by David Scott, CAS Policy officer (Social Justice team).
This column was first published in the Herald on 29 November 2021.
The run-up to Christmas is always a time for reflection. What did the last year mean to you? What did you achieve?
For me, I started working at CAS almost exactly a year ago. And in that time I’ve written almost exclusively about one thing: social security.
The country started the year in the depths of a second lockdown. The redundancies, lost hours and ill-health that stopped people from working meant that more of us than ever were relying on social security for our income. Around 470,000 people in Scotland are on Universal Credit (UC) right now.
We saw the £20 increase to UC extended in the spring for a further six months, but then ultimately taken away in the autumn budget. That increase was a lifeline for people, who will now face a really challenging winter without it.
In better news, last week saw changes come into effect allowing working people on UC to keep more of their pay. CAS has long campaigned for such reforms, and the increases to Work Allowances - how much you can earn before your UC is reduced - will be particularly helpful for working families with children.
But, of the 470,000 Scots on UC, nearly 300,000 will see zero improvement in their circumstances from this announcement. Namely, those who are unemployed. Until the labour market restabilizes and those people are able to find work, they’re facing reduced support just when they need it most.
At this time of year many of you will be getting ready to send out Christmas cards. Personally, I don’t send ‘physical’ cards but I do like the principle of sending little pre-Christmas messages to folk. So I’m going to take the liberty of using this column to send my first three ‘cards’ of this year.
First, to those on UC, the Citizens Advice network is here to help you. Our 59 CABs across Scotland offer free and non-judgmental advice on reducing your bills, managing your debts, or claiming any support you might be entitled to. That help is always there for you, whenever you need it. Or if you prefer you can use our moneymap.scot tool yourself.
Second, to those in low-income work, you should check if you’re now entitled to additional support. The changes to Work Allowances and the Taper Rate mean more people than ever will be entitled to UC while in work, and in Scotland this can get you extra support like the Scottish Child Payment for those with children under 6. There’s no shame in seeking what you’re entitled to, and there’s no need to struggle on a low income when help exists. Again, your local CAB is there to advise you.
Finally, to the UK Government. You should reconsider the inadequate rate that social security is paid at. The pandemic has left a deep cut, and the cost of living is continuing to rise. People need to know they’ll get the right support when they need it, now and in the future. So Ministers, please, invest in social security to help our most vulnerable people out of this pandemic and through the new year. It’s simply the right thing to do.