Universal Credit (Roll-out)

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 5th October 2017.

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The First Minister:

As I think we have demonstrated by our actions, this Government will act where it can to mitigate the worst impacts of UK welfare cuts. Since 2013, we have invested more than £350 million in supporting low-income families who have been affected by the changes that we have already seen. Of course, we know that the benefit cuts that have been imposed by the UK Government since 2010 are expected to reduce welfare spending in Scotland by almost £4 billion a year by the end of the decade.

We will look carefully at the case that Macmillan Cancer Support has made today; indeed, as we heard just before First Minister’s questions started, the draft budget of the Scottish Government will be published in December, and we will consider the matter in line with the other decisions that we have to consider.

However, it is important to point out that, as I am sure Alex Rowley is aware, employment and support allowance is not one of the benefits that are being devolved to this Parliament. It will remain reserved and, of course, it is one of the benefits that will be rolled into universal credit.

Let me say finally that we will mitigate where we can, but everyone across this Parliament must appreciate what I have said previously: when the UK Government makes wrongheaded and in many respects deeply immoral cuts—this one included—it saves money from doing so, but it does not pass on a portion of those savings to the Scottish Government, so any mitigation that we put in place involves us taking money from other parts of the Scottish budget. We will do that where we can, but I think that everyone who looks at the scale of the cuts that I have just spoken about—£4 billion a year by the end of this decade—will see that the Scottish Government cannot mitigate every welfare cut that the UK Government makes.

Of course, if we had power over all benefits and all the money that supports them, we could take very different decisions. I hope that one day Labour will join us in calling for the complete devolution of all welfare powers, responsibilities and budgets to this Parliament.