CUTS to the grants and benefits given to pregnant women and families in Scotland have been branded a “financial assault on having children”.
An analysis by the Scottish Government of how welfare reforms will affect Scots shows that many could be hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds worse off as a result of cuts already made or yet to come.
And campaigners warned that thousands more children could be plunged into poverty as a result of changes, affecting their health and educational performance.
The Westminster government has defended the welfare changes, saying they were creating a fair and simple system that encouraged people to work.
In its analysis document – Impact of UK Government Welfare Reforms on Families – the Scottish Government details the potential effect of cuts in grants and benefits on those with children. These include the axing of the health in pregnancy grant in 2011, which left expectant mothers £190 worse off, along with the decision to limit the £500 sure-start maternity grant to first-time parents on low incomes.
Recently introduced changes to statutory maternity pay, capping rises to 1 per cent rather than in line with inflation, were said to cost women £275 by 2015-16.
A freeze on child benefit, followed by a 1 per cent cap, also meant that between 2011-12 and 2015-16, a family with two children would be £1,100 worse off, the document said.
As well, changes to who is eligible for child and working tax credits mean households will be, on average, around £700 a year worse off, according to the Scottish Government calculations.
Scottish housing and welfare minister Margaret Burgess said: “Taken together, these changes amount to a concerted and substantial financial assault on having and raising children.
“I find it incredibly frustrating that they are being forced upon Scotland, against the Scottish Government’s will, and against the will of a great deal of Scottish society.”
Ms Burgess said that with independence, the Scottish Government would create its own “fair and decent” welfare system.
John Dickie, chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), said there was no doubt the cuts would affect the welfare of children in Scotland.
“We already know that growing up in poverty means children are at greater risk of health problems,” he said.
“Increasing the depth of that poverty and pushing more children into poverty is inevitably going to have an impact on their health and knock-on effects on their ability to get the most out the school system and education, affecting their long-term life chances as a result.”
Opposition MSPs accused the Scottish Government of hijacking the welfare reforms to forward its independence agenda.
Scottish Labour’s Drew Smith MSP said: “Scots are trapped between two governments with the wrong priorities.”
Scottish Conservative MSP Alex Johnstone, who sits on Holyrood’s welfare reform committee, said: “The fact is, a separate Scotland would not have a single penny more to spend on welfare than the UK currently does, yet it is trying to make political capital out of Westminster’s actions.”
Six of the main cuts in grants and benefits.
Date: January 2011
Benefit: Health in pregnancy grant
Change: One-off grant of £190 abolished.
Financial impact: Expectant mothers £190 worse off.
Date: April 2011
Benefit: Sure-start maternity grant
Change: £500 grant previously available to
low- income applicants for each child now limited to first child only.
Financial impact: Expectant mothers with other children under 16
£500 worse off.
Date: December 2012
Benefit: Statutory maternity pay
Change: Pay uprated by 1 per cent rather than tracking inflation.
Financial impact: By 2015-16 mothers would be about £275 worse off.
Date: April 2011 and April 2014
Benefit: Child benefit
Change: Benefit frozen 2011-12 to 2013-14 instead of rising by inflation. Then 1 per cent uprating 2014-15 and 2015-16 instead of inflation.
Financial impact: Between 2011-12 and 2015-16, estimated a family with two children would receive £1,100 less than if rising by inflation.
Date: January 2013
Benefit: Child benefit
Change: Withdrawn for families where one member earns over £60,000 and reduced for those with one income of £50-60,000.
Financial impact: On average affected households in Scotland to lose around £1,400 a year.
Date: April 2012
Benefit: Child tax credits and working tax credits
Change: Eligibility rules changed, and childcare element of tax credit cut from 80 per cent of childcare costs to 70 per cent.
Financial IMPACT: Estimated households will be on average £700 a year worse off.