A DANISH expert on cradle-to-grave welfare services across Scandinavia is to help plan the welfare system of an independent Scotland.
Amid growing support within the SNP for the so-called Common Weal model of a big-state, high-tax Scotland on Nordic lines, Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has appointed Jon Kvist of the University of Southern Denmark to the Government’s expert group on welfare.
A member of the Nordic Horizons project which raises awareness of the Nordic countries in Scotland, Kvist, a professor of comparative social policy, was appointed because of his “particular expertise in comparative welfare state studies and in European social policy analysis”.
He co-edited Changing Social Equality: The Nordic Welfare Model in the 21st Century, which looks at the changing nature of Nordic welfare since the recession began in 2008.
The Nordic welfare system focuses on reducing inequalities in society, and emphasises quality of life as well as income levels.
It implies a bigger role for the state in people’s lives, and is geared to getting people off benefits and into work as their taxes are needed to pay for the welfare system’s high costs.
The Common Weal model suggests such ideas should be imported to make Scotland a healthier, wealthier, fairer and less divided society.
The new expert group, a refreshed version of an earlier group which gave an interim report to ministers in June, will consider the principles, policies, costs and delivery of working- age benefits in an independent Scotland.
Its focus will be Scottish-specific policies to “support people who can work into sustained employment” and “support people who can’t work to participate in society as fully as possible”.
Ministers have made it clear there can be no blank cheque for a new system, with the group told to bear in mind “the economic and fiscal circumstances” and consider potential savings as well as the costs of any new policies, and to suggests how such costs might be met.
The group, originally formed in January to look at how “Scottish values” could make the welfare system fairer, is due to report in spring of next year.
Besides Kvist, Sturgeon has also appointed a prominent member of the Common Weal project to the body, one of five new members to join.
They are Julia Unwin, chief executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Housing Trust; David Watt, head of the Institute of Directors in Scotland; Annie Gunner Logan, director of the Coalition of Care and Support Providers in Scotland; and Ailsa McKay, professor of economics at Glasgow Caledonian University and member of the Common Weal project. It will be chaired by Martyn Evans, chief executive of the Carnegie Trust and a former chief executive of Citizens Advice Scotland, one of the original members appointed in January.
Also staying on are carer Lynn Williams of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations and Mike Brewer, professor of economics at the University of Essex.
McKay recently suggested a specific wealth tax could be levied on the richest Scots and Scottish businesses to help pay for universal childcare provision, helping women back into the workplace.
She said better childcare would not only improve the life chances of children, it would also increase the economic activity of their parents, and boost the status of childcare as a profession.
‘Welfare debate is welcome’
THE updated and enlarged Scottish Government expert group on welfare offers some intriguing clues to the SNP’s evolving tactics in the referendum campaign.
The original four-member group announced in January – rapidly expanded to five to correct the omission of a female contributor – is now eight strong as it gets down to its detailed work on the principles, policies, costs and delivery of a Scottish welfare system in the event of a Yes vote next year.
It will be limited to examining working-age benefits, meaning pensions, which account for around half of all welfare spending, are the subject of separate work.
But it is a welcome development.
The most obvious change is the inclusion of an academic from overseas. Professor Jon Kvist, of the University of Southern Denmark, is an expert on the welfare systems found in the Nordic countries, which try to reduce inequality by addressing people’s sense of well-being as well as their incomes.
Also included is Glasgow-based economist Ailsa McKay, a leading light in the Common Weal project promoted by the Jimmy Reid Foundation to help shape a wealthier and fairer Scotland.
Taken alongside growing interest in the Common Weal in the SNP hierarchy, the appointments signal a move towards a vision of an independent Scotland on the Nordic model.
They also suggest a key argument of the SNP’s campaign will be that only independence can save the welfare state and a free-to-use NHS from Westminster cuts.
As Nordic systems are funded by high taxes, it will not be an easy pitch to voters, but it should lead to the overdue, big debate about the nation we want to be.