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Leaving the UK and keeping UK welfare doesnt add up

It is not credible for Scotland to leave the UK family, keep the welfare system, but change the welfare policies, Michael Moore said today.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government


The Secretary of State for Scotland was speaking after the Scottish Government backed proposals for maintaining an interim UK-wide welfare system even if Scotland votes for independence next year.

The Scottish Secretary said that choosing independence would be a decision to leave the UK and people here in Scotland are under no illusions about the real consequences of that decision.

Mr Moore was particularly critical of the Scottish Government’s self-defeating position that it would want to retain the UK welfare system but only if they could implement separate policies from the start.

He also expressed disappointment that the Scottish Government has made clear neither the principles nor the mechanism for delivering its policy of a fully separate welfare system in the longer term.

Michael Moore said:

‘It seems that time and again we wait for the Scottish Government to unveil one of their main building blocks of an independent Scotland only for questions to emerge where answers should be.

‘It is just not credible when the supporters of independence tell us that by leaving the UK we would retain everything we wanted – with specific requests granted by the rest of the United Kingdom.

‘The Scottish Government seem to have their heart set on the impossible. They want to leave the UK and keep the UK welfare system. But they only want to keep the UK welfare system if they can insist upon immediate policy changes. I think most people in Scotland will regard this as a self-defeating contortion.

‘It is deeply disappointing that the Scottish Government has passed up on another opportunity to spell out what sort of welfare system an independent Scotland would have and how it would be funded.

‘Independence means that Scotland leaves the UK. Independence means that we lose automatic membership of the EU. Independence means that Scotland alone would assume the risks and costs associated with welfare spending and demographic challenges in Scotland. That is, after all, what John Swinney told the Scottish Government’s Cabinet.’

Independence and Welfare – facts and analysis

Welfare spending in Scotland and the demographic challenge:

  • Excluding overseas pensions and benefits, welfare spending per head of population in 2011/12 was £3,285 in Scotland. The rest of UK was £3,200. This equates to roughly £450 million per year of extra benefit spending in Scotland.

  • Scotland currently gets 3% more in welfare and pension spending per head than the rest of the UK, worth almost half a billion pounds extra a year.

  • There are over 10,000 civil servants working for DWP and its agencies in Scotland.

  • There are currently 32 working age people supporting every 10 pensioners in both Scotland and the UK overall. By 2060 this is expected to fall to 26 working age people per 10 pensioners in the UK, with a bigger fall in Scotland to 23 working age people per 10 pensioners.

Independence and keeping the UK welfare system:

  • The legal position is clear, a vote to leave the UK is a vote to leave its institutions – that includes the Department of Work and Pensions and the critical benefits and pensions services it provides. That’s part of the choice that people in Scotland are being asked to make.

  • The system and the policies go hand in hand. So if the Scottish Government want to radically change welfare policies under independence, then they need to explain how they would make that work.

  • Running a system that serves millions of people is complex. It’s much more than just bricks and mortar, it’s the policies you choose to put at the heart of it, the set of IT systems designed to deliver those policies and the staff you need to run it.

  • Having UK Government employees in Scotland delivering a UK welfare system is not the same as Scotland having the infrastructure to deliver a separate welfare system. For example, there is only one set of IT systems and they belong to the UK Government and they will continue to be designed to deliver UK priorities.

  • Any bid by the Scottish Government to make use of these systems would have to be negotiated with and agreed by the UK Government and the potential impact of catering for a separate state would need to be taken into account.

  • The only way to be sure of keeping the pound, the institutions of the UK and the many other benefits it brings is to vote to keep the UK together.

Published 11 June 2013