MORE than half a million children in Scotland could be at risk if the Conservatives press ahead with cuts to tax credits, according to the shadow Scottish secretary.
Labour’s Ian Murray MP said the move would affect 296,000 families north of the border who receive tax credits, including more than 522,000 children.
Chancellor George Osborne is expected to unveil the cuts in Wednesday’s Budget as he sets out how the UK Government intends to deliver a promised £12 billion reduction in welfare spending.
Mr Murray said: “The coming Tory Budget looks set to hit working families the hardest, at the same time as the Chancellor is refusing to rule out yet another tax cut for millionaires.
“With thousands of families in Scotland struggling from week to week, the absolute last people the Chancellor should target is low-income families, but instead his plans to slash welfare puts nearly 300,000 families, and over half a million children, in Scotland at risk.
“Labour introduced tax credits to lift the incomes of working people and make work pay. It worked. Last week we saw shocking statistics which saw over 200,000 children in Scotland living in poverty - on what planet does slashing tax credits help those kids?
“The Labour government substantially reduced child poverty and made significant progress towards meeting our targets on poverty. Under this Tory government, that process is in danger of going into reverse.”
Mr Murray also called on the SNP to “show the courage of their convictions” on tackling poverty in Scotland, urging the party to back Labour plans to extend the living wage to low-paid workers on public contracts, ban “rip-off” rent rises in the private sector and offer applicants to the Scottish Welfare Fund the option of cash payments.
He said: “Low-income families in Scotland deserve better than a Tory government determined to cut and an SNP government in Edinburgh who are more concerned with the powers Scotland doesn’t have than using the ones it does to help working Scots.”
A UK Government spokeswoman said: “In Scotland, as across the rest of the UK, the proportion of individuals and children in relative poverty are at their lowest levels since the 1980s.
“We know that work is the best route out of poverty, with children in workless families around three times as likely to be in poverty than those in working families.
“That’s why, as part of our long-term economic plan, our reforms to the welfare system are focused on making work pay, while our reforms to the tax system are allowing people to keep more of what they earn.
“With substantial tax-raising powers on the way to the Scottish Parliament, there will be scope to make greater decisions on spending in Scotland, whilst continuing to benefit from sharing the risks and resources with the rest of the UK.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The shocking reality of the UK Government’s austerity agenda has led to unacceptable levels of child poverty in Scotland, with 210,000 children now living in relative poverty after housing costs were paid. These figures are completely inexcusable.
“We believe the UK Government should call a halt to their proposed £12 billion future cuts which will only put more children into poverty.
“In 2013/14, 350,000 families in Scotland relied on tax credits to boost their incomes with 500,000 children benefiting from this support. For this lifeline to be cut will only have a further devastating impact on children.
“Despite challenges from the UK Government, we are tackling poverty head on.
“We have invested £296 million in welfare mitigation measures and around £329 million over two years to expand free early learning and childcare, including extra provision for disadvantaged children, while our work to encourage employers to pay the living wage is also helping to increase income levels in Scotland.
“And have appointed our first independent adviser on poverty and inequality who will be looking at what more we can do to address inequalities.”
Deputy First Minister John Swinney has written to the Chancellor calling for him to use the budget to “focus on measures to boost the recovery, improve productivity and support those in low pay”.