Willie Rennie highlights impact of Universal Credit cut

This week, the Scottish Parliament debated the £20 per week cut to Universal Credit that will be hitting already struggling families from tomorrow.

Willie Rennie highlighted the number of families on Universal Credit in the constituencies of Scotland’s Conservative MPs in his speech.

He also set out how some families, affecting up to 8000 children, would lose much more. If their entitlement to Universal Credit is £20 or less, then they lose entitlement to so many other benefits, including the Scottish Child Payment. A briefing from the Child Poverty Action Group explains:

Mhari is 23. She and her partner have a two year old son. Mhari works part-time and her partner works full time at the National Minimum Wage, earning just over £1900 between them. They get £19.45 per week from universal credit (UC) and are entitled to £10 per week Scottish Child Payment. If UC is cut by £20 per week they will lose entitlement to both their UC support and Scottish Child Payment. This means their household income will drop by £1531 per year. They will lose an £18 every four weeks Best Start Foods payment card and they will not be entitled to the Best Start Grant early learning payment, worth £250, when their two year old turns three.

This highlights that for some families the £20 cut to UC will result in a much larger loss in overall household income.

Here is Willie’s speech in full:

Andrew Bowie has 3,620, David Mundell has 6,050, David Duguid has 6,280, John Lamont has 7,150, Alister Jack has 8,190 and Douglas Ross has 6,110. Those are the numbers of families in those politicians’ constituencies who will be directly impacted by the cuts to universal credit. The politicians can stand by and watch that happen to their constituents or they can stand up for them now, make their voices heard and, more important, make their votes count against the cut.

The measure could mean a £1,040 cut to people’s income or 22,000 people being plunged into poverty across the UK, according to the Child Poverty Action Group. The £20 is not a treat; it is a necessity for families, whose costs continue to rise. Their costs have not gone down just because the impact of the virus is potentially waning. Their costs are going up and at such a time they need more support, not less.

The Trussell Trust is right to point out that the move could force 82,000 people in Scotland alone to use food banks, one in four people to skip a meal, one in five to be unable to heat their home and one in five to be unable to get to work. That is especially ironic because, apparently, the cut is designed to get people into work. If they cannot get to work, they will not earn any more money than they are earning now.

The Conservatives seem to be concerned about the cost of the £20 rise to the overall Exchequer, but they have also said that work is the best route out of poverty. If they had any confidence in their multibillion-pound so-called work plan, they would not be cutting universal credit, because if all those people went into better-paid work there would not be a demand on universal credit. Therefore, their plan does not work.

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health has been clear that there is a link between poverty and poor child health outcomes. At the other end of the age scale, Age Scotland is concerned about 106,301 people aged over 50 who are dependent on universal credit. The cut will affect all age ranges.

It is important to recognise that the cut will impact on people who were at the front line of the pandemic, such as cleaners, carers, hairdressers and shop workers. All those people stood up and defended us when we needed people to go out and do their jobs, but the UK Government does not recognise the necessity of providing support for them.

I hope that the Scottish Government responds to Pam Duncan-Glancy’s point about the eligibility criteria, because the minister did not respond specifically to it. Four thousand families in Scotland will lose out on the child payment as a result of the change in eligibility criteria. The Scottish Government needs to step up and make up the difference, because it is important that those families do not lose out as a result.

I hope that Parliament comes together. I hope that the Conservatives on the benches opposite me recognise the errors of the policy, and that, if nothing else, they stand up for all those in their constituencies who I mentioned earlier. The Conservatives should stand up, make their voices heard and show that they care.

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