By Sean Martin
The SNP has condemned the cross-party support the Westminster Government received for a planned permanent cap on welfare spending as “shocking” and labelled it “a crude, blunt instrument”.
Westminster MPs voted on Wednesday to place a limit on welfare spending despite seemingly fundamental disagreements over what areas require the most funding. Prior to the decision, reports had suggested up to 20 Labour party backbenchers were planning to reject calls from the leadership to vote in favour of the proposals.
The final vote came in at 520-22 in support of the cap, which will affect things like disability allowance, child support and housing benefits – though pension payments and cyclical unemployment benefits are not included.
Chancellor George Osborne announced in last week’s budget that, after the 2015 general election, the welfare spending cap would be set at £119bn in line with current spending plans. Following Wednesday’s vote, any party which breaches the limit will be required to seek parliamentary approval and give a public explanation.
The SNP’s Welfare Spokesperson, Dr Eilidh Whiteford MP, condemned the mainstream Westminster parties following the vote and said the cap would negatively affect the most disadvantaged people in the country.
“The SNP voted against the welfare cap today because it piles yet more pain onto our poorest pensioners, carers, disabled people and low income families,” said Dr Whiteford. “It is blatant right-wing politics, not aimed at solving any of the long term problems which are getting worse because of Westminster’s austerity agenda – an agenda now supported by all the anti-independence parties.”
Mr Osborne told parliament that the welfare cap “brings responsibility, accountability and fairness” while opposition finance spokesperson Ed Balls said that the Labour party had long been calling for a welfare spending cap themselves. Balls insisted his party would abide by it were they voted in, but would change the allocation of funds within it. Junior coalition partners the Liberal Democrats, meanwhile, added that considered the cap a helpful medium- to long-term planning tool.
Dr Whiteford, meanwhile, questioned whether imposing a welfare cap was the right way to simultaneously manage that spending sector and improve the economy overall. She added that, in her opinion, the Westminster government was currently failing to restore the economy to a state of health.
“Only with a Yes vote in September can we get all welfare decisions back to Scotland, ensure that we have no more of this crude short-term political gesturing and really tackle our problems,” she said.
“If the government was serious about reducing the welfare spending it would be creating more job opportunities in sectors that pay a living wage, investing more in childcare to enable parents to work or increase their hours and building more affordable homes and taking action on housing costs.”