A MAJOR anniversary has just passed and no one noticed it. There were no calls for debates in Westminster by Labour or the Conservatives, and not a word from Jeremy Corbyn or Theresa May. Almost everyone missed it.

It was the anniversary of one of most shameful Acts of the last Parliament – the passage of the Welfare Reform and Work Act.

The Act, which received Royal Ascent on March 16, 2016, has implemented punitive cuts to social security in the guise of welfare "reform". A long list of social security cuts were introduced: the benefit cap, the benefit freeze, the two-child cap on Child Tax Credits, and the cut to Employment Support Allowance, among others. Two years later we are now starting to see the full impact of these policies.

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The new benefit cap imposes an entirely arbitrary limit to the amount of social security households are able to receive. Introduced in 2012, the Tories subsequently lowered the thresholds by up to £6000 a year from November 2016. We now know that 78 per cent of UK households covered by the cap by November 2017 were there because of this new lower threshold, and seven in 10 of capped households are single-parent families. If this wasn’t bad enough, it took a court ruling to force the Tories to exempt Carer’s Allowance from the cap, after it was found to unlawfully discriminate against disabled people and their carers.

Figures produced by the IFS show the truly staggering drop in the income of low-paid, working families. The two-child cap on Child Tax Credits, and the equivalent cut under Universal Credit, will see 600,000 families with three children receiving around £2500 a year less than they would have previously received, and a further 300,000 families with four or more children will receive £7000 a year less on average.

Disability benefit has been cut since April 2017, amounting to £30 less a week for ESA claimants with a limited capability for work. This will affect up to 10,000 disabled people in Scotland, and the IFS have said this will see these claimants make do with £1400 less a year than they would otherwise have received. When we know that many sick or disabled people in receipt of ESA were already using credit cards to get by before this cut, I struggle to understand the logic behind this.

The benefit freeze has been perhaps one of the most punishing of the policies enacted over the past two years, freezing most working-age benefits including Housing Benefit, Child Benefit, Universal Credit and Tax Credits – for four years from April 2016. This cut has been massively amplified by the rise in inflation, which has risen steadily from 0.5 per cent in June 2016 to a current three per cent.

SNP-commissioned figures from the House of Commons Library show that because of high inflation the Tory’s benefit freeze which be cutting an additional £3bn from claimants between 2018/19 and 2020/21 than the Government had envisaged in 2015.

It is worth noting that the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016 was mostly amending the Tory Welfare Reform Act 2012, the foundation stone of Universal Credit as well as the hated bedroom tax. It also introduced PIP – the disability payment replacing DLA – which has seen disabled claimants have to undergo gruelling re-assessments after which just under half receive no payment or a lower payment.

Since 2010 the Tories have implemented a continuous drip of cuts to the UK social security system, eroding its value both financially but also as a support mechanism which people falling on hard times or requiring a bit of additional support can rely on.

Labour talk the talk on welfare cuts, but couldn’t bring themselves to walk the walk through the lobbies to vote against this legislation at its Second Reading in the Commons back in 2015. They are also staying conveniently silent on the impact their own approach to Brexit will have on the cost of living, which erodes by a huge proportion the incomes of benefit recipients. This may explain why they forgot to refer to the Benefit Freeze in their 2017 manifesto.

The Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016 exemplifies the very worst of this Tory government’s total callousness. The SNP want to highlight that on the two-year anniversary of this Act having become law, it has left misery and devastation in its wake.

We have challenged and condemned these Tory cuts from the very beginning, but the Tories refused to believe us when we said these policies would push people into complete crisis. Two years on they can no longer refuse to ignore the evidence. The Tories urgently need to reverse these cuts and restore dignity and support to social security.
Neil Gray MP
Airdrie and Shotts