Scottish budget faces demand for more money to mitigate Westminster welfare cuts

While calling for the devolution of welfare powers, the Scottish Unemployed Workers Network says more can be done by the Scottish Government

  • The first phase budget debate will take place at Holyrood on 31 January
  • While acknowledging welfare cuts are the “product of Westminster austerity”, the SUWN are calling on the Scottish Government to do more
  • SUWN also criticise the “hypocrisy” of Scottish Labour in calling for more money to mitigate cuts after having fought against the devolution of welfare

THE Scottish Unemployed Workers Network (SUWN) are calling on the Scottish Government to make more money available to mitigate “brutal” welfare cuts, and will rally outside of the Scottish Parliament on the day of the first phase budget debate this week, following the presentation of a SUWN petition on the issue.

In a statement released yesterday [27 January] on the SUWN website, the campaign group reiterates its long-held argument “that the cuts are the product of Westminster austerity”, and acknowledges “the significant help the Scottish Government already gives.”

But, the SUWN argued, “that doesn’t mean that they should not help further. If they [the Scottish Government] abandon the poorest members of our society to destitution, they have no right to our respect.”

Noting the limitations of Scottish powers over welfare, the SUWN statement continued: “We are ready to believe that if Scotland had control over welfare, the situation would be much improved; but Scotland does have the power to provide more help where it is most needed, and the power to raise money through more progressive taxation to pay for this without making cuts elsewhere.

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“The Scottish Government has shown that they are prepared to set different tax rates from the rest of the UK, but so far, the differences have been very small, and earlier promises to replace Council Tax with a fairer system have been left to gather dust.”

The SUWN also highlights what it describes as the “hypocrisy” of Scottish Labour for also demanding that the Scottish Government do more to mitigate welfare cuts, “when it was Labour that ensured that welfare was not devolved.”

However, SUWN say, “this should not be a reason to reject further mitigation and play politics with people’s lives.”

The SUWN noted that the Scottish Government’s own Social Security Committee recommended an increase in the Scottish Welfare Fund as Universal Credit increases the pressure on many of the poorest, while “desperate” homeless families have demanded that the funding for Discretionary Housing Payments is increased to make up for the “financial devastation” brought on by the Benefit Cap.

“If the Scottish Government is serious in claiming to treat people with ‘dignity, fairness and respect’, it must respond to these calls,” the SUWN argued.

Predicting potential counter-arguments, the SUWN statement recalls that their previous attempts to raise these matters have often been met with “knee-jerk responses” suggesting that “because the cuts originate in Westminster it is not the Scottish Government’s job to take action.”

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“If anyone – including MSPs – is tempted to make such arguments, perhaps they should first imagine themselves saying this to one of the 465 Scottish households a day who are only kept afloat thanks to a Trussel Trust food parcel,” the SUWN statement concluded.

At present, the Scottish Government is committed to a £125 million investment to mitigate the worst impact” of Tory welfare reforms on those hit hardest.

It was reported earlier this month that Scotland’s new Social Security agency has already spent £34 million in the form of over 150,000 payments of Carers Allowance Supplement and Best Start Grants, with applications for the latter opening only in December 2018.

This followed the annual Welfare Reform report, which last October found that the UK Government’s drive to reduce welfare will by 2020/21 reduce social security spending in Scotland by £3.7 billion since 2010. 

The report has also found that Universal Credit claimants are over six times as likely to be sanctioned as claimants of any other legacy benefit.

READ MORE: ‘We want to see a fightback’: Protests greet Edinburgh Universal Credit roll-out

Commenting on these findings, Social Security Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said at the time: “As ever it is the poorest and most vulnerable in our society who are suffering the most, those out of work and those in low paid employment finding their benefits effectively being cut year after year.    

“The Scottish Government is doing what we can to protect people on lower incomes by, this year alone, investing over £125 million on mitigation measures - £20 million more than last year – and an additional £350 million for Council Tax Reduction.”

The Scottish Government may face defeat in this week’s first vote on the budget, following the Scottish Greens’ announcement that it would vote against the budget unless more money is allocated for councils. Both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats have ruled out doing a deal to support the budget unless the Scottish Government rules out the possibility of a second independence referendum.

The SUWN demonstration will take place at 1pm, 31 January, outside the Scottish Parliament building.

Picture courtesy of Helen Cobain

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