CHARITIES are calling for a ­separate welfare state in Scotland, warning the situation where a Scottish government attempts to mitigate decisions made at Westminster is unsustainable.

A paper published by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) says a debate on the future of social security is essential, regardless of the outcome of next year's referendum on Scottish independence.

The call from the charity umbrella body follows moves by the Scottish Government to address impacts of the so-called bedroom tax north of the border, with a £20million fund to help people affected.

It also follows a report from an Expert Working Group on Welfare commissioned by Scottish ministers, which argued Scotland would be best to work within the UK welfare system for a transitional period in the event of independence.

The SCVO report A Better State: Inclusive Principles for Scottish Welfare says this transitional period should be as short as possible, but also a new system would be needed even if voters rejected independence.

A Scottish welfare state should be founded on a set of principles which laid out what people could expect from each other and the state, the authors said. It should recognise that anyone could fall on hard times, while guarding against a dependency culture.

"We must see welfare as being much wider than cash benefits and resurrect the idea of cradle to grave insurance - not just the basic safety net which increasingly marks the current UK approach," the report argues.

If the basic requirements of a uniquely Scottish welfare state can be identified, the impetus of the constitutional reform debate can lead to change whatever the referendum result next September, it says.

"Either way, Scotland has a unique opportunity at hand to do things differently. If Scotland says no to independence, we need to keep these principles alive," it states.

SCVO public policy director John Downie said: "Many people in the third sector are calling for reform of the benefit system, but indiscriminately cutting people's benefits is not the way to go about it. Successive governments have blatantly failed to solve the long-term problems of poverty and inequality in Scotland, as have the public, private and voluntary sectors. It is time for a rethink.

"The Scottish Government's current approach is to apply a sticking plaster. But that can't work: with two governments and two systems, people are falling between two stools."

The argument about the affordability of the welfare state also ignores the costs created by cutting it, Mr Downie added. "A whole industry has grown up around mitigation and crisis management, including an expansion of the voluntary sector to deal with the problems - food banks are a prominent example.

"The sector is responding magnificently, but instead of putting lots of money into advice and food banks, we should be looking at how we can tackle poverty and inequality in the longer term through a fairer system."

Mr Downie also claimed a properly-designed Scottish welfare state could avoid creating a dependency culture, which was not what most claimants wanted. "In focus groups we have run in local communities, people have said very clearly that they want to do more to help themselves and want to be more resilient, rather than have things done to them.

"People can do more but the present system doesn't work."