Women ‘hit hardest by welfare reform’, warn MSPs

Michael McMahon
Michael McMahon

Women are being hit hard on multiple fronts by changes to the benefits system, according to a report published by Holyrood’s Welfare Reform Committee.

The committee found women are disproportionately impacted by welfare reform across a range of issues and benefits.

The committee’s report urged the Scottish Government to make use of new powers over welfare due to come to Holyrood as part of the Scotland Bill.

It recommended an integrated approach to job seeking support across health, housing and social care and measures to close the gender pay gap and end occupational segregation, to reduce the number of women relying on benefits.

The committee also called for an end to the Universal Credit, which brings all benefits into one single monthly payment.

Committee convener Michael McMahon MSP, said: “The evidence we have set out confirms the devastating impact on women of the UK government’s reforms to the social security system. Of particular concern is the cumulative impact on women hit by multiple benefits cuts, from child support to carer’s allowance. The UK government urgently needs to look at how women are being affected by these changes and we are also calling on the Scottish Government to look at the gender impact of their own policy decisions.”

Deputy convener Clare Adamson MSP said: “Our report shows inequalities faced by women in Scotland have been exacerbated by the welfare reform agenda. With the Scotland Bill still making its way through Westminster and the chancellor set to announce even deeper cuts to welfare spending, the committee is urging the Scottish Government to make use of expected new powers over welfare to help mitigate more of the negative impact of welfare reform on women.

“The committee would, for instance, support a move away from monthly and single household payments under Universal Credit, as a way of protecting women’s financial autonomy.”

The committee has previously published evidence showing the impact of welfare reform on parents and disabled claimants as well as lone parents, disabled women and refugees.

A further £12 billion reduction in welfare spending has also been announced, with details expected to be announced by Chancellor George Osborne in Wednesday’s budget.

Scottish welfare minister Margaret Burgess said the Scottish Government was working to help those affected but warned that more women could be pushed into poverty and disproportionately affected by social security reforms.

Mrs Burgess said: “It is alarming to see that women have been disproportionately affected by the UK government’s benefits cuts and are twice as dependent on social security than men. I am deeply concerned that the UK government’s £12bn cuts will only widen this gap.

“With our new powers we will create a fairer and simpler social security system that aims to tackle gender and other inequalities. However we need to know how the UK government’s cost cutting will affect benefits that are to be devolved.”

To coincide with the report Mrs Burgess will meet women at One Parent Families Scotland in Glasgow where she will hear their views on how the Scottish Government can create a Fairer Scotland. This comes on the same day as Barnardo’s Scotland and the Scottish Government joined forces to call a halt to proposed cuts.

She added: “Organisations like One Parent Families Scotland and Barnardo’s Scotland see the effects of social security changes on the groups the report highlights as being particularly vulnerable, on a day to day basis, and are rightly concerned about the devastating impact further cuts could have on children.

“We welcome the committee’s recommendations over Universal Credit and sanctions, and we will continue to do all we can to break down the barriers that prevent women from entering into work.

“Over the next few months we’ll be listening to the people affected by the UK government’s welfare changes and cuts and, will be making sure we get the views of women on how we can create a system that suits their needs.

“Despite challenges from the UK government we are tackling poverty head on. Our new Independent Adviser on Poverty and Inequality will be looking at what more we can do to lift people out of poverty, we have invested £296 million in welfare mitigation measures, extended our childcare and are encouraging employers to pay the Living Wage.”

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