It has been a whirlwind couple of weeks, including a flying visit to Orkney for a meeting with OIC leader Councillor James Stockan and some of his colleagues. This meeting coincided with the visit to the islands of the Scottish Parliament’s Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, which was gathering evidence on the Island Bill, so several MSP colleagues were also in the county.
As well as these useful discussions with the council, I also met with several constituents, covering topics as diverse as renewable energy, building regulations, and fuel poverty.
In the evening I squeezed in attendance at a training session for the Orkney Dragons, Orkney Rugby Club’s marvellous women’s team – very fitting as it was Women and Girls in Sport Week. I was delighted to be presented with one of their eye-catching shirts, and also had a chat with Orkney RFC president Brian Lanni, chairman Neil McCartney and the team and coaches. As a result, I have written to the SRU on their behalf to raise concerns about potential season change.
Back at Holyrood, I spoke in a debate on the roll-out of universal credit, including the warning from the Trussell Trust to Theresa May that ‘If universal credit…continues…food banks won’t be able to catch everyone who falls’.
Charity after charity has lined up to point out what this flawed plan is doing, but the Tories just ignore them.
As one of the first areas in Scotland to have universal credit, Highland is already dealing with the impact of this ill-thought-out policy. I and Drew Hendry MP have been campaigning for many months to halt the roll-out of full service universal credit.
I am at a loss as to what it will it take for the UK Government to finally notice the devastating impact that its policy is having on people. It is scandalous that the Scottish Tories defend the roll-out of universal credit when they can see the harm that it is causing. There is a damning litany of failure, confusion, heartache and indignity and a crushing drive towards increased poverty in the universal credit system.
Lengthy delays are pushing tenants to build up rent arrears, seek crisis or hardship payments and turn to food banks. They are putting pressure on the budgets of Highland Council, which has set aside £650,000 to deal with the further increase in rent arrears that it is expecting. It has also employed four new staff, at a cost of £124,000, to prevent rent arrears. That money-saving exercise seems somewhat costly.
The evidence of universal credit’s failure is clear. There is not just a problem with implementation, as the design of the policy is fundamentally flawed. It is not about making work pay; it is about making benefits punish.
Universal credit exemplifies the colossal lack of empathy and the incompetence that have become the indelible hallmark of the Tory Government. Rolling out the scheme to thousands of people who are already struggling is cruel in the extreme. It needs to be stopped.
This is a fortnightly column by local MSP Maree Todd SNP