Charities urge UK government to steer away from further welfare cuts
Thirteen of Scotland’s leading charities have appealed to the UK government to find new ways of reducing public spending ahead of £12 billion in additional cuts to the welfare bill in next week’s emergency budget.
The charities, including the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA), Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS), the Poverty Alliance, Shelter Scotland and food bank charity the Trussell Trust, said any further cuts are likely to hit working families, unpaid carers and people with disabilities the hardest.
In a joint letter to The Herald, the voluntary organisations said suggestions such as cutting tax credits would hurt children.
The letter comes ahead of a debate today on the Scotland Bill, and with an emergency budget next Wednesday.
Chancellor George Osborne has yet to detail where he will make the pledged £12bn further cuts to welfare, however it is thought the government has examined options including cutting tax credits, reducing allowances for unpaid carers and taxing disability benefits.
CAS policy manager Keith Dryburgh said: “Our very latest statistics tell us one in every 31 people who comes to a Scottish CAB for advice needs a food parcel. The welfare changes we have seen so far have had a devastating effect on so many families. We are very concerned that any further cuts to social security will only make these people’s situations worse.
“We hope that by co-ordinating this letter, civic society in Scotland is showing MPs how vital the welfare safety net is to their constituents.”
Peter Kelly, director of the Poverty Alliance, said: “Organisations like the Poverty Alliance are concerned not only by the scale but the potential impact of further cuts on people who are already vulnerable.”
Bill Scott, policy director of Inclusion Scotland, added: “Half of the cuts so far have fallen on disabled people and their families. Even if disability benefits aren’t cut directly, disabled people are likely to be hard hit because they are less likely to be in work.”
Welcoming the letter ahead of the debate, Dr Eilidh Whiteford MP, SNP Social Justice spokesperson, said: “This letter points to the real concern there is amongst charities and civic Scotland about just how damaging the next round of welfare cuts will be- they are absolutely right when they say those least able to cope are likely to be hit the hardest.
“Today MPs have an opportunity to strengthen the Scotland Bill so that it lives up to the recommendations of the Smith Commission. This would enable us to shape a fairer future for Scotland’s social security system and bring more welfare decisions and levers to help the economy grow to the Scottish Parliament.”
The letter calls on MPs to consider how the changes will affect Scotland’s social security system and says they should “understand how high the stakes are”.
“Charities, churches and frontline community organisations across Scotland are dealing with the impact of cuts to services and benefits alongside continued fiscal austerity. The UK government’s measures have already cut into the lives of those we serve, both those in work and those not in employment.
“As the House of Commons prepares to debate the Scotland Bill and we await the UK government’s plans on a further £12bn in cuts to social security, we believe it is vital that a better way be found to implement any reductions in public spending that does not impact on the wellbeing of the most vulnerable in society.
“Further cuts to benefits and tax credits are likely to fall on families in work, those providing unpaid care and people with disabilities. Many thousands have already suffered from previous cuts. The UK remains one of the wealthiest countries on the planet, and we are resolutely agreed that children, women, young people, disabled people and those on low incomes should not bear the brunt of the government’s continued spending programme.
“If the axe does fall on tax credits – as signalled by the prime minister last Monday – then without concrete steps to raise the pay rates of the poorest it would mean yet more pain for working families on the lowest incomes. In 2013/14, around 350,000 families in Scotland relied on tax credits to boost their household incomes, including more than 500,000 children. Despite a slight fall in the most recent figures, there are still 210,000 children living in relative poverty in Scotland after housing costs and we are deeply concerned that cutting tax credits risks increasing this shameful figure. It could also force more families to use emergency food aid – further exacerbating an alarming trend which research has found to be linked to recent changes and cuts to benefits. The fact that restrictions to carer’s benefits and cuts to disability benefits do not yet appear to be off the table must also be of concern to all citizens.
“It is hard to see how cutting social security and protection further can be achieved without severely affecting many of those least able to cope. We will continue to stand with the individuals and families whom we support and advocate for on a daily basis. Today, MPs will debate these issues and begin the process of defining the future shape of Scotland’s social security system. It is vital that they understand how high the stakes are.”
Margaret Lynch, CEO, Citizens Advice Scotland; Martin Crewe, director, Barnardos Scotland; John Dickie, director, Child Poverty Action Group Scotland; Sally Foster-Fulton, convener of the Church and Society Council, Church of Scotland; Bill Scott, director of policy, Inclusion Scotland; Satwat Rehman, director, One Parent Families Scotland; Jamie Livingstone, head of Oxfam Scotland; Peter Kelly, director, Poverty Alliance; Martin Sime, CEO, Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations; Graeme Brown, director, Shelter Scotland; Mary Taylor, CEO, Scottish Federation of Housing Associations; Graeme Smith, general secretary, Scottish Trades Union Congress; Ewan Gurr, Scotland Development Officer, Trussell Trust, c/o Citizens Advice Scotland, Spectrum House, 2 Powderhall Road, Edinburgh.