Nicola Sturgeon has pledged to introduce measures to replace money lost by working families in Scotland through the UK government’s cuts to tax credits, but refused to confirm she would top up the full amount of benefits lost.
The first minister told Holyrood on Thursday she would introduce “real, credible, affordable” plans to mitigate the expected cuts in working families tax credit by the UK government, in an effort to matchScottish Labour’s pledge to restore the lost benefits, made by its leader, Kezia Dugdale, last weekend.
Sturgeon’s commitment came after her social justice minister, Alex Neil, was forced to admit on Wednesday that, despite his denials earlier that day, the Scottish government would be able to use Holyrood’s new tax and welfare powers to top up lost tax credits.
His change of stance – described as a “ludicrous U-turn” by opposition parties – came after David Mundell, the Scottish secretary, tabled amendments to the Scotland bill in the Commons confirming that these powers would be available to Holyrood. Neil had earlier told MSPs that Holyrood was powerless to act.
But Sturgeon sidestepped three questions from Dugdale and her frontbench spokeswoman Jackie Baillie, asking whether the Scottish government would reinstate every family’s full entitlement to tax credits, with about 350,000 families affected in Scotland.
In answer to each question, the first minister insisted that, like her government’s full repayment of lost bedroom tax benefits, her plans would “be credible and deliverable”, without confirming every pound lost would be repaid.
Speaking at first minister’s questions, Sturgeon said her first priority would be to block the cuts to tax credits from ever happening – accusing Labour of failing to vote against them in the Commons last month.
“We will keep up the pressure on the Tories to drop these cuts altogether,” she said, suggesting that Dugdale had given up that fight by promising to repay them.
The Scottish Labour leader had said she would pay for those £440m costs in part by refusing to implement Scottish National party plans to abolish air passenger duty (APD), which will cost taxpayers £250m.
Sturgeon accused Dugdale of putting forward “back-of-a-fag-packet proposals” to meet the full costs of abolition of the tax credit. She goaded her opponent by pointing out that Dugdale had said the funds from keeping APD would be invested in education during a magazine interview published days before she announced it would go on tax credits.
The Scottish Labour leader said Sturgeon’s refusal to confirm that every penny lost would be made up was illuminating about her policy priorities. There were 6,000 families in the first minister’s Glasgow Southside constituency who faced losing tax credits who needed “a bit more than vague assurances”, Dugdale said.
“We have made a choice,” Dugdale added. “We know it’s affordable. We’ve costed it at its most expensive and we know any concessions from the chancellor will only reduce that cost. And we think it’s more important than a multimillion-pound plan to reduce the costs of airline tickets.”
This article was written by Severin Carrell Scotland editor, for theguardian.com on Thursday 5th November 2015 14.30 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010