Scotland politics

Alex Salmond slams welfare comments 'offensive rubbish'

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Media captionAlex Salmond dismissed Iain Duncan Smith's claims as "nonsensical"

First Minister Alex Salmond has slammed as rubbish a UK welfare minister's claims that an independent Scotland could not finance a welfare system.

He said Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith's comment was totally "offensive and nonsensical".

On a visit to Glasgow, Mr Duncan Smith said services would have to be cut and taxes raised in a go-alone Scotland.

But Mr Salmond, who is in London meeting Prime Minister David Cameron, said Scotland could finance welfare.

The Scottish National Party-run Scottish government is planning to hold a referendum on independence in autumn 2014.

In an interview with the BBC outside Number 10 Downing Street, Mr Salmond said: "Yesterday in the Scottish Parliament we had in evidence somebody with disability, blindness, who is detailing how Iain Duncan Smith's changes to welfare had reduced him to penury in front of a Scottish Parliament committee and the man responsible for that has got the audacity to come to Scotland and tell us that we couldn't afford to have a compassionate and proper welfare protection."

He added: "We contribute 9.6% of the UK's taxation with 9.3% of the spending and just over 8% of the population - that is a relative surplus of £2.7bn in 2010/11, but £500 a head for every man, woman and child in the country.

"We could have less borrowing, more spending, we would certainly be able to sustain a position where we didn't reduce people with blindness to penury as Iain Duncan Smith is currently doing in Scotland."

Mr Duncan Smith is due to deliver a speech on the UK government's controversial welfare reform plans later at the Welfare to Work Scotland conference organised by the Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion.

Ahead of his address he said if Scotland leaves the Union it would be unable to meet the cost of getting people into employment or adequately supporting those who cannot work.

At the conference he is set to discuss the impact of the proposed universal credit system and is expected to touch on the independence debate.

Welfare spending is 6% higher north of the border, according to Mr Duncan Smith and he warned that North Sea oil and gas revenues would not meet the costs.

He said: "Due to the reliance on the old heavy industries in many parts of the country, it makes perfect sense that we need to spend more money per head of population on welfare support in Scotland.

"I have no problem with that.

"Thankfully, due to the United Kingdom and the commitment of the Westminster government, we are able to ensure that money brought in, whether it be from the City of London or from North Sea oil, can be pooled and directed to wherever it is needed most.

"If the unthinkable were to happen, a Scottish government would face a very stark choice of raising taxes or cutting services.

"This is not scaremongering, it's reality."

Mr Duncan Smith said universal credit would make a "radical" difference to getting people back into the workplace in Scotland and the rest of the UK.

Under the scheme there would be a single monthly benefit payment, rather than weekly or fortnightly as at present, for people looking for work or on a low income.

Launched next year, it will replace income-based jobseeker's allowance, housing payments and other benefits.

In the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday, members of the Welfare Reform Committee heard from MSPs have been told how a blind former health worker, Henry Sherlock, who said he had been reduced to begging as a result of the UK government's welfare reforms.

He told the politicians: "I thought the days of the blind man begging with a cup on street corners were gone. Sadly, that is not the case."

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