On Thursday 7th September, MSPs from across the Chamber, with the exception of the Scottish Tories, joined to condemn the shambolic roll-out of Universal Credit and call on the UK Government to halt the process.
Reminiscent of their conduct during the debate on the UK Tory Government’s two child cap and rape clause, the few Tory members present were visibly uncomfortable and unusually quiet – and refused either to take, or make, a single intervention.
Universal Credit is replacing six means-tested benefits with a single household payment. The roll-out has been repeatedly delayed from the original timetable, with design and delivery problems, particularly delayed payments, driving people across Scotland into debt, rent arrears and eviction – and leaving people reliant on foodbanks just to survive.
The Scottish Government wrote to the UK Government as far back as March 2017 to raise urgent concerns and request an immediate halt to the roll-out until problems with implementation were fully resolved. These calls were ignored.
Anti-poverty organisations have also been consistent in raising concerns and calling for a halt to the roll-out. Just last week, 25 Scottish Third Sector organisations published a joint letter calling for the rollout of Universal Credit to be halted.
Commenting after the debate, SNP MSP for Cunninghame South, Ruth Maguire said:
“Like during the two child cap and rape clause debate back in April, when most of the Parliament united to condemn the ‘welfare reform’ of the UK Tories, the Scottish Tories are attempting once again to defend the indefensible and it is showing.
We are seeing increased foodbank use, homelessness, and people driven to take their own lives due to delayed payments and callous treatment at the hands of the welfare system that it supposed to be there to support them.
The Tories say that they want to simplify the system and support people into work. However, the contrast between the stated intentions of Universal Credit and its reality on the ground could not be more stark.
And as evidence for the damage being caused by Universal Credit mounts, we must begin to doubt the sincerity of the Tories.
If they want their stated intentions to be believed, then they must act immediately to pause the roll-out of Universal Credit, they must listen to the evidence that has been presented to them, and they must act to address the issues going forward.
This will not undo the severe damage that has already been done – damage for which there can be no apologies great enough – but it would prevent further avoidable damage from taking place.
Continued failure to act would not only be astoundingly arrogant, but also wilfully harmful. And for a UK Government whose role is to care for its citizens, it would be unforgivable.”