Page last updated at 18:53 GMT, Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Universal benefits debate 1

Health Secretary Alex Neil told MSPs universal benefits and services, like free personal care for the elderly, free prescriptions free eye checks and concessionary travel, were the "bedrock of supporting Scots to lead healthy and independent lives" on 13 November 2012.

Mr Neil said Labour had to come forward with actual policy decisions on the future of benefits before a proper debate can be had.

"There has been reference made to 'something for nothing'," he said.

"When you look at the older generation in particular, who benefit from concessionary fares, who benefit from free personal nursing care, to say that is 'something for nothing' is absurd."

Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont said the "reality" of policies such as free personal care for the elderly is different to the SNP's description of them.

Ms Lamont said: "If you want good public services that people can rely on, that our older people are not isolated and in fear, we need to stop sloganising and start working together about the consequences of the decisions that are being made."

In a fixed budget, choices must be made between competing sets of "good policies", she said.

She suggested that taxes would have to rise or services will be cut to maintain expensive SNP pledges on areas such as the council-tax freeze, universal prescriptions, eye tests, tuition fees and bus travel.

Gavin Brown, the Conservative finance spokesperson, said universal services came into being when the country was "awash with cash" but now we "have to make choices and focus on priorities".

Mr Brown said it was extremely important to look at both the costs and the benefits of universal services.

One saving could be made by raising the age for free concessionary travel to 65 for those still in work, which would save £34m "which is not to be sneezed at" he said.

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