Letters: Labour need to get sums right on housing benefit

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I have read the report by the Scottish Labour Party’s Devolution Commission and the text of Nicola Sturgeon’s letter to Johann Lamont, which was reported at the weekend.

Like Ms Sturgeon, I would be grateful if Johann Lamont or one of the “senior economists, academics and former civil servants” who make up Labour’s Devolution Commission could provide answers to some questions relating to their proposal to devolve housing benefit.

The commission’s proposal is to “devolve” housing benefit to Scotland. However, the Welfare Reform Act 2012 will abolish housing benefit, so there will be nothing to “devolve”. What the commission’s proposal entails is actually the creation of a new housing benefit, which will only be paid in Scotland.

The Labour party claim that they will use this new benefit “to abolish the bedroom tax”. This suggests very strongly that the Scottish Government would have the power to set and vary the rates and bands for this new benefit.

If this is the case, it would be helpful if the commission could explain how they expect that this will be funded. Their report states that, currently, approximately £1.7 billion is spent on housing benefit in Scotland. But costs fluctuate throughout the year as people move on or off the benefit. Therefore, it may not be straightforward to calculate at the start of a budget year how much will be spent on housing benefit during the course of that year.

I would assume that in order to manage the expenditure, a figure will be fixed by the UK government at the start of the fiscal year and the Scottish Government will have to live with that limit. In this scenario, if spending exceeds the prescribed budget, how will any shortfall be made up? The only answer I can see is that it would have to be found from elsewhere in the Scottish budget.

This leads me to question Scottish Labour’s assertion that they will use this devolved benefit to “abolish the bedroom tax”. If the benefit is funded by a fixed amount transferred from Westminster to Holyrood each year, what assurance is there that a UK government will take account of a Scottish Government policy not to deduct the bedroom tax?

It seems possible to me that they might not, and that the amount transferred would be enough to pay for housing benefit in Scotland at English rates and no more. In which case, the cost of the “abolition” would have to be met from elsewhere in the Scottish budget.

This would not equate to an “abolition” of anything. It would mean that Westminster would continue to levy the bedroom tax and the Scottish Government would be forced to pay it. Quel change.

AM, North Lanarkshire

Gay marriage removes another hostile barrier

I was delighted to see the first gay marriages taking place in England.

We all grow up with iconic images of romantic marriage but for a young gay person the first stirrings of attraction were always accompanied by the sound of doors slamming.

Whatever you think of marriage, it no longer enshrines discrimination.

Neil Barber, Saughtonhall Drive, Edinburgh

I’m hardly too sexy for my tram

“TRAMS make the area you live in sexier” (News, March 31). Who dreamed that one up? What utter tosh!

Maureen Lorimer, Edinburgh

Not such a stimulating journey to work

Re yesterday’s comment column stating that the tram ride will make you feel “sexy” and that living beside the tram will make your area “sexy”. In all my time reading the Evening News, probably around 45 years, I have never read more stupid comments. Can whoever wrote these please enlighten me on how a tram journey can make you feel sexy? Maybe the vibration has something to do with it? And how an area can be “sexy” with a tram trundling through it?

I know you are trying to get the Edinburgh public enthused about the tram, but nonsensical comments like the aforementioned do not to justice to your usually sensible comments section.

John Gray, Stenhouse

Animal charity propose a simple dog licence

As the Scottish Government’s consultation on promoting responsible dog ownership draws to a close this week, animal protection charity OneKind is proposing a simple but effective general dog licensing scheme.

A recent two-part documentary on ITV looking at the problem of dangerous dogs highlighted clearly that the issues we face with out-of-control dogs are often sadly the result of irresponsible ownership.

Under our proposal for a general licence, responsible dog owners who microchip their dogs, treat them kindly and keep them under control would feel little difference.

There would, however, be a cost- effective mechanism for authorities to enforce responsible dog ownership where problems arise.

Finding a long-term solution to the horrors of dog attacks is crucial but there is no one-size-fits-all answer that will solve all of the problems.

Neither the wider population of dogs, nor the majority of owners who are caring and responsible should pay the price for irresponsible breeding and inappropriate behaviour by a minority.

Libby Anderson, policy director, OneKind, Queensferry Street, Edinburgh