'Insult' blast as welfare minister declines visit

A REFUSAL by a UK welfare minister to speak to MSPs about benefit cuts has been branded "insulting."

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A REFUSAL by a UK welfare minister to speak to MSPs about benefit cuts has been branded "insulting."

Esther McVey, UK Employment Minister, was asked to appear before the Scottish Parliament Welfare Reform Committee to discuss benefit sanctions.

The Holyrood Committee is to hear from people directly affected by sanctions later this month and wanted Ms McVey to come in April to answer questions from MSPs.

Ms McVey, however, declined and said her accountability was to Westminster and the UK Government, but offered to meet informally in private and said she was prepared to send an official instead.

Iain Duncan Smith, the architect of the welfare reform, and Lord Freud, who has responsibility for the bedroom tax, have already refused invitations to appear at the committee.

Michael McMahon, Labour MSP committee convener, said the refusal was an insult to those affected by the UK government policies. He said: "UK Ministers fromm other policy areas have been to Holyrood and assisted the work of the Scottish Parliament.

"It seems the exception to this positive relationship is welfare reform, since Esther McVey has sadly chosen to join Iain Duncan Smith and Lord Freud in refusing to give evidence to us in public.

"Worse than this though, her refusal is insulting to the individuals who have taken the time to come here and talk to us about the details of their daily struggles, often at the expense of their own health.

"We still have an invitation out to the Secretary of State for Scotland Alastair Carmichael MP. Perhaps he will be able to speak to us publicly about the policy impacting negatively on so many Scots."

In her reply, Ms McVey said: "As you are aware, Social Security matters are reserved to the UK Government. Therefore my accountabilities as Minister for Employment are first and foremost to the UK Government and parliament."

Jamie Hepburn, SNP MSP, deputy convener of the committee said others were happy to give evidence and Ms McVey had spoken in Scotland on the subject.

He said: "Like Mr Duncan Smith, I notice the Minister has time to address an expensive conference in a four-star Edinburgh hotel on the subject, yet feels there is no imperative for her to give evidence to our Committee.

"In the past few months, the Secretary of State for Scotland Alastair Carmichael MP has given evidence to the Health and Sport Committee on child poverty and Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander MP has given evidence to our Finance Committee and Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee, all in public.

"It seems the UK Government is happy to give evidence on the record at Holyrood unless it is about welfare reform."

Local government

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