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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I congratulate my parliamentary neighbour, Hugh Gaffney, on this debate.
Let me begin by quoting a community activist in my constituency, Derek Kelter:
“Poverty destroys everything in your life. A low for me was last Christmas, when I had no money to buy my son a Christmas present. The situation we have today is unacceptable. We should all be able to live a dignified life but too many people are trapped in poverty. I’m blind and I’ve been locked out of employment since I had a brain injury five years ago. It doesn’t have to be this way though. Social security benefits should be enough so that people can live a dignified life and disabled people should be given support to access employment.”
We can call agree that that is a damning indictment on the state of a 21st-century first-world country. It is appalling.
I am not here to blame people, but to represent the people of Motherwell and Wishaw and to fight for the best possible life for them. That evidence was given to the Poverty Alliance. The Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland also has damning indictments of child poverty in Scotland. However, it noted the introduction of the Scottish child payment by the Scottish Parliament in 2020, which will start at £10 a week for each child, no matter how many children are in the family. In Scotland, we do not believe that families should be penalised by a two-child cap; that is an abomination. It is almost incredible that the Tory Government in Westminster have tried time and again to justify that cruel, callous policy.
I agree with much of what the hon. Gentleman said. We are all against child poverty. I, too, would like the Scottish Government to eradicate it tomorrow. That will not happen while they do not have the levers of all the tax and benefit systems that the UK Government currently have reserved to them. However, in the circumstances, the Scottish Government continue to do what they can with the limited resources they have.
The hon. Gentleman says that Labour has pledged to scrap universal credit, but the Joseph Rowntree Foundation does not necessarily agree that that is the best way forward. Introducing two separate types of benefit payments would further confuse people, and more people would probably fall between the cracks with two benefit systems. We all know what is wrong with universal credit. We have said time and again, in this Chamber and the main Chamber, that we should look at making it work for those who have to use it.
Many people in my constituency are reliant on universal credit, and it is the single biggest casework issue I deal with. This Government should end the five-week wait. The five-week wait should be a thing of the past. The fact that people have to repay advances at an enormous rate leaves them even poorer and means they have to use food banks even more. I should pay credit to the Lanarkshire food bank, which operates in my constituency; it is a source of real help to many in Motherwell and Wishaw.
Labour actually has a good list of things it wants to do, most of which are based on things the Scottish Government have already asked for and introduced. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we should have fortnightly payments and split payments for couples. That should be the default position. My hon. Friend Dr Whitford has made that point in numerous debates.
I also think this UK Tory Government are wrong to charge single parents to apply to the Child Maintenance Service; again, I have debated that many times with the Minister. Notwithstanding years of austerity in the United Kingdom, it seems that this Tory regime want to make people who are poor even poorer, by charging them more and more for services that their children need.
The UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights—someone from whom the Minister normally would not like to hear—praised the Scottish Government for their
“ambitious schemes for addressing poverty, including the Fairer Scotland Action Plan and the Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan”,
and for using their
“newly devolved powers to establish a promising social security system, guided by the principles of dignity” and respect. I believe that is another thing the Labour party wants to introduce.
We have good ideas in Scotland for ending child poverty. We actually have a plan to do it. We measure child poverty. It gives us no comfort that child poverty increases under the watch of a UK Tory Government who say they are absolutely committed to ending austerity but show no sign of doing so.
I do not want to stand here and quote stats—we can all do that—but when a constituent of mine gets to his lowest ebb because he cannot find the money to buy his child a Christmas present, there is something seriously wrong with the state of this United Kingdom. As far as I am concerned, the sooner Scotland exercises its right and gives the people the choice to leave it, the better.