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Sturgeon challenges McVey to halt universal credit

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On a visit to a Stirling charity, Scotland's First Minister said the UK's new benefit system is failing those it is designed to support

Nicola Sturgeon has called on the new secretary of state for work and pensions to make urgent changes to universal credit (UC).

The first minister backed warnings from Scotland’s children’s commissioner Bruce Adamson over the “disproportionate effect” of UK government welfare policies on young people.

The call was made as both visited Start Up Stirling, a charity providing a foodbank and support service for people in poverty. They heard first-hand from people who use the service how the mishandled UC roll-out and continued welfare cuts are affecting them – including the need for emergency food aid and dealing with rent arrears and debt.

Nationally, almost one in four new UC claimants – 24% – have had to wait more than six weeks to receive their first payment. The Scottish Government says that the changes in the UK budget to reduce the waiting time to five weeks do not go nearly far enough, and is pressing for a maximum four week limit to be set.

Sturgeon said: “The rising use of foodbanks, with charities like Start Up Stirling forced to step in and provide support, is symptomatic of a broken welfare state. It is abundantly clear that the universal credit system is failing those it is designed to support.

“The new secretary of state must admit that UC is forcing families into crisis and take the step her four predecessors wouldn’t – by halting the roll-out of this fundamentally flawed system.”

Cosla (the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities) has found evidence that arrears for those receiving UC are more than 2.5 times the average arrears for those on housing benefit.

Adamson added: "Poverty is the biggest human rights issue facing children in Scotland. All children should have a warm and secure home and regular nutritious meals that enable them to thrive, learn, and play an active part in their communities.

The new secretary of state must admit that UC is forcing families into crisis

“Along with the children’s commissioners from the other parts of the UK, I remain deeply concerned about how children are disproportionately affected by decisions made on welfare, such as calculating Universal Credit entitlement and how it is then paid.

“The UK must ensure that children's best interests are a primary consideration when taking decisions that significantly impact on families."

The Scottish Government has introduced UC choices, under which people can be paid UC monthly or twice monthly and have housing costs paid direct to their landlord.

These options are already available for new claims in full service areas and will be extended to existing claimants from 31 January.