BLOG: The UN has found that the Tories have violated human rights on welfare cuts and poverty

By Bruce Crawford MSP

First published in the Stirling Observer, 12 July 2019.

 

The United Nations special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights has published his findings following an investigation into poverty across the UK – and the results are of a shameful legacy from this Tory Government.

 

The report itself has found that Tory austerity has inflicted misery upon millions of citizens across the UK.

 

According to the UN, the UK Government has violated its obligations to human rights across these islands through their sustained and widespread cuts to social support.

 

Despite the United Kingdom economy boasting itself being the fifth largest in the world, a staggering one-fifth of its population lives in poverty.

 

No developed economy should have its citizens experience destitution, yet 1.5 million people in the UK suffered exactly that in 2017.

 

On top of this, the UK government-issued State Pension is amongst the lowest in the developed world. At around £150 per week here in the UK, weekly state pensions in France are £304, Germany are £507 and Spain are £513.

 

The author of the report, Professor Philip Alston, described the Tories’ austerity approach and how it has impacted on poverty and inequality across the UK by saying:

 

“The bottom line is that much of the glue that has held British society together since the Second World War has been deliberately removed and replaced with a harsh and uncaring ethos. A booming economy, high employment and a budget surplus have not reversed austerity, a policy pursued more as an ideological than an economic agenda.”

 

Meanwhile, devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales are working flat out to mitigate what they can in terms of cuts to welfare and other areas of public spending.

 

Here in Scotland, the Scottish Government provides crisis grants to those who are being sanctioned by the DWP, and has eradicated the Tory Bedroom Tax.

 

In last year’s Scottish Budget, the SNP Government committed over £125 million into mitigating the worst of the Tory Government’s welfare cuts.

 

As the UN report has pointed out, this is not a sustainable model considering the rate in which the UK government has been cutting welfare spending.

 

Every pound of Scotland’s money spent on offsetting Tory cuts means that it is not being spent on other areas like local government, fixing our roads or building new schools and hospitals.

 

By 2021, the UK government will have cut £3.7 billion from Scotland’s social security annual spend. This is at a time when the block grant that the Scottish Parliament receives has been reduced by £2 billion a year due to Tory austerity.

 

And, to add insult, Tory ministers have taken to blaming opposition parties for trying to obstruct their dismantling of social security, they’ve blamed the media for how it’s been reported, and they’ve blamed members of the public for failing to understand the changes that they have made.

 

But it doesn’t need to be this way. New figures have shown that Social Security Scotland – the Scottish Government’s welfare agency – has made almost £200 million of welfare payments in the first year. This has been achieved with the limited powers we have devolved to us over welfare; and first reports have shown a 100% satisfaction rate with the new agency.

 

Support includes the Carers Allowance Supplement, which tops up the Carers Allowance from the UK Government – giving a 13% increase, totalling £442 a year – and recognising the important work that carers do.

 

Scotland is demonstrating that there is a different way to manage social security and poverty in our country – and that’s with the limited powers that we have on welfare. Just imagine what we could achieve if we had full control over welfare and our economy.

SNP Government delivering better social security for vulnerable people

Stirling MSP Bruce Crawford has hailed the Budget announcement from Finance Secretary Derek Mackay of £435 million in interventions on social security.

 

As part of the SNP Government’s Draft Budget for this coming year, Mr Mackay announced:

  • £238 million for the Carers Allowance and further £37 million for Allowance Supplement.
  • £12.5 million for Best Start Grant to give all children the best possible start in life.
  • £6.2 million in funeral expense assistance.
  • £33 million for the Scottish Welfare Fund, helping people who have been left with nothing following DWP sanctions.
  • £50 million will be invested to tackle rough sleeping.
  • Almost £100 million will be spent on mitigating the Bedroom Tax and other Tory Government welfare cuts.
  • Investment to support food banks will be doubled to £3.5 million.

 

The Scottish Budget is currently being considered by MSPs in the Scottish Parliament.

 

Commenting, Stirling MSP Bruce Crawford said:

 

“Scotland is in the process of having limited powers over welfare devolved to us, however it is our duty to defend the most vulnerable people in our communities from the cruellest of Tory cuts to welfare support.

 

“As well as funding to directly mitigate draconian policies such as the Bedroom Tax, the Scottish Government’s Draft Budget invests in assistance with the cost of funerals for low income households, as well as a Best Start Grant for newborns, support for food banks, and living cost assistance for those who have been sanctioned by the DWP.

 

“A staggering £238 million will be invested into the Carers Allowance, with an additional supplement being funded by a further £37 million.

 

“This Draft Scottish Budget is a blueprint for the type of society we want to build. As a country, we want to take a different approach to welfare from the harsh cuts seen in Westminster. I would encourage opposition parties who oppose what the Tory Government stands for on welfare to get behind this Budget and support this investment in the most vulnerable people in our society.”

BLOG: UK State Pensions are the lowest in the developed world; Scotland can do so much better

For publication in the Stirling Observer, 14 November 2018

By Bruce Crawford MSP

 

The UK Chancellor’s Budget has rightly been criticised on a number of fronts. From a failure to fix the broken Universal Credit system, to, in particular, a refusal to guarantee fairness for women born in the 1950s. These are women who will have to work for up to six years more than they previously thought they would have been required to before they get their State Pension.

 

This has brought about a terrible injustice for a generation of women across the UK – known as WASPI women.

 

However, the conversation about UK State Pensions also has to be broadened to compare it to what other developed countries are doing for retired citizens.

 

Stats from the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) shows that the UK has the lowest State Pension of any developed country. The average for other OECD countries is 63%, with the Netherlands and Italy seeing State Pensions provided to their citizens worth over 80% of their average wage earnings. Their study calculated that a worker in the UK will receive just 29% of what they had previously been earning through the state pension and other benefits.

 

There can be no doubt that this has been a contributory factor towards serious retirement-age poverty in the UK. As a result, the UK has one of the highest rates of private pension savings in the world – worth around 95% of the wealth of the country (GDP).

 

In countries where the State Pension is much higher, people don’t have to put as much of their own earnings aside. In France and Germany, for example, private pension savings are worth less than 10% of their GDP.

 

However, even with the top up of private pensions, the average retirement income for the UK is still less than the OECD average – at around 60% of former working-age earnings. In contrast, the total earnings for retirees in India, Turkey and the Netherlands is around 100% of former career earnings, and retired citizens in Croatia earn nearly 130% of what they used to.

 

So why is the UK lagging so far behind? Some might argue that successive UK Governments have relied too much on people making contributions towards private pensions. This has resulted in an ever-widening gap emerging. This is particularly true when considering the number of people who are simply unable to give up part of their monthly pay for a pension pot.  One stark example of this can be the case can be found in the number of people earning less-than the real Living Wage – which recent data estimates is just over a fifth of the UK’s population.

 

Those who have nothing to fall back on by the time they retire are expected by the State to survive on £164.35 per week, or just over £8,500 a year – as per current full State Pension rates.

 

This is simply not enough to support a suitable standard of living. As a society, we should want to support our citizens in their retirement years. We should thank them for all they have contributed and enable them to enjoy life as much as possible. State Pensions are entirely reserved to Westminster and successive UK Governments have continued to let our older generations down.

 

Surely it would be better for Scotland to have the ability to make these decisions. Not just to set the rate of a State Pension, but control over all of the levers on our economy to support it and to fund it properly. Like we have done with the powers we have had devolved to us over welfare, let’s all fight for a future on State Pensions that has fairness, dignity and respect at the very heart of what we do.

Chancellor’s Budget means Universal Credit will continue to hurt vulnerable people in Stirling

SNP MSP for the Stirling Constituency, Bruce Crawford, and SNP Councillor for Bannockburn and the Eastern Villages, Alasdair MacPherson, have hit out at the UK Budget announcement from the Chancellor of additional cash for Universal Credit – highlighting that it goes nowhere near enough to address the problems faced by local people in the Stirling area.

Since being introduced to the Stirling area over a year ago, Universal Credit has resulted in:

  • Rent arrears quadrupling to over £100,000 for Council properties.
  • A sharp rise in food bank referrals.
  • An increase in crisis grants.
  • Domestic abuse victims being made more financially vulnerable.

 

The system has been accused of being riddled with problems that push vulnerable people into deeper hardship.

  • The five-week minimum wait for the first Universal Credit payment has been directly blamed for forcing people into rent arrears and being referred to food banks.
  • The two-child cap and disgusting rape clause is punishing poorer families for having more than two children, and forcing mothers to prove that they have been raped in order to receive the support they need.
  • The single payment per household puts domestic abuse victims into an even more vulnerable position, giving an abusive partner greater ability to control finances.

New analysis by the Resolution Foundation today has shown that three-quarters of the £12billion cuts to social security announced by the UK government in 2015 will remain in place after yesterday’s Budget – making a mockery of Tory claims that austerity is over.

 

The independent analysis reveals that the overall impact of Tory tax and benefit policies will once again help the rich at the expense of the poor – with the poorest fifth of households set to be £400 a year worse off by 2023-24, while the richest fifth are set to gain £390 a year.

 

Commenting, Bruce Crawford said:

 

“This time last year, I joined locals in a march through Stirling, calling for the Tory Government to halt this broken system. They haven’t listened, and instead even more people have been forced to suffer as a result of Universal Credit.

 

“To be clear, my colleagues and I agree that making a complex system simpler for those who need support is a sound idea, but this should never have been an excuse for the Tories to cut the support that the poorest in our society receive. 

 

“At its core, Universal Credit isn’t working and many of my constituents are suffering as a result. I want the rollout paused and for no more people to be added to this system until Tory Ministers fix the problems. The argument that the rollout is already taking long enough simply isn’t good enough when people are suffering.”

 

Councillor Alasdair MacPherson added:

 

“I am angry about the way that this Tory Government is treating many of my constituents. Universal Credit is riddled with problems, from the two-child cap and disgusting rape clause, to the absurd five-week minimum wait for an initial payment.

 

“The Council’s own figures speak for themselves, with more people being forced to use food banks, more people falling into rent arrears, and more people having to take a crisis grant from the Scottish Government. It is utterly disgraceful that our own Tory MP continues to be a cheerleader for this callous approach to welfare, he must know the suffering that it has caused.

 

“What the Chancellor is proposing is nowhere near enough to fix this system. It must be halted right now, too many people have suffered.”

Stirling area loses £570K due to Tory welfare cuts

Freedom of Information figures supplied by the Department for Work and Pensions have shown that the Stirling area has lost out on £566,599.80 because of Tory cuts to disability benefit.

 

The information – requested by investigative news outlet The Ferret – shows the number of people who have lost out on social security benefits following the change from Disability Living Allowance to Personal Independence Payments.

 

The Tory welfare cuts – taking a total of £56 million away from communities across Scotland – have hit the poorest people hardest, leaving vulnerable and disabled people across the Stirling area without enough money to live off.

 

Commenting, SNP MSP for the Stirling Constituency, Bruce Crawford said:

 

“It is absolutely devastating that Tory welfare cuts have taken almost £570K out of our communities.

 

“This really hits home at how disastrous these cuts have been for people across the Stirling area – robbing our society and vulnerable people of the money they were entitled to until the Tories decided that they no longer were.

 

“It is shameful that those most in need of support in Scotland have lost over £56 million under this cruel Tory regime.

 

“While the Scottish Government is busy setting up a new social security agency with dignity and respect at its heart, figures such as these continue to emerge showing just how damaging Tory welfare cuts are for the Stirling Constituency.

 

“Only with full powers over social security can Scotland treat all those in need of support with the respect they deserve, not the cruelty they face under a toxic Tory government.”