‘Westminster’s Day of Shame’ as welfare changes come into effect

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  By Martin Kelly
 
Welfare reforms imposed by the UK coalition come into effect today on what has been described as a “day of shame” by the SNP.
 
The nationalists have claimed the changes highlight the UK government’s failure to protect the most vulnerable, as new legislation that includes the controversial Bedroom Tax take effect.

Today the changes to the welfare system will see:

• The ‘Bedroom Tax’ come into force, with 105,000 households across Scotland losing an average £600 a year.
• Working age benefits rises will be capped to one per cent for the next three years reducing the total income of Scottish households by around £210 million by 2014-15.
• Child benefit will be frozen for the third year in a row, seeing, cumulatively, between 2011-12 and 2015-16, a family with two children receiving over £1,100 less than they would had Child Benefit been uprated by RPI inflation.
• Scotland’s council tax budget will be cut by 10% but Scottish households have been protected by the Scottish Government and COSLA plugging the £40 million funding gap.
• The social fund will be abolished but the £33million Scottish Welfare Fund will be set up to benefit an extra 100,000 vulnerable Scots.

Westminster’s welfare reform programme – encompassing the cuts in the UK Budget, autumn statement and spending review – will see Scotland lose a total of £4.5billion.

The changes include the controversial bedroom tax, which means if you have more bedrooms than the government says you need, your home will be counted as being too big for you.  If this is the case, you may lose some or all of your Housing Benefit.

Your home will be too big for you if you have more than one bedroom for each of the people shown below:

  • each adult couple
  • each other person over 16
  • two children of the same sex under 16
  • two children under 10, regardless of their sex
  • any other child
  • an overnight carer you need but who doesn’t normally live with you.

SNP MSP Jamie Hepburn, deputy convener of the Scottish Parliament’s Welfare Reform Committee, said:

“It doesn’t matter what bracket you fall into – young, poor, disadvantaged, elderly – Westminster is hurting the life chances of people who depend on the support of the welfare state with its catastrophic changes to benefits.

“The Westminster system is wrongly persistent in believing that these are the groups who should bear the brunt of their austerity agenda.

“From introducing the ‘bedroom tax’ to freezing child benefit, it is little wonder that people in Scotland simply do not have faith in the current Westminster operated welfare system.

“We need a system that reflects Scotland’s values – a system that ensures fair and decent support for those that need it most, protecting the vulnerable and supporting households rather than seeing them be subjected to aggressive cuts from Westminster.

“A fairer welfare system for Scotland can only be achieved with independence and control over all welfare policies so that we can devise policies for the benefit of the people of Scotland.

“A recent YouGov poll found that 52% of respondents thought that the Scottish Government should be responsible for all tax and spending decisions in Scotland – including oil and gas tax revenue, with 35% supporting Westminster control.

“Scotland needs a Yes vote on 18th September 2014 to enable us to invest our abundant resources in building the fairer and more prosperous Scotland that we all want to see.”

According to the Scotsman newspaper, a Downing Street spokesman has echoed the stance of Scottish Labour and insisted the Scottish government should try to mitigate the changes.

He said: “The SNP could show that they are a party of government … and use their powers to mitigate the changes.”

Johann Lamont’s Scottish Labour group has called on the Scottish government to introduce an emergency law in order to prevent tenants, who fall into arrears because of the Bedroom Tax, from being evicted.  However some of Ms Lamont’s own councils have refused to back a Scotland wide anti-eviction policy and are also refusing to introduce an anti-eviction policy at local level.

The SNP has said all of its local authorities will implement a no-evictions rule for the Bedroom Tax, but the Scottish government has thus far rejected calls from Scottish Labour for a new law, insisting that Ms Lamont’s party need explain what services Labour would cut in order to pay the estimated cost of £55 million.

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