Rishi Sunak must reject the Tory policies of the past or cement his legacy as the poverty Chancellor

At the spring budget tomorrow, the SNP and millions of families across Scotland will be expecting the UK government to finally deliver a comprehensive package of support to boost household incomes and tackle the Tory cost of living crisis, which is spiralling out of control.

This Westminster crisis has been a decade in the making and the Chancellor cannot cynically hide behind the war in Ukraine, as the latest excuse for years of Tory failure.

A decade of damaging decisions at Westminster has hammered household incomes, harmed the economy, and caused poverty to soar. Tory austerity cuts, a hard Brexit, and the UK government’s failure to invest in renewable energy has cost our economy billions, increased prices, stagnated wages, decimated social security, and left the UK completely exposed.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine, and rising global energy costs, have only compounded a problem that already had a tight grip on the UK – adding even more fuel to a destructive fire that was lit long ago by the Tory government.

Under the Tories, the UK already had the worst levels of poverty and inequality in north west Europe and the highest levels of in-work poverty this century. That is not a record to be proud of.

Rishi Sunak has become the poverty chancellor. The man who, in the face of growing hardship, chose to slash Universal Credit by £1040, impose a real terms pay cut on pensioners by scrapping the triple lock, and hammered working people by raising National Insurance by 10%.

Under his watch, VAT has also returned to 20% from 12.5%, increasing prices. Couple this with the rising energy bills and businesses are being forced to pass on these additional costs to consumers.

But for every step we take forward, Westminster drags us back. At the same time SNP Finance Secretary Kate Forbes was announcing she would double the Scottish Child Payment to £20 a week, Rishi Sunak was cutting Universal Credit by the same amount robbing families of vital income and cancelling out progress.

As ever, this growing crisis will be hardest on those with the lowest incomes, as highlighted by the ‘Bootstrap Cook’ poverty campaigner Jack Monroe. Families, who are already struggling to make ends meet, spend a higher proportion of their incomes on food and fuel, and many will be forced to choose between paying their bills, heating their homes or putting food on the table.

Instead of delivering a credible plan to tackle this shameful inequality, the Chancellor has pushed more people into poverty by slashing benefits and raising taxes at the worst time.

And it’s not just the poorest who will feel the squeeze. The majority of middle-income families are facing the biggest drop in living standards since the 1970s. Analysis from Citigroup reveals someone on £27,500 will be £800 worse off, while those on £42,000 will be £1,300 worse off.

Instead of preparing another list of excuses, the Chancellor must take his head out of the sand and deliver long-overdue help – scrapping the NI tax hike, reversing the cuts to Universal Credit, matching the Scottish Child Payment UK-wide, introducing a Real Living Wage, and turning his insulting £200 ‘heat now pay later’ loan into a much more generous grant.

And to support those on the lowest incomes, the Chancellor must follow the lead of the Scottish Government who have announced they will increase eight Scottish social security benefits by 6% from 1st April almost double the 3.1% being proposed by the UK government.

If the Chancellor comes to the dispatch box with anything less he will get pelters and drag his reputation even further through the mud.

There is simply no excuse for inaction.

People in Scotland are watching closely. It is now beyond doubt that the ‘fair recovery’ we were promised post-Covid will never happen under Westminster control. By imposing Tory cuts, entrenching poverty and failing to use reserved powers, the Westminster government is making the case for Scottish independence.

If the Chancellor fails to meet the scale of the challenge this week, he will prove yet again that the only way to keep Scotland safe from the damage of Westminster control is to become an independent country, with the full powers needed to build a fairer and more prosperous future.