The Coronavirus pandemic has shone a stark light on the failings of our society – not least the fact that the ‘safety net’ many imagined the UK government provided, simply does not exist.
Whilst Westminster has spent years cutting the UK’s welfare system to ribbons, the SNP Scottish Government has invested in building a social security system in Scotland based on dignity, fairness and respect. We once again see a tale of two governments.
The Chancellor must use the upcoming UK budget to follow Scotland’s lead and rebuild the UK social security net as we begin the road to recovery – to ensure a strong and fair recovery for all.
We know what needs to be done – anti-poverty organisations, welfare experts and MPs have repeatedly told UK ministers through reports, letters and heaps of evidence sessions what steps must be taken to tackle the UK’s growing poverty crisis.
If we want to build something better than what we have right now, the UK government must heed the widespread calls, change their political thinking and take action.
🔎 COVID has exposed the deep inequalities under a broken Westminster system.
⚠️ The economy needs a large and targeted stimulus package to support families and businesses, yet the Tories are threatening another decade of austerity. pic.twitter.com/e91eC7agKd
— The SNP (@theSNP) February 24, 2021
The first step to rebuilding that safety net is to make the Universal Credit uplift permanent and extend it to legacy benefits.
At the start of the pandemic the UK government temporarily increased Universal Credit and Working Tax Credits by £20 per week.
Although this was the right thing to do, I use the word ‘increase’ lightly. People out of work today are still £1000 per year worse off compared to 2011 and even before the pandemic, the UN Rapporteur for Extreme Poverty said that poverty in the UK is ‘systematic and tragic’.
The uplift – worth £1040 a year to claimants – is due to be axed by the UK government either in the upcoming Budget or further down the line. This must not happen at all, at any time.
With UK unemployment rising and 6 million people now claiming Universal Credit, it would be devastating for the UK government to proceed with cuts that would plunge 700,000 more people into poverty – 300,000 of which are children.
For UK Ministers to live up to their “nobody should be left behind” narrative it would be unconscionable for them to do anything less than maintain and extend the increase for good.
Making the uplift permanent and extending it to all legacy benefits is the bare minimum that UK ministers should do to make up for their poverty-inducing austerity agenda.
🔥 @alisonthewliss calls on the Chancellor to start providing people with the support they need, rather than spreading panic & chaos.
— The SNP (@theSNP) October 22, 2020
The SNP has campaigned tirelessly for months alongside anti-poverty organisations across Scotland and the UK, and MPs from all parties, for the uplift to be made permanent and extended to the 1.5 million people on legacy benefits.
It is wrong that those on legacy benefits – who are mostly carers and sick or disabled people and have been most at risk during a global health pandemic – have been excluded from this lifeline for almost a year.
Beyond this, the UK government must also scrap poverty inducing policies such as the five-week wait, the two-child cap and the benefit cap, as well as match the “game-changing” Scottish Child Payment, increase and extend Sick Pay and make the Universal Credit system more generous and responsive to people’s needs.
There are now 4.2 million children living in poverty across the UK and hundreds of thousands are relying on foodbanks and struggling to pay essential bills.
If the Chancellor committed to taking these simple steps imagine how many families and children could be lifted out of poverty and into a position where they are able to keep a roof over their heads and feed their children if their circumstances change through no fault of their own.
❌ Under the Westminster system Universal Credit is not enough to stop families falling into debt simply to buy food, heating and clothes.
👨👩👧👦 The Tories refusal to maintain the £20 uplift and extending it to legacy benefits is letting down the most vulnerable families. pic.twitter.com/K5XySvXdNb
— The SNP (@theSNP) January 18, 2021
The UK government must learn from its mistakes and ensure we have a system fit for purpose and fit to support people through any future crisis. An unprecedent emergency requires an unprecedented response.
In contrast to the Tories at Westminster, the SNP Scottish Government has stepped up and used its limited powers to ensure people are paid the money they rely on.
The Scottish Fiscal Commission project that the Child Payment – the Scottish Government’s 7th new benefit – could support up to 173,000 children this year and the Best Start Grants and Best Start Foods has already put at least £46.9 million in the pockets of low-income families.
The Holyrood government also brought in the only type of annual winter heating payment for children in the UK and ensured any benefits it administers is not subject to the callous two-child cap.
This is on top of bringing in the baby box, introducing free university tuition and plugging gaps in the UK government’s coronavirus support.
I desperately hope the Chancellor will match the Scottish Government’s ambition and announce next week that he will take the necessary steps to prevent families from having to choose between paying essential bills and feeding themselves and their children.