MORE than 3000 families in Scotland have been "squeezed into poverty" after being left on average £64 a week worse off as a result of the UK Government's benefits cap, a new report has claimed.

Research by the Scottish Government found a total of 3320 households had their benefits capped as of May 2019.

Among those who had their housing benefit payments limited, the average amount capped was £64 a week, the equivalent to almost £3330 a year.

Housing Minister Kevin Stewart claimed UK Government welfare cuts were "squeezing more families into poverty".

The report also warned mixed-age couples – when one person is of pension age but their partner is of working age – could be left up to £7000 a year worse off by welfare changes.

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As of May 2019, these couples are no longer able to claim Pension Credit, which tops up their income to £12,940 a year, and must instead claim Universal Credit, which entitles them to just under £5990 a year.

While this affects an estimated 1400 households in the current financial year, the total number who lose out could rise to an estimated 5600 in 2023-24, according to the report.

The annual study examining the impact of UK Government welfare reforms on Scotland found that overall, the benefits freeze could reduce social security spending by £300 million a year – with this affecting most of the 460,000 Scots currently claiming either housing benefits or the housing element of Universal Credit.

It added the benefits cap, which was introduced in 2013 to limit the amount any household can receive in means-tested welfare payments, "disproportionately affects families with children".

The National: Scottish Government Housing Minister Kevin StewartScottish Government Housing Minister Kevin Stewart

Under the system, payments are capped at £20,000 a year in Scotland, although there is a lower limit of £13,400 for single people with no children.

Data from May 2019 showed of the 2730 households whose housing benefits payments had been capped, two-thirds were single-parent families, with only 9% not having any children.

There were also difficulties for those on housing benefit when renting a home in the private sector, with the report finding only 11 out of 90 local housing allowance rates are set at a level that would allow someone to rent a home in the bottom 30% of the market.

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Stewart said: "UK Government welfare cuts are squeezing more families into poverty and leaving them struggling to afford appropriate accommodation.

"As the private rental market becomes increasingly less accessible to those on low income, cutting housing benefit by £64 per week for some families puts them at risk of homelessness.

"The UK Government must act urgently to reverse these cuts and support those renting in the private sector."

He added: "It is not feasible for the Scottish Government to completely mitigate the impacts of UK cuts but we will do all we can to support families through the Scottish Welfare Fund and discretionary housing payments and by protecting people against the Bedroom Tax.

"We could do so much more to help lift families out of poverty if Scotland had full control of welfare policy."

A spokeswoman for the UK Department for Work and Pensions said: "Since 2011, we have provided around £1 billion to local authorities to make Discretionary Housing Payments and in 2020-2021, we will make an additional £40 million available.

"The UK Government continues to spend around £95 billion a year on working age benefits.

"Meanwhile, Scotland has significant welfare powers and can top-up existing benefits, pay discretionary payments and create entirely new benefits altogether."