LABOUR’S Ian Murray has warned Scotland faces a crisis of child poverty if the Conservative government goes ahead with its plans for £12 billion worth of welfare cuts.
Speaking in the Commons at his first Scottish Questions as shadow Scottish secretary, he said those likely to be hit hardest by the cuts were low-income families.
The Edinburgh South MP challenged new Scottish Secretary David Mundell to say how many more Scottish children of working-age families would fall into poverty as a result of the welfare cuts.
Mr Mundell claimed there was “no evidence” there would be a further increase in children falling into poverty as a result of welfare changes in Scotland.
But Mr Murray branded the answer “contemptible” and quoted the Child Poverty Action Group, which had warned of a potential “child poverty crisis” and the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which had said the most affected group would be low-income working households with children.
Mr Murray asked: “Is it not time that the Secretary of State stopped ducking the question and came clean about the impact this will have on vulnerable Scottish families, given that 50 per cent of children in poverty in Scotland are from families who are in work?”
Mr Mundell said there was a record low number of workless households in Scotland, and significant welfare powers were being devolved to the Scottish Parliament so that if there were specific issues in Scotland the new powers meant welfare payments could be topped up “as much as the Scottish Parliament wants as long as it can pay for it”.
Mr Murray said afterwards: “The Tory government’s cruel plans would hit low-income families going out to work and doing their best. That’s just not fair. It will mean a child poverty crisis in Scotland.
“Labour has set out proposals to devolve more powers to Scotland so that we can protect families from the worst of the Tories. Under Labour’s plan, the final decision on benefits in Scotland will be made in Scotland.”
Mr Mundell was challenged by SNP Westminster leader Angus Robertson to spell out where the planned £12bn spending cuts would fall.
And Mr Robertson also asked Mr Mundell when his department and government would follow the lead of the Scottish Government in becoming an accredited living wage employer.
But Mr Mundell hit back, suggesting that the SNP’s support for full fiscal autonomy – which according to the Institute of Fiscal Studies would cost Scotland £10bn – “would mean they couldn’t afford to pay the living wage”.
Mr Robertson said later: “The UK Government has committed to £170 million of further cuts to Scotland’s budget which will pile more pressure on working families.
“As long as the Tory obsession with austerity continues, the SNP at Westminster and Holyrood will continue to make the strong case for an alternative. This includes pushing the UK Government to implement the living wage to help those already bearing the brunt of five years of slash-and-burn Tory cuts.”