Holyrood Headlines, with MSP Alex Salmond

Mitigating the impact of Westminster welfare cuts

I welcome news that benefits advice groups are to share £5.4million to help them cope with the increasing demand for assistance from hard-hit families.

The Scottish Government funding announcement has come in response to a substantial increase in requests for help as a result of the welfare reforms and will see:

· A cash injection of £300,000 for services such as those provided by Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS).

· A new £1.7million fund providing direct support to advice services.

· A further £3.4 million to be spent over the next two years on helping organisations mitigate the impacts of welfare reforms.

This funding will directly benefit staff of advice services who are struggling to keep up with the demand from people requiring assistance as a result of changes to the system. Citizen’s Advice Bureaux across the country are dealing with nearly 800 new issues for every working day.

In the Autumn Statement, the UK Government announced the uprating of benefits by 1%. This is expected to affect around a million working age households in Scotland and reduce the total income of Scottish households by £210 million by 2014-15.

Similarly, the Bedroom Tax will see over 100,000 households across Scotland lose £600 a year on average. The Bedroom Tax will reduce the amount of housing benefit support that can be given to tenants in the social rented sector if they are judged to be ‘under occupying’ their home. Those under occupying by one bedroom will have their housing benefit slashed by 14%. Where they are under occupying by two or more bedrooms, the deduction is 25%.

A recent Scottish Government information centre report, “Impact of Planned Housing Benefit Changes in Scotland” shows that, of the 4,780 housing benefit recipients of working age who live in the social rented sector in Aberdeenshire, 1,400 are estimated to be “under occupying” and will therefore feel the effects of this unfair levy. The new criteria for under occupation could mean that ill or disabled people, who use a spare bedroom for medical equipment, may also be affected.

Analysis taken from DWP statistics also shows that another 100,000 households in Scotland will lose £700 a year as a result of changes to child tax and working tax credit, with almost 90% of those affected being couples with children.

This latest analysis is extremely worrying. It reflects the concerns of the many people who have contacted me to relay their first-hand experience of the UK Government’s benefit cuts and their apprehension regarding changes yet to come.

This £5.4million fund is a welcome step and will help to mitigate the pace, scale and impact of Westminster’s benefits changes. It will help front-line staff who see the damaging consequences of Westminster’s welfare reform changes on a daily basis, providing support for these organisations as they receive more and more requests for the crucial advice that they provide.

This highlights the difference in approach between the Scottish and UK governments. The Scottish Government is doing all it can to limit the impact of Tory-LibDem cuts that are hurting vulnerable groups and working families.

It is crucial that we ensure a welfare system in Scotland which provides fair and decent support for all and protects the vulnerable in our society. The way to deliver that most effectively is with the full powers that independence would bring.

80% reduction in carbon emissions from electricity by 2030

This week, I was delighted to speak at the Scottish Renewables-Scottish Enterprise Offshore Wind & Supply Chain Conference in Aberdeen. At this event, a new and ambitious target to reduce carbon emissions from electricity production by 80% by 2030 was unveiled. This moves Scotland a significant step closer to meeting its world-leading carbon emission reduction targets.

Offshore wind energy will play a vital role in Scotland’s renewables revolution and has a strong and vibrant future ahead of it. There are plans to install up to 10 GW of capacity in Scottish waters over the next ten years and additional sites are being assessed for deployment in the 2020s, alongside commercial wave and tidal generation.

Meanwhile, the UK Government has ignored calls from the industry and the Scottish Government to introduce a similar decarbonisation target. Instead, they have delayed the decision on such a proposal until after the next UK election at the earliest.

Scotland’s determination to tackle carbon emissions that come from electricity generation should not be put on hold while Westminster fails to act. Where the Scottish Government has provided a clear target, Westminster is creating continued uncertainty, undermining confidence and threatening investment.

The renewables sector is bringing clear benefits, currently employing 11,000 people and bringing in £2.9 billion of investment since 2009. The offshore wind industry alone could support up to 28,000 directly related jobs and a further 20,000 indirect jobs in Scotland.

This exciting 2030 target demonstrates the Scottish Government’s firm commitment to a cleaner greener Scotland. Scotland has substantial wind, wave and tidal resources, huge carbon storage capacity and first-class offshore engineering expertise and continues to provide the best natural and economic environment for renewable energy industries.