Kezia Dugdale: In less than 50 days, Tories will make the poor worse off
THERE aren't many policies so unpopular they can unite a former Labour Prime Minister, a former Tory Prime Minister, the SNP and the Lib Dems.
But that’s what Universal Credit has done, with the Conservative Government facing a backlash comparable to the introduction of the poll tax by Margaret Thatcher.
Sir John Major and Gordon Brown have both warned of the catastrophic impact on families, and Theresa May is now facing a huge backbench revolt.
In less than 50 days, Universal Credit is due to be fully rolled-out in Edinburgh. As Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey has admitted, that means families across the capital will be worse off, in some cases by thousands of pounds.
Half of lone parents and about two thirds of working-age couples with children face losing the equivalent of £2,400 a year.
In total, there are more than 22,000 families in Edinburgh who receive Child or Working Tax Credits. Universal Credit is replacing these tax credits, as well as other benefits.
What on Earth have these people done to deserve being left to fend for themselves with less money for food or energy bills?
As I said on the BBC’s Question Time show last week, the Tories want to save money on the backs of the poor. Shame on them.
If we go back to the start, the concept of Universal Credit was a sound one: a way to streamline the benefits system. It was intended to remove the cliff edge of the previous system which meant if you worked more than 16 hours-a-week you lost your benefits. Work should always pay.
But the problem is that former Chancellor George Osborne, when he was in charge of the purse strings, decided to take an axe to the welfare budget.
He was forced into a rethink on cuts to the tax credits system, but the cuts to the Universal Credit budget remained in place.
On Question Time, Tory MP Ross Thomson was put in the unfortunate position of having to defend the policy. He said Universal Credit will “get people back into work”. There’s one huge problem with that, Ross. Most folk on Universal Credit are already in work.
In fact, only just over 6,000 of the families on tax credits in Edinburgh are out-of-work. The vast majority are people who work hard every week, but need a helping hand to make ends meet. Now they face having to stop off at a food bank after finishing work because they are struggling to feed their children.
And anyone on Universal Credit below 37-hours at the National Living Wage has to look for more hours, more work, or higher pay – or risk sanctions. The roll-out of Universal Credit must be halted. Urgently.
There must be a root-and-branch review of the system, and it’s quite possible that Universal Credit may ultimately need to be scrapped. It’s premature to say that, however, until we have an alternative idea in place.
No political party has managed to put anything forward yet.
We must also look at ways to use Holyrood’s powers to improve the welfare system. Yes, we can be angry with the failings of this current Westminster Government, but anger isn’t going to help families who are losing money. Action is. I have long championed a £5 weekly top-up to Child Benefit in Scotland, which would lift up to 30,000 children out of poverty, including thousands in Edinburgh. Nicola Sturgeon isn’t interested.
It’s no good to just voice concerns about poverty; we need deeds not words.
As for the Tories, they are making wild claims that the era of austerity is over.
For thousands of families from Leith to Linlithgow, from Dalmeny to Dalkeith, it’s just about to get even worse.