Moray MP Douglas Ross has defended plans to cut Universal Credit despite more than 3,000 families in his constituency facing their benefits slashed.
The Scottish Conservative leader remained tight-lipped on his personal opinion of the plan to withdraw the £20-a-week uplift from October 6, but confirmed he did not disagree with the approach taken by the UK Government.
The temporary £20-a-week uplift was introduced to help claimants weather the storm of the coronavirus pandemic, but calls have been made for it to be made permanent.
New analysis by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation published on Thursday revealed 3,150 families in Mr Ross’ Moray constituency – around three in 10 (31%) – will experience the cut to Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit.
‘Indication is uplift won’t continue’
However, Mr Ross declared the “worst” of the pandemic over and, as a result, said the UK Government is “right” to consider the financial support available.
The Moray MP said he discussed the issue with Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak during their recent visits north of the border.
But he said the “indication so far from the UK Government is that the uplift won’t continue”.
When asked if he thinks the pair have made the wrong decision to cut benefits for those who receive the payments, Mr Ross said: “No.
“I think it’s right that I expressed the views that had been shared with me but I think people also understand there have been significant interventions by the UK Government throughout this pandemic, billions of pounds through the furlough scheme, business support and grants, and that type of funding cannot continue indefinitely.
“We’ve got to start to pay back what has been spent during this crisis.”
‘We have to find that money elsewhere’
Making the uplift permanent would cost about £6 billion per year in the long-run, according to the Institute of Fiscal Studies.
Mr Ross said: “If we were to maintain this uplift – that was always supposed to be temporary – then we have to find that money elsewhere.
“And I haven’t heard any other opposition politicians say where they would get the extra £6 billion to fund a permanent uplift of the £20 for Universal Credit.”
Across Scotland, more than one in three (37%) families will lose £1,040 per year if the planned cuts go ahead, the independent analysis found.
Chris Birt, deputy director for Scotland at the JRF, said it is a “scandal that the UK Government’s strategy for economic recovery is to plunge families who are already struggling deeper into poverty and debt”.
Meanwhile, SNP shadow chancellor Alison Thewliss said: “The fact that Tories continue to bury their heads in the sand over the impact these cruel cuts will have on families up and down the country shows their true colours – they really are the nasty party.”
However, the UK Government said the temporary uplift had succeeded in helping claimants “through the economic shock and financial disruption of the toughest stages of the pandemic”.
A spokesman added: “Universal Credit will continue to provide a vital safety net and with record vacancies available, alongside the successful vaccination rollout, it’s right that we now focus on our Plan for Jobs, helping claimants to increase their earnings by boosting their skills and getting into work, progressing in work or increasing their hours.”