UK welfare minister Iain Duncan Smith has refused to appear before MSPs at Holyrood to answer questions about his radical reform programme. Members of the welfare reform committee said they were extremely disappointed. The Scottish Parliament has no powers to compel UK government ministers to attend its committees.
The changes to welfare will see housing benefit, jobseekers allowance and child and working tax credit merged into one new universal benefit.
They will also lead to the creation of a new personal independence payment rather than disability living allowance. It is estimated that 100,000 people north of the border could be affected by the plans.
Last year Holyrood refused to implement the parts of the reforms that impacted on devolved services like care, free travel and school meals.
The Scottish Parliament’s welfare reform committee is now planning to write to Mr Duncan Smith, who is the coalition’s work and pensions secretary, and urge him to review his decision.
Committee convener Michael McMahon said: “Our committee is clear that the UK government needs to answer the questions that we have and those raised with us by witnesses.
“It is our job as a Scottish Parliament committee to scrutinise the implementation of welfare reform and passported benefits in Scotland. To do this without input from the responsible secretary of state is difficult indeed.
“We are extremely disappointed at the lack of co-operation shown by Mr Duncan Smith, particularly in light of his previous public commitments to engage.”
The committee also revealed that Atos – the company which is carrying out the controversial new benefits assessments – has refused to give evidence.
However, it will submit written evidence and has invited committee members to visit its Edinburgh assessment centre.
It has been agreed that a small group of members will visit the centre and report back to the committee.
The role of the welfare reform committee, which was set up in January 2012, is to keep under review the passage of the UK Welfare Reform Act 2012 and monitor its implementation as it affects welfare provision in Scotland.