SCOTLAND’S social security minister has called Boris Johnson’s decision to stop a £20-per week uplift to Universal Credit “indefensible” and “economically nonsensical”.

Campaigners also warned an attempt to justify the move by promoting jobs is “plain wrong”, with figures showing around a third of people claiming the benefit in Scotland are already in employment.

UK work and pensions minister Therese Coffey last week confirmed the uplift introduced during the pandemic will be withdrawn at the end of September.

She told MPs that now the economy was opening up, the focus should be “strongly on getting people into work and jobs”.

But Scotland’s social security minister Ben Macpherson has described the plans as the “worst possible decision, at the worst possible time.”

He said: “The UK Government’s decision to withdraw the £20-per-week uplift to Universal Credit in September is indefensible.

“It is also economically nonsensical at a time when we need to stimulate growth in order to create jobs and help businesses recover.

“Now is not a time to cut household support – now is a time to invest and assist those who need it.

“This cut will remove £461 million from Scottish households – and we estimate it will push more than 60,000 people in Scotland into poverty, including 20,000 children.

“As we begin to emerge from this dreadful pandemic, we need to be building an economic recovery that works for everyone – but by ending the £20 uplift, just as household incomes need to be supported, the UK Government are taking the worst possible decision, at the worst possible time,” he added.

Johnson told MPs last week that his aim was to focus on moving people into better paid work.

When asked about the prospect that ending the uplift would push thousands more into poverty, the Prime Minister responded: “I think that the answer to that is to get people into work.”

However figures show around 170,000 people in Scotland claiming Universal Credit are already in employment. Macpherson said Johnson seemed “completely unaware” that so many people on the benefit are already in work and rely on this “lifeline payment”.

“Even at this late stage, the UK Government must think again about ending the uplift and retain the £20 boost that people need,” he added.

Peter Kelly, director of the Poverty Alliance, said the last year had shown the importance of having a secure safety net when times are hard.

 “That why the decision to cut Universal Credit is so disappointing,” he said.

“Those who need this support in August are not going to need it any less in October.

“And the UK Government’s assertion that it is promoting jobs over social security is just plain wrong.

“Universal Credit is available to people in work, and around a third of people receiving it in Scotland are in work. A decent social security system should be available for everyone, whenever they need it.”

David Scott, social justice policy officer at Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS), said: “Universal Credit already acts as income support for people already in work, and the £20 increase has been a lifeline for people during the pandemic.

“In fact, because of  the design of the taper rate for the benefit, that £20 a week is potentially worth over £1400 a year for someone in work and on Universal Credit.”

Scott pointed to a poll published by CAS last week showing one in seven people are already struggling on their current incomes – and warned this figure could grow higher if Universal Credit is cut at the same time the furlough scheme ends. 

He added: “Getting people into good, well-paying work will absolutely be essential in the coming months, but if people can’t find jobs, and we see a spike in unemployment, cutting the safety net isn’t the answer.”