Labour says it will deliver more welfare powers – but SNP insist it's a panic move and charities argue poverty should be the focus
Any new powers which come to the Scottish Parliament should be used to tackle poverty and inequality, a housing charity has said.
Shelter Scotland said opportunities should be seized to create a welfare system which better benefits the vulnerable.
It spoke after senior figures in the Scottish Labour Party outlined plans to cede even more powers to Holyrood in the event of a Labour victory in the forthcoming UK general election.
The party says it will give the country more control over welfare including clearer powers to vary social security benefits, wider responsibilities for tackling unemployment, devolution of the £1.8 billion housing benefits system and devolution of power to local communities from Holyrood and Westminster.
Labour’s plan was announced by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown on Monday (2 February), in a move which has been dubbed “vow plus” – a reference to the so-called “vow” on more powers offered by unionist parties on the eve of last year’s independence referendum.
There is a continuing and very live debate over which powers should be devolved and how that should be implemented
This move – which has been seen as helping to secure the narrow pro-union vote – set in train the Smith Commission proposals on new powers which led to recently unveiled draft legislation.
Mr Brown, writing in theDaily Record, said Labour’s “vow plus“ proposals would “deepen” that process.
Shelter Scotland gave a cautious welcome to the announcement, director Graeme Brown said: “To deliver real social justice to the people of Scotland, it is essential that the future shape of welfare is designed to tackle the issues specifically faced by some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
“Further discussions on devolving more powers over welfare and in particular, housing benefit, are welcome.
“As set out in our official response to the Smith Commission, It is critical that any new powers for the Scottish Parliament are used to tackle poverty and inequality generally and poor housing and homelessness specifically.”
The Scottish Trades Union Congress(STUC) also welcomed “vow plus”. General secretary Grahame Smith, said: “The STUC is on record as saying that the Smith Commission proposals should have proposed greater devolution in a number of areas.
“This development confirms our view that there is a continuing and very live debate over which powers should be devolved and how that should be implemented, and we will continue to press for the greatest public involvement in that debate over the coming months.”
Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy said: "In future the last word on Scotland's welfare will be made here in Scotland by the people of Scotland.
"We won't just deliver on the vow, we will go further on the vow."
However, the SNP's deputy leader Stewart Hosie said the move was proof Labour is panicking in in the face of a resurgent nationalist movement, which has been tipped to win the majority of seats in Scotland in May.
Mr Hosie said: “The SNP has consistently argued for devolution of the minimum wage, along with all working age benefits and employment programmes – and if Labour truly wanted progress, they would back our calls. But they refuse."