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Government’s Welfare Programme

Volume 607: debated on Wednesday 23 March 2016

3. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on the effects of the Government’s welfare programme on social and economic inequalities in Scotland. (904202)

I meet my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and counterpart Ministers in the Scottish Government on a regular basis to discuss devolution of welfare programmes to the Scottish Government.

Last week’s Budget saw one of the most iniquitous measures proposed by this Government, which was to cut the personal independence payment for 40,000 disabled people in Scotland. When did the Secretary of State for Scotland, and Ministers, first realise that that was the wrong thing to do? Was it around the Cabinet table, during the Budget statement or on Sunday when the Prime Minister was forced to backtrack?

The Government’s position on PIP and disability reforms is clear, and was announced by my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and the Chancellor.

Will the Secretary of State tell the House and the people of Scotland when he realised that those cuts were wrong, or was he planning a resignation over the weekend?

As I have said, the Government’s position has been made abundantly clear. If the hon. Gentleman missed the statement by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on Monday, I will be more than happy to share it with him again.

I start by echoing the comments of the Secretary of State and the leader of the Scottish National party, and pass on my heartfelt condolences to all those involved in the events in Brussels. We will defeat terrorism, but, as the Secretary of State said, it will take solidarity and resolve.

Last night, the House passed a Budget that was unprecedented. It contained a £4.4 billion black hole after the Chancellor was forced to reverse his decision to cut personal independence payments. The Government’s long-term economic plan is turning into a long-term economic scam. These savage cuts, following the £1,500 a year reduction in the employment and support allowance work-related activity group, affect over 60,000 Scots. Those cuts would have gone through had it not been for the resignation of the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith). Will the Minister guarantee that, when the Chancellor returns with revised public spending, no cuts will fall on the disabled and the most vulnerable?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. I welcome his comments with regard to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith). The Government have been very clear that we are not proceeding with the changes and we will not be seeking an alternative offset in savings.

It is clear from that answer, and from the previous answer, that the Government now have absolutely no idea what to do. They are creating untold anxiety for the people in Scotland who are affected. Let me remind the House what the former Secretary of State said: that the cuts in the Budget risked dividing society, put pounds ahead of people and were distinctly political rather than in the national economic interest. Does the Minister agree with her former Cabinet colleague, and many on her own side, that the cuts to disabled people in Scotland are not defensible? Does she want to take this opportunity to apologise, on behalf of the Scottish Conservative party, to the tens of thousands of vulnerable and disabled Scots affected by this shambles?

I reiterate that the Government’s position is fundamentally clear: there will be no further changes to disability payments. The hon. Gentleman will have realised that last night the Budget was passed by the House. That was right and proper. He, of all people, should recognise that the Government are delivering on the Smith commission and devolving powers to the Scottish Government. We look forward to working with the Scottish Government on welfare reform and the delivery of employment and support programmes for the benefit and the betterment of the Scottish people.