DEPUTY First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has insisted the SNP government is “proud” to protect Scotland’s free universal benefits.
• Johann Lamont and Nicola Sturgeon debate free universal benefits at FMQs
• Labour commission into Scotland’s benefits
But Ms Sturgeon, who enjoys a household income of more than £200,000, faced awkward questions from Labour leader Johann Lamont in Holyrood yesterday about why people on her income get benefits like free prescriptions.
The Labour leader called for an end to the “something for nothing” culture as she announced a commission to review Scotland’s universal entitlements and the council tax freeze.
But speaking during First Ministers Questions, Ms Sturgeon said: “If Johann Lamont wants to make that the dividing line in Scottish politics, I only have one thing to say – bring it on.”
The Deputy First Minister said Labour had initially indicated free concessionary bus travel for over 60s may be excluded from the review but that its chair Professor Arthur Midwinter confirmed “everything is on the table.”
Ms Sturgeon, standing in for Alex Salmond who is in the US for the Ryder Cup, said: “There’s lots of things you can call that kind of approach from Labour – shambolic is the name that immediately springs to my mind.
“Let me tell Johann Lamont something for free – it’s not brave and it’s certainly not honest. The Scottish Government is focused on protecting households as families struggle to “make ends meet”.
She added: “We will be proud to protect the council tax freeze, we’ll be proud to protect free education for working class young people, we’ll be proud to protect free personal care and bus travel for our pensioners.”
Labour believe the current system of widespread free benefits is starving public services of vital cash and leading to further cuts in areas like free personal care for the elderly.
The debate came as councils have indicated hundreds more jobs could be lost over funding black holes of hundreds of millions of pounds. The Labour leader told MSPs that Ms Sturgeon “lives in a household with an income of over £200,000 a year.”
“She gets free prescriptions,” Ms Lamont added. “Free prescriptions cost £57 million a year. How many nurses is that?”
Ms Sturgeon is married to SNP chief executive Peter Murrell who earns an annual package of just over £100,000 although this includes a pension package.
Ms Sturgeon also earns £100,748 in her roles as MSP for Glasgow Southside and infrastructure secretary in the Scottish Government.
Ms Lamont said: “If spending cuts threaten the kind of free care for the elderly that we want to deliver, is it fair that a woman like her on two hundred grand gets free prescriptions?
“Is it fair that the Sturgeon household on £200,000 a year gets universal benefits when families on average earnings pay more for childcare than they do for their mortgage?”