BRITAIN'S youngest MP Mhairi Black has challenged Iain Duncan Smith over the link between welfare cuts and food bank use.

The SNP MP's challenge came as the work and pensions secretary revealed plans to put job advisers in food banks, while trialling a scheme at the Lalley Welcome Centre in Collyhurst, north-east Manchester.  Ms Black, the MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire South accused Mr Duncan Smith of trying to turn food banks into an "outpost" for Jobcentre Plus.

At the Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee, she said: “The Trussell Trust say the number of people using their Scottish food banks increased 398 per cent between 2012 and 2014.

“Do you think there is any correlation with the welfare reforms that have been implemented?”

HeraldScotland:

The Work and Pensions Secretary replied: “I think the Trust figures, while genuinely put together ... are not absolutely clear about individual cases or the connections with them.”

Ms Black said later: “ The UK Government will not fund food banks and ministers refuse to acknowledge the links between their policies and the increase in need for food banks – yet they are now trying to use them as an outpost for Jobcentre Plus staff.

“Duncan Smith should concentrate on trying to eradicate the need for food banks by changing the  policies that are driving people into crisis situations including low incomes, benefit sanctions and maladministration and the raft of welfare changes and cuts introduced over the past five years..”

Mr Duncan Smith said the trial, which had been in place for the past three weeks, seemed to be proving successful.

HeraldScotland:

“I am trialling at the moment a job advisor situating themselves in the food bank for the time that food bank is open. We’re already getting very strong feedback about that, " he said.

He continued: “If this works and if other food banks are willing to encompass this I would like to roll this out across the UK.”

Black said food bank use was a result of the government’s “ideological obsession with austerity”.

The SNP MP said: “It seems ironic that the UK Government will not fund foodbanks and ministers time and again refuse to acknowledge the links between their policies and the increase in need for foodbanks yet they are now trying to use them as an outpost for Jobcentre Plus staff."

Ms Black also challenged the work and pensions secretary about giving Scotland full power over welfare. 

HeraldScotland:

Ms Black said: "To start with before the referendum, there was The Vow that was made, in the last week, the Prime Minister signed up to. And in the spirit of that Scotland was told that they would get the powers as close to federalism as possible.

"I think it is also fair to say that in the General Election the Conservative manifesto was rejected in Scotland.

"So with that in mind and give that some of the welfare reforms are coming through just now are actually rejected by all the main political leaders in Scotland including the Scottish Conservative leader, is there not an argument to suggest that all of welfare should be devolved to Scotland and if not, why?"

HeraldScotland:

Mr Duncan Smith: "I think Ms Black will know that the agreement that was made at the time post the referendum was that we would stick by the Smith Commission recommendations, and those recommendations said that we should devolve further powers to Scotland in this field to control disability benefit...and the employment benefit...

"The Scottish Government already has the power ... should the Scottish Government want to make extra payments themselves, they can do that.

"These are quite substantial changes in devolved powers that will got to Scotland far beyond anything they have at the moment.

"If it perceived by a Scottish Government they would wish to make more payments for which they would then raise the money that power exists already."

HeraldScotland:

Ms Black said: "But with that in mind 85 per cent of welfare remains reserved and 70% of power over taxation remains reserved, so that's not close to federalism....

Mr Duncan Smith replied: "I guess we are not going to agree about this but all I am saying is we were asked to implement Smith and what we will have delivered is Smith. We have made alterations in the last few months to improve that position. I believe we have been reasonably flexible in all of this.

HeraldScotland:

"The Scottish has and will have significant powers, the question is do they wan to use them. My suggestion to them is that if there is something they disagree with in terms of the national benefit system, they still have the capability if they wish to create a parallel process themselves if they wish."

Ms Black added: "Following on from that, with the powers that you're talking about is there an assurance that in the event that the Scottish Government feels a need to use these powers, to prop up any benefits or if the Scottish Government is even able to realistically top up these benefits, is there an assurance that that money will lead to an additional income for the individual or can it be taken off ... through some other way. Is it just filling a gap that will then... money will be taken out of their pocket."

Mr Duncan Smith said: "As I said, it's a matter for the Scottish Government to do what they want to do with regard to any payments they want to make separate to the existing benefits system..."

HeraldScotland:

Ms Black said: "Just to clarify, if the Scottish Government uses the powers to top up any benefits, that will lead to additional income for the recipient and it won't be taken off in any other manner.

Mr Duncan Smith said: "That's a matter for the Scottish Government to take a view about themselves... It's a decision they have to take."