Measures introduced are widely welcomed by the sector but all in agreement they don't go far enough to reverse cuts already inflicted
Scotland’s third sector has slammed chancellor Philip Hammond’s autumn statement describing it as offering “little hope”.
Marketed as being about helping those who are “just about managing” charities united in saying that while some measures are welcome they do not go anywhere near far enough to reversing cuts already made and helping the poorest in society.
The most significant announcement affecting many of the people the sector supports was that from April 2017 the rate that Universal Credit is withdrawn when people exceed the amount they are allowed to earn will be reduced from 65p in the £1 to 63p.
A cut, Hammond said, was designed to “increase the incentive to work”.
This budget offers little hope to the people that Scotland’s charities and voluntary organisations supportJohn Downie
Although the 2p saving was widely welcomed by the sector the change does not mitigate the impact of cuts to workers allowance made by former chancellor George Osborne.
A more popular announcement was a focus on housing and infrastructure spending which will see an additional 40,000 affordable homes built across the UK and should result in £800 million for Scotland in Barnett consequentials.
The UK government’s National Living Wage will be increased from £7.20 to £7.50 as of April 2017 and personal tax allowance will be raised to £11,500.
Hammond also confirmed there are no plans to introduce further welfare savings in this parliament other than those already unveiled but did reveal a cap on welfare spending would be announced later.
Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations' director of public affairs, John Downie, said: “This budget offers little hope to the people that Scotland’s charities and voluntary organisations support, and comes from a government that is clearly fully committed to continuing with the devastating welfare cuts spearheaded by the previous chancellor.
“Despite the fact that inflation and the cost of living is set to rise, the chancellor has chosen not to restore the link between inflation and benefits, and has reversed a mere £700 million of the UK government’s £12 billion in social security cuts.
“Along with a fractional increase in the already inadequate National Living Wage, the poorest people in communities across the country will continue to face bitter hardship in the years ahead.”
Peter Kelly, director of the Poverty Alliance, said the measures introduced were welcome but still a long way from restoring the value of benefits.
He added: “We must not be lulled into a false sense of security by a few eye catching announcements by the chancellor in today’s autumn statement.
These measures are the fiscal equivalent of being pushed off a cliff with only a pillow to absorb the landingPeter Kelly, Poverty Alliance
“These measures are the fiscal equivalent of being pushed off a cliff with only a pillow to absorb the landing.
“This government must acknowledge its failure to help those on low incomes and take action to restore the value of benefits.”
John Dickie, director of Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland, said he was hugely disappointed that the prime minister didn’t back up the rhetoric on supporting families who are ‘just about managing’. “The chancellor’s lowering of the universal credit taper is a sticking plaster to family budgets that are haemorrhaging losses imposed on them by his predecessor’s budgets,” he said.
“Low income working families have been left thousands of pounds worse off and horribly exposed to rising prices.
“The rhetoric on just managing families will end up being meaningless if the UK government ploughs on with policies like cuts to work allowances within universal credit and the freeze on family benefits that are set to tip the just managing into hardship and push more children into poverty.”
Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) echoed other organisations saying the statement brings mixed news for vulnerable families in Scotland.
CAS policy spokesman Rob Gowans said: "The chancellor could have gone further to help those who are struggling. For example he did not reverse the recent changes made to ESA, which our evidence suggests will hit tens thousands of people who are unable to work and are finding it very hard to get by."
Focussing on the £1.4bn investment in affordable homes, Graeme Brown, director Shelter Scotland, called for the Scottish Government’s share of Barnett consequentials to be added to the £3bn it has already committed to invest in affordable housing.
He however added: “A reduction in the universal credit taper is welcome news but this statement is a missed opportunity to rethink the ill-conceived benefits cap cut that will only push more struggling families in Scotland closer to homelessness.”
The Scottish Children’s Services Coalition, which has long campaigned for extra spending to improve services for children with additional support needs (ASN), said while the increase in Barnett consequentials from infrastructure spending is to be welcomed, the Scottish Government’s overall budget is still likely to fall in real terms over the next five years meaning more cuts.
“These cuts in public services means that Scotland faces the prospect of a lost generation of children and young people with ASN, making it extremely difficult for the Scottish Government to close the educational attainment gap,” he added.
“With an increasing number of those children and young people with ASN, now amounting to more than one in five of the pupil population, we urge the Scottish Government and local authorities not be pass on these cuts to services that care for the most vulnerable in our communities.”
In a rare genuine positive from the statement it was announced services charities across the UK will be awarded £102m from Libor fines and Comic Relief is to be given £3m from the so called tampon tax to distribute to women’s charities.
Poppyscotland has been awarded grants of almost £1m from Libor fines to fund a mobile education and community resource and a brand new welfare centre in Ayrshire,
Chief executive Mark Bibbey said: “This is an historic and exciting day for Poppyscotland. These two ambitious projects are at the heart of our development plans for the next five years.”