Welfare reform 'vital' after referendum date

SCOTLAND must take the opportunity to radically rebuild the welfare system whatever the outcome of the independence referendum, MSPs have been told.

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Either a yes vote and a clean start or a no vote, but with more powers, offer an opportunity which Scotland has to take to reduce economic inequalities according to a Glasgow academic.

Morag Gillespie of Glasgow Caledonian University's Poverty Information Unit said if the system was being devised now no-one would invent what we have.

She told the Scottish Parliament Economy Committee that the UK was one of the most unequal countries in the world whatever definition is used and said major reform was required.

The committee is considering the economic future of Scotland post 2014 and took evidence from anti-poverty campaigners and academics.

Ms Gillespie was asked by SNP MSP Joan McAlpine if Scotland needed independence to reform the welfare state.

Ms Gillespie said: "There is potential with control over more areas whether that's independence or not.

"What wouldn't work is if Scotland had control of social security spending but not other areas.

"There is a danger that certain benefits are devolved but others reserved at UK level. That is chaos and there has to be coherence.

"An independent vote doesn't necessarily mean we will have the things I would like, like an integrated benefits and tax system. It is an opportunity."

She said devolution max with more control of tax and spending, or independence, both offer opportunities.

She added: "If we were all sitting round a table inventing a new system we certainly wouldn't invent the one we have just now.

"There is the potential to sweep everything away and start again whether it is devo max or independence. We have been tinkering at the edges."

Ms Gillespie said there are many ways to define inequality and that's why the United Kingdom can be ranked in various positions in the world in different studies.

However she said: "It is possible for the UK to be in different places. It is consistently at the wrong end of it.

"It is never at the good end, never close to Denmark and Sweden and always closer to the USA and Singapore."

stewart.paterson @eveningtimes.co.uk

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