All benefit from open-handed policies

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IN A caustic critique of universal provision of benefits like free prescriptions, free tuition for undergraduates and the council tax freeze, ­Carole Ford missed a few points (Letters, 18 March).

It is not simply First Minister Nicola Sturgeon who is committed to these policies; the Labour opposition at Holyrood under its external leader Jim Murphy has adopted them too.

That simply formalises a position taken at by-elections, like Cowdenbeath and Dunfermline West, where Labour canvassers could not bear to tell the voters that it would like to introduce charges.

The political and economic case for universalism is still a strong one and a good deal of research supports the view that the electorate does not like changes of this kind in a recession.

Real disposable incomes have fallen across the social spectrum in the past six years. The universal provision of services has eased the strain on household budgets and helped promote social cohesion.

The cost of means-testing benefits can also be prohibitively high in relation to any reduction in costs that might accrue. A family on an average income but with health problems within the household can find the cost of prescriptions onerous, as would be helping to meet the cost of their offspring’s university education.
Would the reintroduction of charges help ease pressure on the services in colleges and schools that Ms Ford claims to be concerned about? Not necessarily. It all depends on how well the budgets for them are managed and on how the Treasury block grant to Holyrood keeps pace with the demand for services north of the Border.

Until these problems are sorted out everything that can be done should be done to protect incomes across the board.

Bob Taylor

Shiel Court

Glenrothes, Fife

IF ANDREW HN Gray (Letters, 17 March) is going to make pronouncements, he really should try to get his facts right.

He contends the “overwhelming bulk of the recent additions to the national debt” were caused by the problems of “Two Scottish banks, RBS and HBoS”.

For the record, the financial meltdown that engulfed these banks occurred in 2008. At that point the UK government intervened with assistance amounting to £37 billion given to three banks: Lloyds, RBS and HBoS.

In return the government took shares which means it has the potential to recoup money for the taxpayer when the banks return to profit.

In 2011, when George Osborne became Chancellor of the Exchequer, the national debt he inherited stood at £760bn, which included the finance extended to the banks. His austerity programme has taken the debt to £1.5 trillion. So yes, Mr Gray, I’m happy to give credit where it’s due.

And one final point Mr Gray also contends that Scotland will never be independent. However, with 69 per cent of the population disagreeing with him, he is in an ever shrinking minority.

Douglas Turner

Derby Street

Edinburgh