A plan to cut £20 per week from Universal Credit should be scrapped, Holyrood has declared.
MSPs have voted to call for the UK Government to maintain the benefit uplift introduced towards the start of the coronavirus pandemic rather than end it as planned on October 6.
Social justice secretary Shona Robison said the end of the £20 uplift would be “senseless and harmful” and said thousands of families will face the “terrible decision” of choosing to heat their homes or feeding themselves.
Only the Scottish Conservatives opposed the call and instead wanted the Parliament to pass a motion stating that it was the “right time for the uplift to be reviewed” given that the majority of coronavirus restrictions had been eased.
Opening the debate, Robison said: “This cut is not inevitable, nor is it something that is happening because it is expected to improve the lives of those affected – we know it isn’t going to.
“This is a conscious decision to remove support from people who rely upon this uplift as a lifeline to allow basic needs to be met and to live with a modicum of dignity.”
Scottish Conservative MSP Alexander Stewart claimed that Universal Credit had “helped employment rise to record levels in the months leading up to the pandemic”.
He added: “I was pleased to see the six-month extension to the uplift confirmed in the March budget following calls from members in these benches, but it would be remiss of me not to mention the continuing uplift and the cost.
“Those on the opposite benches tell us that they believe the problem of funding is a non-issue. Well, I’m sorry, it’s not a non-issue.
“But less than a week ago, in this chamber, we saw the SNP social security minister stand in the chamber and refuse to say whether he would permanently double the carers allowance supplement. And the reason for that was budget considerations.”
Ahead of the debate, Scottish Labour’s social security spokeswoman Pam Duncan-Glancy said: “The uplift was a response to a failing social security system, gutted by the Conservative Government.
“This money went on basics like food, bills and travelling to work or school. For millions of people struggling to make ends meet, slashing that money now will be an assault on their basic human rights.
“This cut will do untold damage to communities and all those opposed must stand together to fight it – but we need deeds as well as words from the Scottish Government.
“Poverty has been climbing under the Tories and the SNP. If they don’t act to reverse this, they will fail future generations and undo all the progress made under the previous Labour Governments.
“The SNP and the Conservative Governments must use all the powers at their disposal to take bold transformative action to tackle poverty and inequality right now.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP Willie Rennie said: “The Conservatives seem to be concerned about the cost of this £20 cut to the overall exchequer, but they’ve also said that work is the best route out of poverty.”
A UK Government spokeswoman said: “We’ve always been clear that the uplift to Universal Credit was temporary.
“It was designed to help claimants through the economic shock and financial disruption of the toughest stages of the pandemic, and it has done so.
“Universal Credit will continue to provide vital support for those both in and out of work and it’s right that the Government should focus on our Plan for Jobs, supporting people back into work and supporting those already employed to progress and earn more.
“The Scottish Parliament has significant welfare powers and can top up existing benefits, pay discretionary payments and create entirely new benefits in areas of devolved responsibility.”