The Scottish Government has written to the UK Government on eight occasions during the pandemic with calls to address the myriad of issues that affect universal credit. I have had calls with UK ministerial counterparts throughout the same period to reiterate those issues.
We have repeatedly urged the UK Government to confirm that it will make the £20 per week uplift to universal credit and working tax credit permanent and extend it to legacy benefits. We have also called for urgent fixes, including offering non-repayable grants for new applicants and scrapping punitive policies such as the benefit cap, the bedroom tax and the two-child limit. We will continue to urge the UK Government to make universal credit a system that works for people and not against them.
Despite the recent ruling in what has come to be known as the Johnson case, which was supported by the Child Poverty Action Group, the Department for Work and Pensions is continuing with the practice of penalising workers who are paid four weekly because they are paid twice within one assessment period. There is also the issue of employees who are paid monthly being paid early, perhaps because of the weekend or a public holiday, and who face the same situation. I have previously written to the appropriate UK Government ministers about that, but I have had no satisfactory response that protects constituents. Will the cabinet secretary please add that issue to the list of many issues for discussion with the appropriate ministers and the DWP at the first opportunity?
I give Linda Fabiani a reassurance that I will absolutely do that, as I share her concerns about the issue. I agree with the High Court judgment that the treatment of claimants who are paid on anything other than a monthly basis is terribly inflexible and unfair. In effect, it leads to an imposition of a benefit cap. To quote the ruling, that approach is one that
“no reasonable Secretary of State” would have taken.
Last year, the number of households in Scotland that are subject to the benefit cap nearly doubled, to 6,400, and 97 per cent of those households had children. The UK Government urgently needs to fix a myriad of issues with universal credit, but Linda Fabiani is right to point out that concerning issue, and I urge the DWP to look at it seriously. As I said, I am more than happy to reiterate to the DWP my concerns on the issue and on other issues with universal credit.