Lynn Williams.

Ms Sturgeon later announced that, in the event of independence, a future SNP government would abolish the so-called bedroom tax and cut the tax bill for mothers returning to work.

The group's 120-page report will focus on the mechanics of delivering a Scottish welfare system, rather than specific policies, which are to be the subject of a report lead by Mr Evans.

Ms Sturgeon said: "We reject the Westminster parties' proposed cuts to pensions and support for families and it's now abundantly clear that it is only with independence that we can safeguard pensions and welfare in Scotland."

Speaking at the Scottish Conservative conference at the weekend, leader Ruth Davidson said the SNP had admitted in private that Scotland's growing elderly population cast doubt on the affordability of the state pension after a Yes vote.

She said: "Even to maintain the existing value of the state pension in an independent Scotland, taxes would need to go up or spending in other areas of social protection would need to go down."

Scotland Office Minister David Mundell said: "The UK can pool risks and draw on the wider economy to fund our ageing population, but a separate Scotland would find itself facing an even bigger challenge, with fewer and declining resources to address it. This report cannot ignore our ageing population and declining oil.

"The Scottish Government cannot avoid telling people in Scotland the hard facts about the level of welfare and pension payments in an independent Scotland."

Tom Gordon

Contextual targeting label: 
Finance

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