Last week, the headlines were focused on the Chancellor and his autumn Budget. Philip Hammond used his speech to declare that “austerity is coming to an end,” but it turns out that only half of the cuts to Universal Credit work allowances are being reversed, and the Westminster government will continue with their contentious two-child cap on tax credits.
This month will see the controversial Universal Credit scheme rolled out across our city. The new system – which has been condemned by charities and trusts across the country – merges six benefits into one, and will come into effect in Edinburgh on 28 November.
Universal Credit has been blighted by problems from the very start. All claimants have to wait a minimum five weeks before their first payment – with many having to wait for much longer. These delays are causing real hardship, with families being forced to use food banks and falling behind with their rent.
In really shocking evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Social Security Committee, MSPs were told about a young boy in Glasgow who was so hungry he was mixing ketchup sachets with hot water to make soup before a concerned teacher referred his family to a food bank. It’s a tragic case, and one which should shock us all. Nobody should be living like this in one of the most developed and wealthiest countries in the world. But that is the sad reality of Tory welfare cuts.
Charities and food banks – those who deal with the victims of welfare cuts first hand – are clearly worried about the potential impact of Universal Credit. Earlier this year it was reported that food bank use in Scotland had hit a record high and cited Westminster’s benefits cuts as a major reason for this rise.
Edinburgh City Council expect to lose £9million in unpaid rent over the next five years due to the system – money which should be spent on delivering public services in the city.
This cruel policy means that families across Scotland are being forced to make the stark choice between paying their rent and feeding their children. It’s callous, heartless and clearly a broken system. The UK government should halt the rollout of Universal Credit, and fix its fundamental flaws.
After a recent debate in parliament on poverty and inequality, one of my Conservative colleagues came under fire for defending Westminster’s two-child cap. The Tory MSP said that “it is fair that people on benefits cannot have as many children as they like” while those in work “have to make decisions” on this. As well as ignoring the fact many people on tax credits and Universal Credit are of course working, this ignores the basic tenet we should not be putting a cap on our children and the two child limit is a policy which simply should not exist. Any of us could who have three or more children, and due to illness or redundancy have to rely on tax credits, yet would be subject to the cap. That is devastating and will risk pushing 150,000 Scottish children into poverty – and I cannot stand for that.
The UK government had a real chance to call a halt to a number of their harmful welfare policies last week, but not taking that opportunity means that thousands more people will face real hardship and financial difficulty over the Christmas period. Unfortunately, it seems that austerity is not over – it has simply been recast. But it’s still austerity for all that and – as ever – the poorest will bear the cost.
This article was first published in the Edinburgh Evening News.