By Anne-Marie O’Donnell
There have been calls for urgent clarification from Labour on whether further powers for Scotland will include control of child benefit after shadow chancellor Ed Balls pledged to cap payments in a speech to the Labour party conference.
In his speech, the shadow chancellor vowed to continue a Tory cap on child benefits to 2017 if Labour get into government in the 2015 general election in a bid to reassure markets and investors that the party will balance the country’s books through more austerity.
The commitment to continue the one per cent cap on child benefit introduced by George Osborne has led to concern from opposition parties that the policy, on top of a period of austerity which has seen foodbanks spring up across the country, will hit families even further.
Following Labour’s anti-independence coalition with the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, which saw all three parties vow that Scotland would be given significantly more devolved powers if Scots voted against independence, the SNP has called on Balls to clarify whether or not Scotland will have its own control over child benefit.
SNP MSP Stewart Maxwell said: “In the last few years, we have had cuts on top of cuts from the Tories. And it is clear that this will continue to be the case no matter what government we have in Westminster after next May’s general election.
“Labour’s proposal to cut child benefit in real terms would hit families across Scotland in the pocket – at a time when many are already suffering at the hands of Tory cuts.
“Over the past year, the number of people using foodbanks has rocketed by 400 per cent. Westminster has proved time and time again that it cannot be trusted to look out for the vulnerable. For this reason, welfare needs to be devolved to Scotland.
“However, the reality is that Labour’s devolution commission proposals completely fail to outline what welfare powers they would devolve to Scotland – and make no mention of child benefit.”
Balls’ speech came just days after 45 per cent of people in Scotland voted to break away from the union. According to a Lord Ashcroft poll, a quarter of No voters ranked the promise of more powers as a significant part of their decision on how to vote. However, since the referendum, the UK’s three main parties have been accused of stalling on the promise, and calls for clarity on which powers will be devolved to Scotland have grown louder.
Maxwell added that Balls’ decision to rule out borrowing in order to fund capital investment shed serious doubt on claims of borrowing powers due to go to the Scottish parliament.
“Ed Balls’ statement that he would not increase borrowing to fund capital investment also raises questions about the effectiveness of the borrowing powers that are already supposed to be coming to the Scottish parliament,” he said.
“The Labour party need to remember that 45 per cent of people in Scotland voted Yes last week – and polling has shown that a further quarter of No voters cast their vote in the expectation that substantial further powers would be devolved to Scotland in the coming months.
“The Westminster parties must now honour their commitment on further powers to the people of Scotland – and the first thing they must do is outline exactly what powers they are proposing for the Scottish parliament.”
Since the referendum there have been worrying signs for Labour in Scotland after the party failed to convince many of its core support to back No. Today it emerged that nearly 17,000 people have joined the SNP, and according to deputy leader Nicola Sturgeon many are former Labour supporters.
The Green Party and the SSP have also seen a significant boost in applications to join their respective parties, indicating the high engagement of the Scottish people in the political process is set to continue post-referendum.