Church of Scotland in plea to Chancellor over benefits reform

Philip Hammond. Picture: Getty
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The Church of Scotland has called on Chancellor Philip Hammond to use tomorrow’s Budget to combat poverty by halting the rollout of controversial Universal Credit reforms and ending the benefits freeze.

Church of Scotland convener Reverend Dr Richard Frazer has written to the Chancellor asking him to spare families the “life altering consequences” of poverty as a result of having to rely on benefits.

Rev Dr Frazer called on Mr Hammond to “ensure that the poorest communities do not suffer disproportionately and are not made to bear a greater burden than was originally intended” through reforms to the benefits system.

The government is under growing pressure from across the political spectrum, including within the Conservative Party, to slow down the introduction of Universal Credit in the wake of concerns about how the new benefit is designed.

Charities say thousands of people in pilot areas have been forced into rent arrears and have been left with little to eat because of a minimum six-week delay to initial payments. Reports suggest the government is considering cutting this to four weeks.

In his letter, Dr Frazer also called for an increase to the social fund funeral payment to support those who struggle with the cost of burying loved ones.

“Looking forward we understand that the outcome of the Brexit negotiations will have significant implications for the UK’s economy, and that present levels of uncertainty are already having a direct impact,” he wrote.

“During such times of significant transition, those who are already on the margins of society, particularly those experiencing poverty, are liable to be negatively impacted.

“We would therefore urge you to consider this and ensure that the budget makes provision for responding to this potential for harm.”

More support for renewable energy schemes to reduce the threat of global warming should also be included in the budget, the Church of Scotland said.

Mr Hammond is coming under pressure from motorists not to raise tax on petrol and diesel in tomorrow’s Budget. Campaign group FairFuelUK said that more than 30,000 supporters had e-mailed the Chancellor over 48 hours with a plea for him not to hit families “struggling to make ends meet”.

Speculation is growing that tomorrow’s Budget will include some relief for Police Scotland and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service.

Responding to calls from the SNP to exempt Scottish emergency services from VAT, a joint letter from Scottish Conservative group at Westminster stated: “While the SNP continue to grandstand and play politics, the Scottish Conservatives are working hard with the UK government to ensure the best deal for everyone in Scotland.”

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