But Wednesday’s debate was scrapped to instead discuss Tory plans to hike up national insurance to fund social care in England.
From October 6, most people receiving Universal Credit will see their incomes slashed by £1,040 per year.
This will be the biggest overnight cut to the basic rate of social security since the foundation of the modern welfare state, impacting millions of families.
In six years, I have never seen such a breadth of opposition to a government proposal. In July six former Secretaries of State for welfare – all Tories – even came out against it.
By definition, those claiming Universal Credit are amongst the poorest in our community. In Edinburgh East, there are currently 9,108 of them. As part of Covid support, the UK government uprated weekly payments from £75 to £95. Now they’re cruelly taking it away.
Everyone’s had a difficult time during the pandemic. Some worse than others. That especially includes those who were made redundant, who were ineligible for the government’s furlough scheme, or those in low-paid, but essential, jobs like shopworkers, carers and delivery drivers. These people kept working throughout, often harder than ever. They have been the heroes helping the rest of us get through this.
Many people in both these categories rely on Universal Credit to top up incomes, pay bills and feed families. For them, the government’s planned cut is a kick in the teeth.
These cuts will happen just as inflation is rising, electricity prices are allowed to soar, and national insurance and VAT are increasing. They will cause pain and hardship.
But this will affect us all indirectly. Poverty hangs like a shroud across our communities. It worsens physical and mental health. It builds pressure on hard-pressed public services. Community solidarity is weakened. Misery increases.
These cuts could also mean up to £10m taken out of the local economy next year in just one constituency. Another major blow to local businesses.
This need not happen. Yes, it costs money to keep the £20 uplift, but only about two per cent of what the government spending on dealing with Covid.
The pandemic’s not over. We have a difficult winter ahead and our health service will be tested again. So why is the government cutting support for some of the poorest people in our communities?
At the same time as the Westminster Tories are slashing working-age benefits, the SNP government has been increasing support for hard-pressed families. They’re trying to tackle child poverty head-on by rolling out the Scottish Child Payment, described as a “game changer” by anti-poverty campaigners.
The Universal Credit cut effectively wipes that out. Unfortunately, our own government cannot change that when around 85 per cent of welfare expenditure remains reserved to Westminster.
Independence is the only way we can ensure we make these decisions for ourselves. It’s the only way we can determine, not just how to support our communities, but a fair and sustainable way of funding them. I, and the other SNP MPs in Westminster, will keep demanding action until the UK government properly supports those who need it most.
Tommy Sheppard is SNP MP for Edinburgh East