An independent Scotland needs a “radically different way” of supporting its sick and disabled who now live in a “climate of fear” over swingeing cuts to the benefits system, Nicola Sturgeon told MSPs today.
The Deputy First Minister said “trust has broken down” in the UK welfare state as she set out plans for “fairer and more supportive” set-up under Scottish independence.
Many disabled Scots are fearful of being branded “scroungers” for claiming state support when they are unable to work as part of a “deliberate” drive to get people off benefits.
The Scottish Government has pledged to end the current shift towards universal credit, scrap the current system of sanctions against people refusing to work, as well as ditching the `work capability assessment’ which tests the ability of the sick and disabled to work.
Ms Sturgeon said a recent expert group which examined future changes in the welfare system after independence delivered a damning verdict on the current set-up.
“We need a radically different way of supporting sick and disabled people,” she told MSPs on Holyrood’s welfare reform committee.
The expert group report compared this with the “considerable” efforts over the decades to lift pensioners out of poverty, Ms Sturgeon added.
“We need a similar approach to dealing with those with long-term disabilities who are not likely to be capable of using work as a route out of poverty.”
Scotland is poised to lose about £6 billion in public spending in the four year to 2017, but the worst of the cuts will hit in the next two years with welfare payments being driven down under the switch to universal credit.
Ms Sturgeon said the current benefits system is now “deeply, deeply discredited.”
“We have a system where trust has broken down,” Ms Sturgeon has told MSPs.
“Both the trust of the wider public in believing that their tax contribution is contributing to a fair system, but also trust in recipients in the welfare system that they are being treated with dignity and respect and that their contribution is being recognised.”