Is the coalition unfairly targeting Scotland for cuts?

In echoes of the trialing of the poll tax in Scotland, the coalition has selected Aberdeen as one of only two cities for an “attack on incapacity benefit”.

Just days after Left Foot Forward highlighted Nick Clegg’s use of Thatcherite language during his conference speech, more evidence has emerged that the coalition is behaving like it as well. In 2006, David Cameron apologised to Scotland for his party having used Scotland as an experiment for how the poll tax would work.

Fast forward four years, and the Daily Record has reported that Aberdeen has been chosen as one of just two cities – Burnley being the other – to trial the Government’s experiment to, as the newspaper dubs, launch an “attack on incapacity benefit”.

A report published just last week by the Scottish Local Government Forum Against Poverty and Rights Advice Scotland has suggested that the coalition’s welfare cuts will lead to annual losses (page 10) to the Aberdeen economy of between £15,212,216-£18,766,873, of which £4,822,195-£8,376,853 will come through cuts to 8,570 incapacity benefit claimants in the city.

Responding, Labour MP for Glasgow East Margaret Curran, a member of the work and pensions select committee, said:

People in Scotland have long memories and have not forgiven the Tories using Scotland as a test bed for the Poll Tax. It is clear the Tories have not changed. Time after time Scotland always suffers worst when the Tories get into power.

“This coalition government seems hell bent on cutting the deficit faster than is safe and the Lib Dems refusing to stop them and it is clear it is the poorest and most vulnerable people who will be forced to pick up the tab.”

In addressing the direct issue of the coalition’s plans for incapacity benefits, Anne Begg, chair of the work and pensions committee and a local Labour MP for Aberdeen South, declared:

“Cutting support for disabled people who are unable to work is plain cruel.”

Meanwhile, the Law Society of Scotland has warned of the consequences that cuts to the Legal Aid and welfare advice budgets will have on some of the poorest within society. Speaking for the society, the Convenor of its Access to Justice Committee, Mike Dailley warned:

“The consequence of the unprecedented cuts to welfare benefits in Scotland is that Scots will need greater access to legal advice and assistance, and representation, whether to prevent mortgage repossession, eviction, or to appeal the removal of breadline benefits.

“The Access to Justice Committee believes that there has never been a more important time to maintain the level of public funding in Scotland for front line legal, welfare rights, and money advice services in Scotland.

“We will work with colleagues on the Council of the Law Society of Scotland to do all we can  to persuade the Scottish Government, the Scottish Legal Aid Board and COSLA that now is not the time to reduce funding to front line legal services.”

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