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Universal credit has had a devastating impact on people in Scotland, and there is a catalogue of evidence that it is pushing people into poverty, rent arrears and hardship. Trussell Trust analysis shows that food bank use has increased in universal credit areas by an average of 52 per cent, while evidence from the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities shows that the average rent arrears are 2.5 times higher for those on universal credit. We have repeatedly called on the United Kingdom Government to fix the fundamental flaws in this catastrophic benefit, and will continue to do so.
Every one of us in this chamber is dealing with heartbreaking cases of constituents who have been sanctioned or moved on to universal credit in the run-up to Christmas, in many cases leaving them with little or no money over the festive period. Will the cabinet secretary outline what representations have been made by the Scottish Government to the UK Government, to request that this despicable system be ended?
The Scottish Government has written to the UK Government a number of times, asking it to fix the fundamental flaws in universal credit. I have written to the different secretaries of state who have presided over the system; I wrote again when the new Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Amber Rudd, was appointed; and I raised our deep concerns with her directly when I had a telephone conversation with her yesterday. Most recently, I wrote to Ms Rudd last week, urging the UK Government to make hardship payments available to people who will be waiting for their first universal credit payment over Christmas, because the current DWP approach of offering advances puts people into debt from the start of their claim.