Universal Credit – Women Shouldn’t Have to Choose Between Poverty and Abuse
Following on from my Ten Minute Rule Bill, on 7th March I launched my Full Bill to amend Universal Credit. My thanks to Women’s Aid, Scottish Women’s Aid, the Child Poverty Action Group, the Women’s Budget Group, and all the MPs form across the political spectrum who joined me at the launch.
The Bill proposes several amendments to Universal Credit including making options that are being offered here by the Scottish Government, such as easier access to direct landlord payments and twice monthly payments, available to claimants across the UK. A key focus, however, is the protection of women from financial abuse by making split payments to individual claimants the norm. Currently, Universal Credit is only paid into one bank account per recipient household and there are real concerns this could keep women, and to a lesser extent men, trapped in abusive relationships. Insisting on paying a woman’s entitlement into the same bank account as her partner sees a return to the long outdated notion of the ‘Breadwinner’; risks funds not reaching their intended beneficiaries, such as partners and children; and makes women dependent on their partners – a truly retrograde step.
The Scottish Government is currently discussing with the DWP, which administers the payments, how split payments could be achieved in Scotland. However, if the policy was changed at source at the UK level then there would be no need for the Scottish Government to pay the DWP for a special arrangement and it would benefit women right across the UK, not just in Scotland. Women shouldn’t have to choose between poverty and abuse, yet some are having to do just that because of this policy.
Universal Credit – Fix It Now
My Ten Minute Rule Bill aims to push the UK Government to amend their shambolic new social security benefit, Universal Credit (UC), before it is rolled out further across the country.
Pilots of UC, and those areas where it has already been implemented, have shown that it is pushing thousands of people into poverty and destitution – primarily, due to the minimum 6-week wait recipients must wait for their first payment. Like most of us, the majority of recipients have monthly bills to pay so many are falling into debt, particularly rent arrears.
To make matters worse, the 6-week wait has in reality been 8-10 weeks for many recipients, and even longer for others. The impact of this is that many families are having to rely on food banks and emergency crisis payments just to get by while some are facing the threat of homelessness.
The Bill, which is scheduled to come to the House on 27th November, aims to address this by ensuring recipients receive their first payment within a month. It also seeks to increase the payback period for advance payments, which can be applied for if a claimant is facing financial hardship whilst awaiting their payment, from 3 months to 12 to give recipients a chance to get back on their feet and not plunge further into debt.
The Bill has cross-party support and has been welcomed by many charities and third sector organisations, including Shelter, Feeding Britain and the Trussell Trust, who have seen the suffering UC has caused many individuals and families since the roll-out began.
As the roll-out of Universal Credit in the North Ayrshire part of my constituency coincides with Budget Day, I have also written to the Work and Pensions Secretary urging him to press the Chancellor to use the Autumn Budget to sort it out before more people and families find themselves destitute particularly over the Christmas period and winter.
EU Citizens’ Rights in the UK and British Citizens’ Rights in the EU post-Brexit
I signed up to support the call to the UK Government to guarantee EU Citizens’ Rights in the UK and British Citizens’ Rights in the EU post-Brexit
Scrap the Cap
I joined thousands of RCN members at their biggest ever UK rally in Parliament Square to call on the UK Government to Scrap the Cap on wages for health and other public sector workers. The Scottish Government has announced it will scrap the cap; it is time the UK Government did the same.
End the Benefits Freeze
I have signed the pledge card committing to support action to end the benefits freeze. For more than 10 years there have been a variety of changes to our social security system, some of which have contributed to rising levels of poverty and growing inequality. This is bad for both society and the economy.
The decision to freeze most working age benefits until the end of the current UK Parliament cannot be justified on any grounds and should come to an end. Freezing working age benefits will take almost £1 billion from the pockets of people living in Scotland by 2020/21, and will affect around 750,000 households by the end of the decade. These cuts will affect people regardless of whether they are in work or unemployed. At a time when the negative impact of austerity policies are becoming all the more evident, there is a real need to end this damaging and regressive approach to social security benefits.
Listen to Your Lungs
I am supporting the British Lung Foundation’s lung health awareness campaign. I recently took their online ‘breath test’ at the Houses of Parliament and am encouraging others to do the same.
The UK-wide campaign is aiming to raise awareness that feeling out of breath doing everyday tasks could be a sign of lung disease. They want to encourage anyone who feels breathless take their online ‘breath test’.
Completing the test is a really easy way of checking your lung health and I’d encourage everyone to try it. It’ll either give you peace of mind or start you on a path to helping you manage your breathlessness.
Anti-microbial resistance and drug-resistant TB
I am one of the signatories to a Letter to the Prime Minister calling on the UK Government to ensure research and development into antimicrobial resistance and drug-resistant TB stays high on the G20 agenda.
Swearing to take on Mental Health
Mental illness should not be seen as an inevitable part of life but we are still along way from seeing the ‘parity of esteem’, the principle by which mental health must be given equal priority to physical health. This is why I got behind “MQ’s ‘We Swear’ campaign, which aims to make it clear that radical change is needed right now and asks the public to show their support for swearing to take on mental illness.
Delighted to meet up with some of the Ayrshire WASPI women who had travelled down to Westminster on Budget Day as part of a considerable and very loud Scottish contingent to protest as the UK Government’s refusal to make provision for the thousands of women who have been unable to make contingency plans for their pension age being put back by some five or more years through no fault of their own. Their determination and positivity in the face of such utter injustice and disregard shown by this Tory Government is an example to us all.
Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence (Ratification of Convention) Bill
I was delighted to support the passage of my colleague Dr Eilidh Whiteford’s Bill to tackle violence against women – the first SNP Bill to be passed through the House of Commons. If it passes the House of Lords, the legislation will require the UK government to ratify the ‘Istanbul Convention’, which puts legal obligations on the State to prevent violence against women and prosecute perpetrators. The Convention encompasses many forms of sexual violence and domestic abuse including stalking, harassment, sexual assault and rape, physical and psychological abuse by a partner, forced marriage, forced abortion or sterilisation and female genital mutilation. The UK signed the treaty in 2012 but has yet to ratify it to make it part of UK law. It is not easy to get a Private Members Bill passed but this Bill secured cross-party support, which is testament to the work of Eilidh and the many women’s organisations and charities which championed it. Of course, the Bill is not an end point in itself but part of the journey to equality and justice for women.
Remove the Tax on Child Support for Victims of Domestic Violence
I’ve signed up to support my SNP colleague, Angela Crawley’s, campaign to scrap the collection charge on child maintenance payments for parents who have escaped domestic abuse. You too can sign the petition calling on the UK Government to remove the tax on child support for victims of domestic violence https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/177815