Tepid Smith proposals “don’t go far enough”

Smith main

​Charity body disappointed that welfare has not been completely devolved

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27th November 2014 by Graham Martin 0 Comments

Lord Smith’s “piecemeal” package of powers for Scotland represents a missed opportunity to tackle poverty.

The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) said the raft of proposals does not go far enough to enable to country to fight inequality.

In particular, there was criticism of the failure to recommend complete devolution of welfare to Scotland.

However, SCVO – which represents the country’s charity sector – said Smith’s personal recommendation to devolve more power to people and communities is “very encouraging”.

Lord Smith headed a commission set up by Prime Minister David Cameron in the wake of the vote against Scottish independence.

Its recommendations, revealed on Thursday morning, will form the basis of legislation on more Scottish powers.

Anything less than wholesale devolution of welfare is a real missed opportunity to meet the needs of the most vulnerable people in our communities

Its headline finding was that the Scottish Parliament should have the power to set income tax rates and bands.

A share of VAT should be assigned to Holyrood and Air Passenger Duty should be fully devolved, according to the commission.

New powers announced include the ability to introduce votes at 16, the ability to introduce fair representation on public bodies and, additional powers over some welfare benefits.

The latter has come as a disappointment to many in the third sector who argued that full control of welfare was necessary to stave off the worst effects of Westminster austerity policies.

John Downie, director of public affairs at SCVO, said: “We’ve said all along that anything less than wholesale devolution of welfare would be a real missed opportunity to meet the needs of the most vulnerable people in our communities, so we are disappointed to see that today’s offerings fall far short of this.

“Lack of control over universal credit will continue to impede our efforts to help the poorest people in our communities.

“What we’re seeing today is piecemeal devolution of powers which will not make way for the integrated and more efficient approach to welfare which is vital to delivering the fundamental change and greater social justice that so many people in Scotland want.

“The proposed powers do, however, offer significant possibilities to improve support for unemployed people and are a welcome step towards taking a new and improved approach to helping people find work but, without the associated benefits, the overall impact will be limited.

“We will also have ability to design and deliver a different approach to benefits for carers, and disabled and ill people.

“The onus now is on the Scottish Government to involve these groups of people in shaping how the powers are used and to ensure that all the new powers devolved to Scotland make a real difference to the lives of people in Scotland.

“We call on the Scottish Government to start by scrapping the Work Programme without delay and instead investing in schemes that actually create jobs, such as Community Jobs Scotland which has delivered thousands of jobs for young unemployed people in charities.”

Student body NUS Scotland has renewed calls for a citizen-led constitutional convention to ensure the new devolved powers work in Scotland.

It has also called for further concessions including immigration and the ability to allow international students to remain in Scotland, post-graduation, to work.

Scottish Youth Parliament chair Louise Cameron MSYP urged the Prime Minister David Cameron to accept the proposal to lower the voting age to 16  – something which was trialled successfully during the referendum.

Mary Taylor, chief executive of the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations, who gave evidence to the public plenary of the Smith Commission during its deliberations, said the report does not go as far as it and many other civic organisations had called for.

She said the welfare reforms that have been granted should be used to halt universal credit - a scheme whereby all benefits payments are consolidated into one.

Meanwhile, Graeme Brown Shelter Scotland director, welcomed the devolution of income tax as well as powers to abolish the bedroom tax.

Green group WWF Scotland is calling on the Scottish Government to use new powers to benefit the enfironment and prevent fracking.

Smith: the main points

* Scottish Parliament should be given the power to set income tax rates and bands on earned income and will retain all of the income tax raised in Scotland

* The parliament should be given powers to allow 16 and 17-year-olds to vote in Scottish elections

* Parliament should be given powers to create new benefits in devolved areas and make discretionary payments in any area of welfare

* A range of other benefits that support older people, carers, disabled people and those who are ill should also be fully devolved

* The Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament should have a  "formal consultative role" in the process of reviewing the BBC Charter