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Welfare Reform

Volume 561: debated on Wednesday 24 April 2013

4. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the Government's welfare benefit reforms in Scotland. (150801)

5. When he last met the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to discuss the effects of welfare reform in Scotland. (150802)

My right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary and I are in regular contact with ministerial colleagues in the Treasury and the Department for Work and Pensions on matters relating to welfare reform in Scotland.

We now know that more than 100,000 Scots will be affected by the Government’s bedroom tax, which is opposed by over 90% of Scottish MPs and has appalled civic Scotland. It is opposed in every locality in Scotland and there have been protests in Glasgow. Does the Secretary of State agree that the bedroom tax is quickly becoming his Government’s poll tax?

No, I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman, as he will not be surprised to hear. My right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary and I have been going around Scotland talking to councils and groups that have an interest in the matter and are concerned about different aspects of implementation, and we will continue to do that. However, people are clear that we want to keep together within the United Kingdom the universal and shared values that created the welfare state and the NHS, rather than for Scotland to become an independent country.

A family in my constituency with children aged two, three, four and five who have been hit by the bedroom tax were yesterday advised by those on the Government Benches in the Finance Bill Committee to take in a lodger. Does the Secretary of State think that was good advice?

I obviously cannot comment on the constituency details that the hon. Lady has brought to the Floor of the House today or on the full extent of the exchange yesterday. As I said to the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) a few moments ago, we need to look carefully at how the measure is implemented. I would be happy to hear further details from the hon. Lady on that case.

13. The Secretary of State will be aware that by far the largest single part of the welfare budget goes on pensions, including the state pension, pension credit and related pensioner benefits. What discussions has he had with the Scottish Government about how pensions would work in a separate Scotland? (150811)

The hon. Gentleman raises a hugely important issue which will be one of the big questions that we ask in Scotland as we build up to the referendum next year. The security and the scale of the United Kingdom allows us the solidarity of common provision across the United Kingdom, and we have the means to pay for that, even in difficult economic times, as we have had recently. We have not seen or heard anything from the Scottish National party or their supporters about how they would do that in an independent Scotland.

There is a link between welfare and the use of food banks, and I have raised the topic of food banks a number of times in this place through questions and petitions and directly with the Prime Minister, which have all seemed to go unanswered. The Secretary of State will have seen today’s report from the Trussell Trust revealing that the number of people using food banks in Scotland has increased from fewer than 5,000 last year to more than 14,000 this year. Can he tell the House why he is letting this happen?

My right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary and I have met people at food banks, and recently I met the executive chairman of the Trussell Trust. As the chief executive would point out, as I am sure he has to the hon. Gentleman, there is a range of complex reasons going back many years for why people need access to food banks. We continue to look at this very carefully. I do not want people to have to go to food banks to get support. I am happy to continue that dialogue with the hon. Gentleman.