> DWP are apparently more important than national governments now…
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has been accused of breaking the “letter and spirit” of the Smith Commission, after it emerged that lucrative Work Programme contracts are to be extended.
The Smith Commission, set up in the wake of the Scottish independence referendum, recommended that control over the Work Programme should be devolved to Holyrood “on expiry of the current commercial arrangements”.
However, it has now emerged the DWP has taken the decision to extend the contracts without the consent of the Scottish Government, despite cross-party agreement powers over the back-to-scheme scheme would be devolved.
Commercial contracts are due to expire in 2016 and this is when the Scottish Government expected powers to be devolved, until they learned yesterday that the contracts are to be extended for a further year.
The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) said it is “utterly appalled” and “completely dismayed” by the decision, highlighting figures showing only 18% of job seekers find work through the scheme.
The SNP said the decision could leave unemployed Scots stuck with a Work Programme, dubbed ‘workfare’ by opponents, that “simply isn’t working for Scotland” until as late as 2019.
> It simply isn’t working for anyone, anywhere… except the companies with the lucrative contracts, of course.
SNP MSP Linda Fabiani, a member of the Devolution Committee, said: “Westminster’s Work Programme simply isn’t working for Scotland – and the sooner it is devolved, the sooner we can get on with putting this right.
“Tory plans to stand in the way of progress break the letter and spirit of the cross-party Smith Commission agreement. As SCVO make clear, there is ‘no justification’ for this.”
“The Smith Commission could not have been clearer – devolution of the work programme should happen as soon as the current contracts expire; but instead Westminster is extending the existing contracts.
“The UK Government sought Scotland’s agreement while the Smith process was underway and the Scottish Government is clear it does not agree with the extension.
“Quite why the UK Government thinks it is acceptable to completely ignore the Smith Commission proposals and press ahead with its failed scheme is baffling.
“The UK Government should apologise and immediately reverse this decision”.
Skills Secretary Roseanna Cunningham accused the UK Government of “breathtaking Arrogance” and has written a letter of complaint to Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith.
“The ink is barely dry on the Smith recommendations and already the Tories are breaking both its word and its spirit”, she said.
“Smith is explicit. Devolution of the work programme should happen as soon as the current contracts expire. Instead of honouring that, within just a couple of days of Smith, they are extending the contracts.
“That is breathtaking arrogance.”
Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael said the decision to extend the contracts was taken “long before the Smith Commission was even set up”.
Mr Carmichael said:
“This was a decision that was taken in August, so some of the breathless commentary about this being a dreadful decision that was designed to thwart the will of the Smith commission is not justified because, frankly, this decision was taken long before the Smith commission was even set up.
> If the decision was taken in August, thats a little over three months ago. I know a week is supposed to be a long time in politics, but even so…
In any case, shouldn’t they have held fire until after the Scottish referendum ?
“Although these contracts have been extended from 2016 to 17, this again is an area where the two governments should be sitting down and the Scottish government should be saying to the UK government, ‘we have done some thinking on this. This is what we want to do with our new welfare system, now how can that be represented with the contractual arrangements that you’re putting in place’.
A recent ICM poll shows 63% of Scots want to see full devolution of tax and welfare powers to Holyrood.
Source – Welfare Weekly, 04 Dec 2014
Scottish National Party (SNP) Press Release:
After months of denial, a UK [Conservative Party] Minister has finally admitted there is a link between Westminster welfare cuts and the increase in food bank use across Scotland.
The evidence the committee heard today is in stark contrast to evidence given to the committee by DWP director Neil Couling, who said that growing reliance on food banks was a result of the poorest people in society having to “maximise their economic choices”. This was later backed up by Employment Minister Esther McVey in a letter to Housing Minister Margaret Burgess.
Work and Pensions Minister Lord Freud has also previously claimed there was no link between Tory welfare cuts and soaring food bank use.
During the committee meeting, David Mundell also said he wanted the UK Government to produce an analysis of the use of food banks – something that has not yet been carried out, despite evidence from the Trussell Trust that reliance on food banks has grown 400 per cent in the past year.
The Trust’s figures also show that 22,387 children in Scotland used food banks in 2013/14 alone – an increase of over 1000 per cent since 2011/12.
Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael – who previously described the UK welfare system as “fantastic” – was scheduled to appear at the committee, but cancelled with less than 24 hours’ notice.
SNP MSP Annabelle Ewing, who sits on the Welfare Reform Committee, said:
“While it is welcome that a UK Government Minister has finally faced up to the fact that Westminster’s attack on welfare is responsible for the growing number of people forced to rely on food banks, this admission is long overdue. For months, Westminster has ducked responsibility and tried to blame the poor for the devastating impact cuts to benefits are having.
“David Mundell has said he would like to see a UK Government analysis on food banks – something that has not yet been produced, despite the fact reliance on food banks has grown 400 per cent. Given we now have 22,387 children in Scotland relying on food banks for a square meal, we desperately need a change of direction.
“Scotland is brimming with resources and talent – and is richer per head than the UK, France and Japan – but while it is tied the Westminster system the most vulnerable people in society are forced to use food banks. Only a Yes vote in September can give Scotland the opportunity to build the fairer country we know we can be.”
Commenting on Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael’s cancellation of his appearance before the committee with less than 24 hours’ notice, Annabelle Ewing said:
“It was very disappointing that Alistair Carmichael did not attend the Welfare Reform Committee today. While everyone understands the importance of the commemoration on World War 1, Alistair Carmichael has a duty to appear before the Scottish Parliament and explain why the UK welfare system is ‘fantastic’ as he has previously claimed, and it would be good if it could be rescheduled.”
*David Mundell is the Conservative Party member of parliament for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale (2014).
Source – Welfare News Service, 26 June 2014