THE head of a group set up by the Scottish Government to examine a welfare system under independence has told MSPs it was “just not possible” to import the model used in Nordic societies such as Denmark and Sweden to Scotland.
Martyn Evans, chairman of the expert working group on welfare and constitutional reform, yesterday said that Scandinavian nations were “entirely different”, despite claims from the SNP that an independent Scotland could have similar welfare policies.
Mr Evans told a Holyrood committee an independent Scotland would be unable to simply copy the welfare state of those countries, which are associated with high levels of public spending on childcare and health services. He said Scotland would have to launch its own distinctive system.
In a report published this month, Mr Evans’s group had said that the welfare system in an independent Scotland should aim to be “fair, personal and simple”, as it called for the current system of benefits sanctions to be abolished.
First Minister Alex Salmond and his deputy, Nicola Sturgeon, have delivered a series of speeches in which they pledged to deliver a Scandinavian-style transformation of childcare policies under independence.
But yesterday, giving evidence to Holyrood’s welfare reform committee, Mr Evans set out details from his group’s report, which also called for benefits and tax credits to rise every year in line with inflation, rather than the current 1 per cent a year.
He said the report had examined what welfare system could be introduced if Scots vote for independence on 18 September, but dismissed suggestions of a Nordic welfare system.
Mr Evans said: “They are countries with different cultures and geography. They are societies that are entirely different from our own. We would have to look at a Scottish system.”
However, SNP MSP Kevin Stewart challenged this assertion, suggesting that Denmark was a good example of a nation “getting things right” on welfare which Scotland could follow.
Mr Stewart said: “There are aspects of things that happen in other countries that deliver positive outcomes for people. There are systems in Denmark that involve getting things right for disabled people, for example.”
Meanwhile, Mr Evans, who is also vice-chairman of NHS Quality Improvement Scotland, went on to criticise the controversial benefits sanctions of the UK welfare state, although he said any welfare system in an independent Scotland would have to “have hard edges”.
He said: “Scotland would have to rethink welfare. The purpose for an independent Scotland must be to provide a safety net, with a springboard through which people cannot fall through. The current system of sanctions is deplorable.”
Conservative MSP Alex Johnstone said: “This is certainly a blow to the SNP’s plans for independence. We have always maintained that you can’t have Scandinavian-style welfare without Scandinavian levels of taxations. The SNP’s claim that you can increase benefits and reduce tax at the same time has been completely discredited.”