Derek Mackay urged to set aside £10m for those hit by Universal Credit roll-out

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A £10 million boost for Scots worst hit by the cost living crisis brought about by cuts to Universal Credit is being demanded by Labour ahead of tomorrow’s budget at Holyrood.

The cash injection to the Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP) could double the cash available to those on benefits and struggling to meet housing costs.

Derek Mackay will deliver his budget tomorrow.

Derek Mackay will deliver his budget tomorrow.

Labour is also calling for an extra £20 million for policing to replace the 350 officers lost in the past five years.

Finance Secretary Derek Mackay is putting the finishing touches to his budget which will be unveiled at Holyrood tomorrow.

The call for £10m of extra DHP cash comes amid mounting criticism of the UK government’s roll out of Universal Credit, including concerns over delays of up to six weeks in payments which are pushing more people into rent arrears. Labour’s Housing spokeswoman Pauline McNeill said “more and more people” are facing the possibility of eviction and homelessness.

She said: “Universal credit is not covering basic housing costs for thousands of people. In Scotland, we have the power to make different choices and a £10m increase for Discretionary Housing Payments in the SNP government’s upcoming budget would help protect some of the most vulnerable people in our society.”

The DHP budget is currently split into two parts – bedroom tax mitigation and other. The Scottish Government is already fully mitigating the bedroom tax with £50m budgeted for this purpose in 2018/19, helping over 70,000 households. But the “other” category is used to support people who receive benefits and are struggling to meet their housing costs and has remained static for the last two years at £10.9m.

Social security spokeswoman Shirley-Anne Somerville said: “We are providing the necessary funding in this area because it’s the right thing to do, providing a lifeline for families and individuals already struggling to make ends meet.

“However it is galling that we are spending so much on mitigating the worst effects of UK government cuts and to support those on low incomes - £125m in total this year alone - £20m more than last year.”

Labour’s call to replace the 350 officers comes after it emerged crime is rising in Scotland again, while police officers themselves are reporting that resources are increasingly stretched due to SNP cuts.

The cost of replacing the officers and providing sufficient funding for the police fleet is just £20m, with Labour arguing that each local Authority Scrutiny Board be allocated a portion of that sum to spend on community policing as it sees fit.

Justice Spokesperson Daniel Johnson MSP said: “You cannot keep people safe on the cheap.

“The SNP must stop mimicking Tory austerity and use its budget to reverse its cuts to local policing.”

But ministers insist that over the past decade crime is down 32 per cent, while the proportion of Scottish adults experiencing crime has fallen from around one in five to around one in seven.

A spokesman for justice Secretary Humza Yousaf said: “Police numbers remain high, with more than 900 more officers compared to when Labour was last in power.”