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‘Game-changer’ Holyrood devolution will open up benefit ‘top up’ powers

Ministers will be able to “top up” tax credits and child benefits as part of Holyrood’s “new era of devolution”, secretary of state for Scotland David Mundell MP has promised.

He said the Scotland Bill, currently making its way through Westminster, will be a “game-changer” and will allow ministers to design a “significant part” of Scotland’s welfare system and control income tax.

Ahead of talks between the Scottish and UK governments today (12 October), Mundell added: “If they want to top up existing benefits, they will be able to. If they want to introduce payments to those in short-term need or design new benefits in those welfare areas being devolved, that will also be an option available to them.

“Powers in the Scotland Bill ensures the Scottish Parliament will have the means to pay for any changes, but it will have to justify them to the public, as under the new arrangements, income tax raised in Scotland will stay in Scotland and be spent in Scotland.”

Labour’s shadow Scottish secretary, Ian Murray, stressed that the Bill should provide the Scottish government with sufficient power to protect “the vulnerable from Tory cuts” and raise the money needed by public services.

“It is time for the politics to stop and for the SNP government to get on with using powers now,” he said.

Last week, Mundell told BBC Radio that the new income tax powers should be transferred by April 2017.

And today, Scotland’s social justice secretary, Alex Neil, launched a paper on government conservations with the public and stakeholders on how these social security powers should be used.

He said: “This feedback is helping us develop our own social security system which we will ensure treats individuals with respect and removes the barriers that cause confusion and anxiety for some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

“The new system will have at its heart a set of principles and values. This will include ensuring people are treated with respect and dignity when applying for, being assessed for, and receiving disability-related benefits.

“It is also important that the system is fair and efficient – that the investment we all make in social security is well managed and is directed at the people who need it, in the way that will support them best.”

The Scottish government will publish another paper at the end of the year setting its “outline vision” for devolved social security.

But despite the momentum, Scotland’s finance secretary and deputy first minister, John Swinney MSP, threatened to pull the plug on devolution plans last month unless there was a fair deal on money.

He told the Scottish Parliament that the devolution proposed in the Bill would not be passed without a just “fiscal framework”, arguing that it currently fell short of recommendations made in the Smith Commission.

According to the Herald Scotland, talks are “currently taking place” between the two government over the fiscal framework. Three meetings were already held and another is to take place later this month.

(Top image c. David Jones/PA Wire)


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