The SNP has demanded the Chancellor use the upcoming UK budget to strengthen welfare protections - after new figures revealed one in six new Universal Credit claimants have been forced to skip meals.
A study carried out by university researchers for the Welfare At A Social Distance project found that a concerning number of people claiming Universal Credit for the first time during the pandemic didn’t have enough money to eat healthily or regularly, or pay bills because the benefit payment was inadequate to meet basic living costs.
Thousands of people who turned to Universal Credit after losing their job during the pandemic have struggled to bridge the gap between benefits and living costs without borrowing from family, running up credit card debt, or using food banks – even with the £20 increase.
The SNP has repeatedly called on the UK government to strengthen welfare protections by scrapping the benefit and child caps, making the £20 uplift permanent and extending it to legacy benefits, and making Universal Credit more flexible and responsive to people’s needs. The party has also urged UK ministers to pilot a Universal Basic Income Scheme to provide a safety net for everyone.
Commenting, the SNP’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, David Linden MP, said:
"This study makes for very grim reading and proves beyond doubt that UK government welfare protections must be strengthened to provide adequate support not just for the duration of this crisis but for future generations.
"The social security system should be a safety net for everyone – but for that to be the case there must be significant investment from the UK government and changes must be made.
"The Chancellor must confirm in his Budget announcement that the Universal Credit uplift will be made permanent and rolled-out to legacy benefits. Beyond that the scheme must be urgently improved so it is more generous, flexible, and responsive to people's needs - including by scrapping the debt-inducing five-week wait and introducing an immediate upfront payment. People shouldn't have to wait weeks to get the help they need right now.
"The UK government must also look again at the SNP’s other practical proposals range to improve the system - including extending the backdating of benefits, removing the reductions for those with savings, ending the shared accommodation rate, and reducing the long wait to get help with mortgage interest.
"Although there is light at the end of the tunnel with the vaccine roll-out, there are still millions worried about how they are going to make ends meet. The flaws in the UK's welfare system are not new - but the scale of this unprecedented crisis has shone a light on this and made it clear they must be urgently addressed so millions are not left struggling to get by now and in the future."
One in six new universal credit claimants forced to skip meals
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