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Martin Docherty-Hughes MP: “The SNP Scottish government is working to build a fairer social security system, but until Scotland’s parliament has full control over social security it will remain an uphill battle.”

Last week the Poverty Alliance, in partnership with Clydebank Independent Resource Centre, held a meeting at Dalmuir CE Centre to discuss the design of a new social security system for Scotland.

The Scottish government is committed to using its devolved powers to build a new social security system for Scotland based on dignity and respect. Meetings are taking place all across the country seeking input and expertise from local groups and individuals with experience of the benefits system. The goal is to ensure that Scotland can benefit from a human rights based approach to its welfare system which places fairness at its heart.

This is in stark contrast to the approach taken by the UK government which seems determined to dismantle the welfare state by implementing punitive austerity measures and benefit cuts with little regard for the devastating impact it is having on the poor and disadvantaged in our communities.

I work closely with local welfare advice groups such as Clydebank Independent Resource Centre and the Citizens Advice Bureau. As the Member of Parliament for West Dunbartonshire I am contacted by constituents every week who are being pushed further into financial hardship as a result of sanctions and benefit cuts. And all too often it is the most vulnerable in society who are being failed by the UK’s welfare system – the sick, disabled and single parent families struggling to make ends meet.

The Tories’ callous welfare policies were in the spotlight last week as the SNP led a debate in the Commons marking two years since the passing of the UK Welfare Reform and Work Act. This legislation was one of the most shameful acts of the last parliament – introducing the benefit cap, the benefit freeze, the two child cap, cuts to disability benefits and the scrapping of child poverty targets.

As a result, more and more families in West Dunbartonshire and across the country are being pushed into poverty at a time of rising inflation and increasing living costs. The Scottish government is doing what it can with the limited powers it has to mitigate the worst of these Tory benefit cuts – but it is having to do so with one hand tied behind its back.

Labour in Scotland tries to blame the SNP for the number of households increasingly reliant on foodbanks. The truth is though that Labour MPs at Westminster chose to abstain on the Welfare Reform and Work Act, rather than join the SNP in voting against these Tory benefit cuts – two years later we are now seeing the impact of that.

The SNP Scottish government is working to build a fairer social security system, but until Scotland’s parliament has full control over social security it will remain an uphill battle. Scotland’s full potential will only be realised when it has the normal powers of an independent country. Until then, the SNP at Westminster and Holyrood will continue fighting Tory austerity across the UK and working to build a better Scotland.

This column appeared in the Clydebank Post on 28 March 2018.

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