OPPOSITION MSPs have warned that some of the country’s most vulnerable groups could face delays in receiving lifeline benefits after Holyrood rejected controversial reforms to the welfare system.
Concerns over the impact of the new Universal Credit and personal independence payments (PIP) prompted MSPs to last night vote against a motion which would allow Westminster to legislate on areas where the changes encroach into areas controlled by Holyrood.
It was first time Holyrood has rejected a legislative consent motion (LCM) in its 12-year history.
The key changes to the system in the UK-wide welfare reform Bill are still likely to go through, but it means that the Scottish Parliament will now pass its own legislation dealing with areas where the Bill affects devolved issues.
These include free school meals and the blue badge scheme for disabled drivers.
Scottish Tory health spokesman Jackson Carlaw said the SNP and Labour had brought forward a “hollow blank canvas of lurid rhetoric”.
“Nothing we do today will alter the course of the UK Welfare Reform Bill,” he said.
“This LCM is a device to assist the Scottish Government in the implementation of legislation.
“To be clever with it, as the motion seeks to do, is opportunistic, frankly pointless and potentially reckless, if in consequence any unforeseen delay transpires in the parallel drafting of primary legislation in this Parliament, which will occasion delays in the payment of benefits to those who need them.”
Liberal Democrat Liam McArthur said refusing consent is “entirely self-defeating” and will harm “the interests of many that those who advocate such a course profess to be defending”.
He said: “At best, it seems to be a gesture, but one with potentially serious consequences.
“As Citizens Advice Scotland makes clear, rejection of the LCM ‘may delay universal credit and passported benefits for people in Scotland’ with the potential that ‘some vulnerable people could be plunged into further poverty’.”
MSPs have previously heard concerns that measures in the Welfare Reform Bill would increase pressure on homelessness and social care services and force disabled people to move home. Children’s groups also claimed it could plunge between 50,000 to 100,000 youngsters into poverty.
Health secretary Nicola Sturgeon said the SNP Government accepted the welfare system was “broken and needs to be fixed”.
But she said: “We will not endorse proposals that seek to fix it at the expense of some of our most vulnerable people.
“We have very, very real concerns that these welfare reforms will hit the poorest and most vulnerable the hardest.
“That concern stems, to a large extent, from the fact that whatever the motivations might be of the DWP (Department for Work and Pensions), the very clear motivation of the Treasury is cost-cutting.”
Labour’s health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie said the reforms were the “single most significant attack” on the welfare state in her lifetime.
A DWP spokeswoman said: “We are pleased that the Scottish Government recognises the welfare system needs urgent reform so it’s fair, simpler and that work always pays.
“These reforms will end the cycle of generations of Scots living a life on benefits whilst ensuring that those people who need our help and support get it unconditionally.”