A recent report, commissioned by the Scottish Parliament Welfare Reform Committee into the cumulative impact of welfare reforms on households in Scotland, tells us that families with dependent children, lone parents and the disabled have been hit especially hard by Westminster austerity cuts.
I don’t think that will come as much of a surprise to most of us.
Cuts in welfare have seen a corresponding rise in the use of food banks.
The most vulnerable in our society have been the most targeted, in order that Westminster hits its austerity targets to reduce the UK’s deficit.
This is bad news indeed, when we find out this week that the Chancellor’s policies have filled only a third of the deficit hole.
We can expect a great many of our most vulnerable families and the disabled to be pushed further into penury if a Tory government is returned on May 7.
What does the impact of welfare reforms mean in monetary terms? Christina Beatty and Steve Fothergill, from the Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research at Sheffield Hallam University, who did the research, reveal a staggering £1,520 million loss in benefits paid out to Scottish benefit claimants.
This averages out at £440 per year per working adult, and would have been even higher, had the Scottish Government not mitigated against the “Bedroom Tax” and council tax benefit reductions.
In my own constituency, of Angus North and Mearns, we have seen these losses to average £390 in Angus and £290 in Aberdeenshire per head of adult population per year. This is in comparison to Glasgow, at £580, and may well reflect the buoyancy that we experienced in past years, due to the oil and gas industry. However, with recent significant job losses in this sector, we will see a sharp change in this figure.
These figures are averages, and disguise the fact that some will have lost out by thousands of pounds, while others are largely unaffected.
The most affected groups by Westminster welfare reforms are: those receiving housing benefit, who by definition are already low-income families; families in high rent areas; and folk receiving disability allowance.
Pensioners fare much better, as do students. Lone parents with dependent children are the most affected, but couples with dependent children are not far behind. Two thirds of the total financial loss due to welfare cuts falls on households with dependent children. 40 per cent falls on the sick or disabled, and almost half falls on in-work households.
How does Westminster justify these reforms? It seems they think that if you give folk less they will have more incentive to find work. It’s hard to imagine how people with dependant children and the disabled are going to be able to do that very easily. Many of the others affected are already in work.
We must ask ourselves what kind of society we wish to live in. One where we continue to squeeze the poorest and increase the wealth of those who already have much? I don’t think so.
What does the Scottish Government plan to do to tackle this inequality? As an example First Minister Nicola Sturgeon noted last week, in her speech to the London School of Economics, that, ‘Any serious attempt to tackle inequality therefore has to focus hard on in-work poverty. It’s a major reason why the Scottish Government pays the living wage to all our staff, and encourages other companies to do so’.
In order to achieve this, Scotland has to return as many SNP MPs to Westminster, to ensure that whether a Tory or Labour government is returned (most likely in some form of coalition) Scotland and the rest of the UK is represented strongly by people that will stand up for the most vulnerable.