Tougher than Tories pledge will help No camp - MP

LABOUR’S shadow work and pensions minister has said Scots are just as supportive as voters in the rest of the UK in wanting to “control” social security as she insisted her controversial pledge to be tougher than the Tories on benefits would help the party’s campaign against independence.

Labour's Rachel Reeves. Picture: TSPL

Rachel Reeves, who has been tipped as a potential future Labour leader, suggested some benefits for the most vulnerable could be at “risk” under independence as she warned that SNP had no plan to curb welfare expenditure during a campaign visit to Glasgow.

The SNP accused Ms Reeves of promising “another round of cuts that hit the least well off the hardest” and of imitating Tory-style policies during her visit today.

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However, Ms Reeves setting out Labour’s plans for welfare in Scotland if voters reject independence and Ed Miliband wins next year’s election said the party would be tough on benefits in a “progressive” way.

Ms Reeves said Scots were equally concerned about the benefits bill, but suggested that Labour’s plans to boost jobs and have a living wage would ensure the poorest were protected from any welfare shake-up.

She said Labour would also scrap the controversial Bedroom Tax, devolve powers over the work programme, put in place a series of legally enforceable rights for disabled people in Scotland, as part of its plan for welfare in the event of a No vote.

Ms Reeves said voters in Scotland “worry” that the NHS is starved of cash and want to see social security spending brought under control.

The SNP has used the pledge Ms Reeves made to be tougher than the Tories on benefits to warn that a No in the referendum would lead to more cuts to welfare in Scotland from whichever party wins the 2015 General Election.

Ms Reeves, when asked if the pledge to crack down on benefits would help deliver a No vote said “absolutely” as she suggested most Scottish voters wanted a Labour government to pursue the policy after the referendum.

The Labour frontbencher reiterated her benefits clampdown pledge, which was originally set out in a newspaper article, during her visit to Scotland yesterday.

Ms Reeves, who is the Labour MP for Leeds West, said: “I said that I’d be tougher than the Tories in that article.

“We’d do that in progressive ways - one in five people are not paid the Living Wage. That’s why a Labour government would increase the Living Wage and crackdown on zero hour contracts.

“There are progressive ways to control social security and there is nothing progressive about paying more in benefits.

“Labour would be tougher than the Tories in controlling social security. Not with cuts, but by ensuring that more people are working and helping people into work in a progressive way.

“People in Scotland get these policies and are just as concerned about them as my constituents in Leeds West.

“Controlling social security costs means more money for the NHS and pensions.

“People in Scotland worry that their taxes aren’t going to the NHS and we need to ensure that we take the right decisions to control social security spending. We’ll control social security costs.”

The SNP government’s white paper - the nationalist blueprint for leaving the UK - states that the benefits system should not be “driven by short-term cuts” and commits to a “standard of living that ensures dignity” for claimants. However, Ms Reeves - a former economist - claimed the SNP had failed to set out a plan for a costed and secure benefits system under independence and said the white paper did not offer a “coherent set of welfare policies”.

She said: “The SNP has no answers to those big questions. The SNP says that independence will solve all our problems. The SNP’s plan would mean we were taking huge risks with our system.

“Independence would mean a system that’s a lot less secure.

“Alex Salmond and the SNP are asking people to take a massive gamble and a huge risk with the system we currently have, where resources are pooled and shared.”

However, a nationalist MP hit back at the claims from Ms Reeves and claimed Labour’s plan would lead to more Tory -style cuts after the referendum.

SNP MP Dr Eilidh Whiteford said “Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Rachel Reeves has said that she will be ‘tougher’ than the Tories on welfare – she must come clean and state whether or not she would continue coalition cuts that will see Personal Independence Payments fall by £3 billion by 2018.

“We already know nearly two-thirds of people in Scotland want to see welfare decisions made in Scotland rather than at Westminster. And with all the Westminster parties signed up to more austerity, we simply cannot afford another round of cuts that hit the least well off the hardest.

“Only a Yes vote will give Scotland the decision making powers we need to ensure a welfare system that empowers rather than punishes people.”