A million more children in poverty by 2022. The legacy of this Tory Government, according to a report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, and make no mistake, families in the Highlands are feeling it.
Over half of those in poverty live in working households. Parents should not be going to work day in, day out only to be unable to feed their children or heat their home.
Electricity, fuel and rent cost increases, an upward spiral of prices in shops, perhaps the worst period of wage stagnation in generations, the thrust downwards into poverty is also turbocharged by a systematic ideological attack on the welfare state.
There’s no better example than the horrendous roll out of Universal Credit – the Tories new ‘one payment’ social security system. It’s seen thousands more families plunged into poverty here in the Highlands, especially in my constituency, the chosen pilot area for the rollout. Families, the disabled, here have felt the punishing effects much earlier than those living in other parts of the UK.
Imagine, years of just making ends meet with a bit of help from child tax credits, or rent allowance, to then have the meagre assistance that has kept your head above water suddenly disappear – because you’ve been switched to “Universal Credit”.
A system so complex that even staff from the department of work and pensions and Job Centre Plus can’t understand it. Worse still, they often aren’t allowed to speak to each other because the new system doesn’t allow it. Payments are withdrawn without warning and people face a minimum 6 week wait, often months, for replacement funds and weeks of rent arrears by default. They simply can’t pay.
The Scottish Government will use its limited new powers (around 15%) to ensure dignity and respect for those it can help, however, this can’t be enough to stop the downward spiral families’ face now. The U.K. Government must halt the rollout of Universal Credit – then redesign it to work to alleviate, not increase poverty.
Poverty does not exist in isolation, it is invasive to our communities. If there is less money in the pockets of families here in the Highlands then there is less money to be spent in our shops and with our local businesses and it’s pretty hard to contribute to your local economy if every day is spent trying to find ways simply to get by.