Scotland politics

Nicola Sturgeon attacks UK government's 1% benefits cap move

Scotland's deputy first minister has attacked UK government plans to cap increases to benefit payments.

Nicola Sturgeon told Holyrood's welfare committee that the move would hurt some of Scotland's most vulnerable people.

MPs at Westminster have voted in favour of the 1% cap on benefits, which are set by the UK government.

Ms Sturgeon claimed the move, which includes tax credits, would affect about 700,000 working households across Scotland.

The welfare committee has been taking evidence on the Scottish government's passported benefits consultation.

It covers benefits such as free school meals and blue badge parking, and the way they will operate in Scotland after changes are made to the UK benefit system.

In June 2012, the Scottish government published the consultation paper on changes required as a result of the introduction of the Universal Credit and Personal Independence Payment by Westminster.

It said a number of people expressed concerns that under the reform, many individuals would lose the passported benefits which they currently receive.

Ms Sturgeon told the committee: "These reforms are coming against the backdrop of some of the biggest cuts that we have seen to the welfare system in a generation.

"Just yesterday we saw child benefits start to be removed from many people - we estimate that will affect almost 100,000 people across Scotland. And of course today the UK government presses ahead with plans to put a cap on increases to benefits, including the benefits for many people who are working hard in low-paid jobs.

"We would estimate that the cap on benefits, including tax credits, will affect about 700,000 working households across Scotland.

"So, clearly these are changes with a big, big impact in Scotland, and I think they will cause more pain for some of the most vulnerable people and families across our society who are already struggling to cope."

Benefits have historically risen in line with the rate of inflation, and increased by more than 5% in 2012-3.

The coalition said public sector pay was capped at 1% and benefits should not be rising at a faster rate than wages.

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said inaction would leave the UK "bankrupt", and that "like Greece and like Spain... we'll have huge borrowing costs".

Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, Margaret Curran, said that people were trapped between two governments that had their priorities "all wrong".

She complained that the UK government cut benefits for working people and the Scottish government "would rather establish a welfare talking shop than really get to grips with welfare reform".

Ms Curran added: "If the SNP were serious about welfare reform, they would vote with Labour to oppose the government's cuts and introduce a compulsory jobs guarantee to get people who have been out of work for two years or more back into a job."

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