NICOLA STURGEON:

ONE of many strong arguments for Scottish independence is that we would win control of our own welfare system.

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And with a Tory government in Westminster, set on dismantling the welfare state as we know it, we badly need that.

Massive cuts to the benefits budget, coupled with the new Welfare Reform Act, will penalise some of the most vulnerable people in our society. I believe that any decent welfare system should support people into work and make work pay.

No one who is fit and able to work and who has the opportunity of a job should ever be better off on benefits. But I also passionately believe that the welfare system is there to provide a safety net for those who genuinely can't work.

How we look after the vulnerable and the disabled or those who, through no fault of their own, find themselves down on their luck is the mark of a civilised society. But the Tory welfare reforms threaten our reputation for decency and compassion.

The welfare budget is being cut by £2.5billion in Scotland. And the big myth being perpetrated by the Tories is that it is only the feckless work-shy who will be affected.

The truth is very different. Around 170,000 households in Scotland are likely to be worse off as a result of the introduction of Universal Credit and many of them are in work. Save the Children recently told the Scottish Parliament's Welfare Reform Committee that a single mother with two children who works 25 hours a week could end up £52 a week worse off.

Young people – including vulnerable young women – could be forced to give up their homes and move into shared tenancies or lose their housing benefit.

PEOPLE living in houses with an extra bedroom will also lose out, even if the shortage of one-bedroom houses means they can't find an alternative.

And disabled people face losing benefits which they rely on to preserve any semblance of independence.

The irony, of course, is that it doesn't have to be this way. Scotland already pays more than our fair share of the UK welfare bill through taxes.

aS things stand, we have precious little say in what our welfare system looks like.

If Scotland becomes independent that will change. As well as paying for welfare, we will have the opportunity to create a system that is fair, progressive and in tune with Scottish values.

For me, that is a compelling argument for putting these decisions in the hands of our own parliament. I can understand why the Tories don't want that – few of them understand what it's like to live on the poverty line and they want to keep the powers for themselves.

But, I will never understand why Labour politicians prefer to let the Tories run our welfare system than have those powers in the hands of the Scottish Parliament.

In the run up to the referendum, Labour will struggle to explain why they prefer Tory government to self government.

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