BORIS Johnson has defended his government’s £1,040-a-year benefit cut for struggling families on the eve of his speech to the Tory conference.
The Prime Minister said ending the £20-a-week uplift in Universal Credit (UC) was needed to avoid people paying more in tax in order to fund welfare payments.
The uplift, which ends today, was started by Chancellor Rishi Sunak in March 2020 as a temporary step during the pandemic.
However opposition parties and charities say thousands of families without work or on low pay now depend on it and face poverty if it ends amid the cost-of-living crisis.
Mr Sunak last week announced a £500m hardship fund for those in need this winter, but critics say this is paltry next to a £6bn cut in UC.
Around 410,000 people in Scotland benefit from UC, and the end of the uplift is expected to push 20,000 children into poverty.
The charity Save the Children said that across the UK’s 3.5m UC recipients, once child would be affected every second as the cut was phased in over the coming month.
The SNP last night cited the cut as it accused the Mr Johnson of being the the most hostile Prime Minister towards Scotland since Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s.
Defending the UC change yesterday, Mr Johnson said the £500m hardship fund, an increase in childcare provision, an increase in the local housing allowance and a warm homes discount would people struggling this winter.
He added: “What we won’t do is take more money in tax to subsidise low pay through the welfare system.”
SNP Westminster Leader Ian Blackford said: “For all the bluster and empty rhetoric, Boris Johnson cannot escape the fact that his Tory government has plunged the UK into crisis and left millions of families poorer and worse off.
“People are struggling to heat their homes, to get fuel for their cars and are becoming alarmed by empty shelves in supermarkets as winter approaches.
“Boris Johnson is more hostile to Scotland than any Prime Minister since Margaret Thatcher – showing a contempt for Scottish democracy and complete indifference to the suffering that the Tories’ cruel policies are inflicting on ordinary Scots.”
Ian Murray, the sole Scottish Labour MP, said: “The Tories are inflicting untold damage on communities with this disgraceful cut as the PM laughs about it.
“There was never any justification for this – but it is all the more dangerous to press ahead with these plans as a cost of living crisis hits.
“The Tories have given up any pretence of caring about the most vulnerable in our society. “This cut will go down in history as a particularly shameful act from a cruel and uncaring government on working people.”
Labour MSP Pam Duncan-Glancy, her party’s social security spokesperson at Holyrood, added: “This increase to Universal Credit was a lifeline for families struggling to make ends meet. Even by the Tories’ standards, the decision to scrap it is catastrophic.
“We can and must take a different path in Scotland – but it will require real ambition from the SNP.
“Both governments should be pulling out every stop to fight poverty. With the Tories intent on this heartless approach, it is more urgent than ever that the SNP put their money where their mouth is and use the powers we have to transform lives.”
Green MSP Maggie Chapman said: “As household energy bills soar, national insurance is hiked, and runaway inflation means prices are outstripping wages it is shameful that Boris Johnson’s government has chosen this moment to inflict the largest cut to social security since the welfare state began.
“At a conference sideshow this weekend Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross laughingly claimed that his is the party of the working class. He has previously claimed they are the party of “family values”. Well, they’ve got a funny way of showing it. This ideological attack on Scotland’s working class will plunge thousands more working-class families into extreme poverty. Scotland can, and must, choose a different path.”
Derek Mitchell, chief executive of Citizens Advice Scotland, urged people to seek advice as the uplift was withdrawn.
He said: “Increasing the value of Universal Credit at the beginning of the pandemic was the right thing to do and was a lifeline for millions of people across the UK and around half a million people in Scotland.
“Our fear is reducing the value of these payments will push lots of people into impossible financial choices in the coming weeks and months. This is particularly worrying as energy bills have increased and prices have risen in the shops. It’s a perfect storm for people.
“Anyone worried about money, bills or their income can get help from the Citizens Advice network, whether that’s a local CAB, our online advice pages or our money map tool. Our advice is free, confidential and impartial and has helped unlock £147 million for people during the pandemic.”
Helen Barnard, of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said: “Today the Prime Minister has imposed the biggest ever overnight cut to social security. It makes a mockery of his mission to level up. Despite overwhelming opposition, he is ploughing ahead with a cut which fundamentally undermines the adequacy of our vital social security system as we face a cost-of-living crisis.”
Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said the Government had ignored warnings and said the cut “contradicts the Government’s promise to level up”.
She said: “This step shows the Government is out of step with the rising cost of living for low-income families.
“Poverty creates concrete barriers to learning and we can’t rely on school improvement as the only strategy to address poverty.”
Rachel Harrison, GMB national officer, told the PA news agency: “Our care workers risked everything to keep our loved ones alive during the pandemic.
“The reward for many is to have their in-work benefits slashed by £20 a week.
“It’s a callous, cruel move from a chancellor who has no concept of the challenges working people face.”
Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union, told PA: “The scrapping of the Universal Credit uplift is a scandalous decision driven by an ideological opposition to supporting the most vulnerable in society.
“Unemployed and low-paid workers both need access to Universal Credit to make ends meet and by removing the uplift thousands will be plunged into dire poverty, with people having to potentially choose between food and heating their homes this winter.
“There needs to be a fundamental overhaul of the social security system where no-one is left behind, regardless of their circumstances.”
A Government spokesman said: “We’ve always been clear that the uplift to UC was temporary.
“It was designed to help claimants through the economic shock and financial disruption of the toughest stages of the pandemic, and it has done so.
“Universal Credit will continue to provide vital support for those both in and out of work and it’s right that the Government should focus on our Plan for Jobs, supporting people back into work and supporting those already employed to progress and earn more.”