SCOTTISH Tory leader Douglas Ross has come under fire for posing in a “photo call” at a Glasgow soup kitchen – while defending benefit cuts by the Conservative government at Westminster.

During an appearance at the Homeless Project Scotland’s facility in the city centre, Ross insisted the £20-a-week reduction in Universal Credit was “not a cut”, even when told that most service users had been affected by the policy change.

The Moray MP suggested the £20 uplift was only required during the height of lockdown, not now when people are “learning to live with” Covid. This comes despite a severe spike in energy costs, a scheduled increase to the National Insurance rate and skyrocketing inflation leading to a cost of living crisis.

The National:

“If we were going to continue with the £20 uplift to Universal Credit it was going to cost £6bn annually,” the Scottish Conservative chief said. “That money has to come from somewhere – somewhere else on the welfare budget, health or education.”

That claim comes just weeks after the UK Government decided to write off £4.3 billion in Covid payments lost to fraud, something which prompted former efficiency minister Lord Agnew to resign from his post live in the House of Lords Chamber.

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During his visit to the charity, which serves hot food to those in need under the Hielanman’s Umbrella, Ross was also challenged on the Conservative government’s austerity policies, which have been blamed for the large rise in food bank usage in the UK since 2010.

During that year, tens of thousands of people across the UK are thought to have used food banks. The figure for 2020/21 was more than 2.5 million. 

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“We are in challenging times and there is no denying it,” he said. “Difficult decisions were taken back in 2010, I was a local councillor at the time, as far away removed from the difficult decisions as you could be but I don’t shy away from it. I understand the concerns people had at the time and there is no doubt it did get our economy back on a stable footing.”

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However, he argued that austerity measures put the UK in a better place ahead of the pandemic. “Potentially, we were better equipped economically going into the pandemic because tough decisions were taken back in 2010 during the coalition years,” he claimed.

This is despite scientists finding links between areas hit hardest by austerity and those worst affected by Covid-19. 

The MSP for the Highlands and Islands region also took time at the soup kitchen to defend the Government’s planned National Insurance increase, suggesting it’s needed to fund the NHS.

The National:

“It is a difficult decision,” acknowledged Ross. “But by doing so, we can dedicate billions of pounds of support to improve the NHS after the pandemic. We can try to provide a system that offers greater social care for those who need it in later life. These decisions are not easy and it is not simple to say – yes we need to do that, but not provide the funding and that is why I supported that rise.”

Alison Thewliss, who represents the constituency of Glasgow Central at Westminster, was unimpressed by Ross’s comments during the visit to the charity. 

“Douglas Ross has shown once again how far removed he, and his party are from the realities faced by those who use food banks or have ongoing worries about their income,” she said.

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“Mr Ross clearly has no understanding of how important the Universal Credit £20 uplift was for people – and now households are under real pressure with the rise in inflation. The upcoming National Insurance hike is a tax on jobs as well as on individuals.”

The SNP MP noted that her party had urged the Tories to reverse the Universal Credit and scrap the National Insurance increase, but argued Ross and his colleagues had “doubled down” on the “heinous policies which are ruining the lives of my constituents”. 

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Thewliss (above) urged Ross to take responsibility for his own actions and support for these policies, and acknowledge that food banks are not a “solution” to austerity but the outcome.

Meanwhile David Linden, the SNP’s work and pensions spokesperson who represents the nearby Glasgow East seat, said Scots have “had enough” of Ross and his party. 

“Douglas Ross clearly saw this as nothing more than a photo call, whereby he could lecture people rather than listen to their concerns,” he told The National.

“Despite battling a global pandemic and a cost of living crisis, the Tories remain hell-bent on making finances tighter for the lowest earners in society.

“It’s no wonder that recent polls suggest that Scottish Tory MPs could be wiped out in the next General Election.”


Scottish Greens co-leader and Glasgow MSP Patrick Harvie (below) welcomed the fact that Ross visited Homeless Project Scotland to see the reality of hunger and homelessness for himself. "The project's volunteers have welcomed many politicians along to visit and volunteer in recent weeks, myself included. They do so in a non-partisan, non-judgemental way," he said.

The National:

However Ross's party must now answer "some tough questions", he told The National.

“While the Scottish Government is doubling the Scottish Child Payment, that money is being taken away again by the UK Government with the UC cut. While we're asking for the power we need to pilot a Universal Basic Income or improve the Warm Home Discount, the UK block us and preside over the biggest cost of living crisis in decades," he pointed out.

“There's always more we can do, from rent controls and cutting public transport costs, to making sure public services work better with volunteers like those at the Homeless Project. But we could do so much more with a change of UK Government, or better still if we had the full range of powers to act here in Scotland.”