By David Clegg
CAMPAIGNERS heckle Tory Minister in Edinburgh as he attempts to defend savage Con-Dem welfare cuts.
DISABLED Scots today hijacked a speech in Scotland by Tory axeman Iain Duncan Smith.
The Work and Pensions Secretary was defending his welfare cuts at an event in the George Hotel in Edinburgh when he was ambushed by campaigners.
The speech was interrupted twice by protesters who had sneaked into the building.
As the Work and Pensions Secretary began his address, one protester demanded:
“Why are you here in Scotland? We have a different philosophy. We’ve not elected you and your Tory cohorts.”
Referring to the fact there are two giant pandas in Edinburgh Zoo while Scotland has just one Conservative MP, the man added:
“We don’t want you, we don’t need you. We’ve got more pandas than you. You’ve only got one MP.
“We want a different Scotland, one that cares for people who are in distress and poverty.
“You are going to make millions of people homeless, people that desperately need help.
“You’re making the rich richer and the poor poorer.
“You are creating your new poll tax, that’s what you’re going to do. We’re going to see the end of you, back to England where you belong.”
Willie Black, from the North Edinburgh Fights Back campaign group, branded the former Tory leader a “ratbag”.
Minutes later, two disabled Scots stood up and began heckling Duncan Smith.
Sasha Callaghan and Cameron McKay accused him of demonising disabled people.
Shocked delegates in the audience watched in silence as Duncan Smith attempted to carry on with his speech for several minutes while the pair continued to shout over him.
“Why don’t you talk to us, not about us.”
As the pair shouted at Duncan Smith, he told them:
“If you listen to what I am saying, you will understand the reality is that this country is not cutting welfare, it is managing the growth at a lower level.”
Police and conference security then escorted the pair out of the building.
Duncan Smith insisted that the welfare system has a key role in “providing effective support for the most vulnerable and helping those who have fallen on hard times to get back on their feet”.
He said: “This Government, I believe, is on the side of a welfare that does just that.”
One of the more controversial changes being introduced is cutting the housing benefit of tenants in council and housing association properties if they are deemed to have spare bedrooms.
This cut has been dubbed the bedroom tax by the UK Government’s opponents.
Duncan Smith said: “I’m not saying that ending the spare room subsidy will not present difficult cases.”
He claimed the Government have allocated an extra £370million in discretionary housing payments to local authorities, including £10million to councils in Scotland, to help manage that transition.
Duncan Smith added: “These are changes that you simply can’t walk away from. These are changes that are required to get the housing system back into balance.
“We all benefit from having a safety net to fall back on in hard times but, equally, when welfare doesn’t work we all also feel it.”
According to Duncan Smith, 4.5 million people of working age, including 450,000 in Scotland, are “trapped” on out-of-work benefits.
Across the UK, 3.7 million households are workless, of which 367,000 are in Scotland, and 1.8million children are in households where no one is in work, including 145,000 youngsters in Scotland.
This is a “tragic waste of human potential”, he said.
“As well as the social cost, I think we must also acknowledge this entrenched dependency weighs heavily on the public purse. Across the UK, we spend over £200 billion annually on benefits, tax credits and pensions.”
The Tory minister also used his speech to say that an independent Scotland could have an impact on state pensions in Scotland.
He added: “Across the UK, our ability to support those in retirement is something we should be proud of. By shouldering the responsibility on broad shoulders, even in difficult times, the coalition has been able, I believe, to pledge support for UK pensioners right now.”
But Scotland in future would have fewer working-age people supporting pensioners. Currently, there are 32 working-age people supporting every 10 pensioners both in Scotland and the UK as a whole, he said.
In Scotland, it is forecast that just 23 workers will support every 10 pensioners by 2060, he said.
This could result in, “roughly, an enormous 20 per cent increase in Scotland’s welfare spending”.
Duncan Smith claimed: “Extra money will be required to meet Scotland’s demographic pressures, although oil and gas revenues are projected to decrease significantly over the next decade. The question simply remains: higher taxes or more borrowing?”
Earlier around 100 protesters had gathered outside the hotel.
They were campaigning against welfare cuts, fit-for-work tests carried out by French firm Atos and the Con-Dem’s “workfare” programme.
Signs brandished by campaigners included:
“I’d rather have IBS than IDS.”
Also speaking at the event was Scottish Housing and Welfare Minister Margaret Burgess.
She said the UK Government will
“plough on regardless”
with welfare reforms
“in the full knowledge of the impact it will have on our most vulnerable citizens”.
Cuts in child tax credit and working tax credits last year hit 110,000 families in Scotland, while others have been hit by changes to child benefit.
“What is clear is that these changes are impacting significantly on individuals and hard-working families who are already struggling to make ends meet.”
She also criticised the “unfair” changes to housing benefit and called for control over this to be devolved to Scotland.
Referring to the bedroom tax, which comes in from Monday, Burgess said:
“In five days’ time, we will see this one-size-fits-all reform introduced to working-age households across Scotland, regardless of disability, family circumstances, economic conditions or availability of smaller houses.
“The Scottish Government has been consistently clear in its opposition to this policy. It is unfair and divisive. It will hit some of our most vulnerable groups hardest.”
“just another example of the vacuum between UK housing benefit policy and Scottish Government housing policy”,
While housing is devolved to Scotland, housing benefit is reserved for Westminster.
“They have to be in the same administration, and I think it should be here in Scotland.”