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Sturgeon vows minimum wage will be reviewed

THE minimum wage paid to about 63,000 Scots could soar by more than a fifth if Scotland becomes independent, Nicola Sturgeon has signalled.

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The Deputy First Minister has backed a series of reforms proposed by a panel of experts tasked with designing a welfare system for an independent Scotland.

She said a Yes vote in September's referendum would allow the creation of a system that was "fairer and works for all".

However, Ms Sturgeon was accused by Labour of making "cynical" uncosted promises to people most in need of support.

Ms Sturgeon said the Scottish Government would "look closely" at proposals unveiled yesterday by its expert working group on welfare to raise the minimum wage from £6.31 per hour to £7.65 - the level of the so-called "living wage" - as soon as possible following a Yes vote.

Under the plan the National Insurance contributions paid by employers would be reduced to help businesses absorb the extra costs.

The move would raise an extra £280million in tax revenue, according to the experts' report.

Among their other proposals, the Scottish Government agreed to increase carer's allowance, paid to 102,000 Scots, by £575 per year.

Ms Sturgeon also said the Scottish Government would scrap the Department for Work and Pensions' controversial work capability assessments, undergone by disabled claimants, and establish a "fairer" system of benefits sanctions, within five years if Scotland leaves the UK.

In another immediate move in the event of a Yes vote, the Scottish Government would restore the link between benefit rises and inflation.

The UK Government has imposed a one per cent cap on benefit rises. The cap is due to end in 2016, the year Scotland would become independent under SNP plans.

The Scottish Government also promised to "consider carefully" a proposal to wrap existing benefits together as a new "social security allowance". The SNP had previously promised to halt the introduction of the UK Government's combined Universal Credit.

The Scottish Government did not endorse plans considered by the expert group for a £25billion per year "citizens' income" that would be paid to everyone in Scotland, from children to pensioners, and replace almost all other welfare and pension payments.

Ms Sturgeon was responding to a second report by the Government's expert panel of welfare.

The group said the welfare system of an independent Scotland should be "fair, simple and personal".

Unveiling some 40 recommendations, chairman Martyn Evans, the chief executive of the Carnegie UK Trust, said the welfare state should be a "springboard to a better life" rather than merely a "safety net".

The SNP say an independent Scotland would share the UK benefit system until 2018 but with flexibility to introduce key policies after 2016.

The report received a mixed reaction. The STUC welcomed the proposals to raise the minimum wage, but John Dickie, head of the Child Poverty Action group in Scotland, said the proposal overhaul "needs to go further".

Scottish LibDems leader Willie Rennie claimed the SNP had reversed some pledges on welfare.

Labour MSP Jackie Baillie said: "We have seen the SNP over the past year make promises to everyone in the hope that this will encourage them to vote for separation in September. This report is no different.

"It is the most cynical type of politics. Everyone is offered more money, or less taxation, with no means of explaining how any of it is paid for."

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