Nigel’s Notes - Scotland needs welfare powers

Last week the Westminster Government was held to account by the High Court over the “unlawful” and “unacceptable” delays in Personal Independence Payments (PIPs) in a case where two disabled people waited nine months for PIPs. This delay left the pair dependent on loan sharks and food banks. My understanding is that across the UK there are almost 80,000 people waiting to hear if they can claim PIPs, with many of those waiting more than a year to have their claims processed.

Let’s be clear, PIPs are benefit payments to help people with the extra costs caused by long-term ill-health or a disability. They are the most vulnerable of our family, friends and neighbours who struggle to pay for food and fuel, and this can cause their health to decline.

This case highlights again, if we needed it, the most disgraceful attitude of the Tory Westminster Government toward those most in need in our society. We really need welfare payment powers in the hands of a Scottish Government that understand the needs of our own communities.

Contrasting with this attitude I am heartened by the Scottish Government receiving Living Wage accreditation. The living wage is higher than the statutory minimum wage, recognising the real cost of living and trying to eliminate the scandal of in-work poverty.

With powers over both welfare and in setting the minimum wage we can ensure a better, fairer standard of living for all of Scotland’s workers, and I would be very happy to discuss the living wage accreditation scheme with any employers in my Angus North and Mearns constituency. The simple truth is that better paid employees can improve business productivity by reducing absenteeism and improving staff morale, and a more equal society is demonstrably better for all of us.

Last week the Scottish Parliament debated Scotland’s relationship with alcohol. Alcoholism affects physical and mental health but also folks’ relationships because alcohol abuse can cause misery within families through violence and poverty. Anyone trying to access A&E at night can tell you the pressure it has on our emergency services. Absurdly we spend some £3.5 billion every year on the direct and indirect costs of alcohol misuse and this must be, next to over eating, the daftest thing as a nation to spend our taxes on! We still need the kind of societal change which we have seen to smoking.