A Moray MSP is calling for ministers to address concerns in claiming Universal Credit after a self-employed hairdresser was told to actively find work.
The Lossiemouth businesswoman, who did not wish to be named, is one of thousands of people signing up for financial support after being forced to stop working due to coronavirus restrictions.
Figures released by the Department for Work and Pensions (DoWP) in December showed more than 32,000 people in the north-east are receiving benefits, as calls for support in the Highlands increased by 75%.
Since the start of the pandemic, the 33-year-old – who rents a chair at a local salon – said she has lost more than £20,000 in trade due to the extended closures.
With uncertainty looming over the timescale for returning to work, she reached out to the DWoP to prevent further reductions to her savings.
However, she said she was appalled when officials told her to look for work or face losing cuts to her credit.
She said: “As we are hairdressers, we aren’t allowed to work so were entitled to sign on for Universal Credit because we have not had any financial help since we have been off from Christmas Eve.
“It is just a joke, the whole way the system is. They shouldn’t be putting people under this stress.
“I am not lazy, I work 50 odd hours a week and there are people out there who are not going to have a job at the end of this pandemic and they have got kids to feed.
“If they are telling us that we are not allowed to work but we can apply for these things, this should have been in place in the first place so people don’t get into debt.
“It really hacks me off that they have the cheek to turn round and say I have to look for a job when I have been told not to work.”
The woman said she previously received a self-employment support grant during the first lockdown but has failed to secure additional government funding.
She is calling for a fairer system to help support those who work but are unable to amidst the ongoing restrictions.
The Moray businesswoman added: “I find the whole way it has been dealt with really bad.
“We shouldn’t need handouts. I am happy to work but I just feel I am at someone else’s mercy here.
“I don’t see that it’s a fair system. I think this should have all been in place before hand. They told us there was going to be a lockdown from Boxing Day so there should have been financial help out there straight away.”
MSP Richard Lochhead urged the government to step up to resolve the matter.
He said: “This is an incredibly difficult time for many people who are unable to work due to the current Covid related restrictions and I do hope the UK Government addresses the issues my constituent is highlighting with Universal Credit.
“I don’t know how UK Ministers expect applicants to meet the normal criteria when the country is in lockdown.
“I am raising my constituent’s circumstances with the Scottish authorities to see if any of the support schemes in Scotland can be of assistance. ”
A total of £8.6billion in funding has been made available to the Scottish Government this financial year to tackle the pandemic, plus an additional £1.3 billion in 21/22.
A DWoP spokesman said: “Universal Credit has delivered during this pandemic, providing vital support to millions, and will play a crucial role as we build back better and support people into work.
“Throughout the pandemic the UK Government has boosted welfare support by billions and has also provided an additional £8.6 billion in funding to the Scottish Government.”