THE Chancellor is under pressure to lift the freeze on social security benefits after Theresa May used her Tory party conference speech earlier this month to announce that “austerity was over”.

Alison Thewliss, the SNP’s shadow spokeswoman on the Treasury, yesterday called on Philip Hammond to use Monday’s Budget as an opportunity to increase payments which have not increased since 2015.

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She said it was “appalling” that people who were struggling financially were being forced into poverty by the UK Government’s refusal to allow benefits to keep pace with inflation.

Until 2015, working-age benefits including child tax credits, and employment support allowance (ESA), would rise in line with the annual rate of inflation.

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However, former chancellor George Osborne imposed a benefits freeze which has remained in place ever since. Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has estimated the measure will push half a million families over the poverty line by 2020.

Anti-poverty campaigners have said the negative impact of the policy has been exacerbated by the introduction of the flagship Universal Credit policy, which rolls six benefits into one. It has been blamed for a rising number of people turning to food banks because of cuts to their monthly income and waits to have their payments processed.

“The callousness of this Tory government never ceases to shock me. It is truly appalling that they have presided over a freeze on working-age benefits for hundreds of thousands of people across the country, while living costs have increased,” Thewliss commented.

“It seems that the UK Government will pursue a budget surplus at any cost, and if that means forcing thousands of families below the poverty line, then so be it. This is purely ideological and cruel, and it must stop. The Tories have rightfully received harsh scrutiny on their shambolic Universal Credit policy, but the benefits freeze could potentially be more damaging to low-income families.”

She added last month inflation stood at 2.4%, and that the Institute of Fiscal Studies has estimated the benefits freeze would mean that families would be up to £800 a year worse off by 2020. “Theresa May has the audacity to say that austerity is over. It certainly isn’t in my constituency,” she said.

Earlier this month the Joseph Rowntree Foundation said its analysis showed almost 3m children were in poverty despite being in a working family and the UK’s record high employment rate.

Chief executive Campbell Robb said: “Action in the Budget would mean working families keep more of their earnings and feel the benefit in their pockets just one week after Brexit [as the new financial year begins in April]. Almost 10m people in families with children would see this boost, a big step towards tackling the burning injustice of in-work poverty.”