Borders MSP Christine Grahame has made a fresh call for a rethink on Universal Credit, following the UN’s rapporteur findings on extreme poverty and human rights.
The rapporteur, Philip Alston, was on a a two-week fact-finding mission to the UK and his 24-page report – which claims the UK government has inflicted “great misery” with “punitive, mean-spirited, and often callous” austerity policies driven by a political desire to undertake social re-engineering rather than economic necessity – will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
Mr Alston also said that levels of child poverty in the UK were “not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster”. and that the UK Government’s approach is in breach of four UN human rights agreements relating to women, children, disabled people and economic and social rights.
Ms Grahame, who has been campaigning against Universal Credit since its rollout, said “The fact that the UK Government continues to stand up for Universal Credit when it is being told even by the UN that it is forcing people into extreme poverty is disgusting. The rapporteur has been clear that inflicting poverty is a political choice, not an economic necessity.
“I hear first-hand from my constituents of the challenges Universal Credit presents, particularly that they are often expected to go eight weeks without payment when making a claim.
“An advance is available, but it is reclaimed from future payments, meaning hardship is simply deferred. Anyone who thinks this is reasonable is woefully out of touch with the reality of life for those on low incomes or unable to work.”
She added: “Indeed, I am disappointed but not surprised to hear reports from Merseyside that women have been forced to turn to sex work to keep their families afloat during this period.”
“Let’s also not forget the callous and cruel two-child cap which restricts Universal Credit payments for children to the eldest two. Should you find yourself out of work or on a low income, for example as a result of redundancy, bereavement or serious illness, with more than two children the UK government will not offer any support to those children unless you can prove they were the result of rape.
“The sheer lack of compassion from a government to its citizens that this demonstrates is, frankly, an aberration.
“The newly appointed Work and Pensions Secretary, Amber Rudd MP, needs to seriously look at the reality of Universal Credit for people and revise this system as a matter of absolute urgency before more families are forced into a cycle of poverty and reliance on food banks and charities for life’s basic necessities.
“The Tories have shown time and time again that they cannot be trusted with social security in Scotland.
“The Scottish Government has gone some way to mitigating this by giving claimants the option of fortnightly payment rather than monthly and of housing benefit being paid directly to landlords, but it only has powers over aspects of process, not the benefit itself.
“Only with full powers over social security can the Scottish Government begin to mitigate the effects of this disaster of a UK government, in order to make Scotland an equal country with a dignified and fair welfare system.”