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Scotland's welfare shake-up will protect against abusive financial control

The new social security (Scotland) bill means automatic split Universal Credit payments

EPA/Andy Rain

Legislated in 2011, Universal Credit was a welfare reform set to combine the six “legacy” benefits but the national roll out has been embroiled in controversy, the latest being calls from experts warning MPs that proposed single household payments could make it easier for domestic abusers to exert financial control.  

As part of a historic shake up in welfare in Scotland the Holyrood government has introduced automatic split payments of Universal Credit.

This is a huge victory and a critical one for women experiencing domestic abuse

Although official statistics do not identify financial control as a distinct form of abuse, a survey from charity Women’s Aid looking at experiences of financial abuse and the implications for Universal Credit found 58 per cent of women asked said their partners use them as a source of money.

Feminist organisation Engender alongside Women’s Aid and other women’s and anti-poverty organisations called the Scottish government to use their new powers to avoid a single household payment as in England and Wales.

Engender spokeswoman Maxine Blaine told The Big Issue: “By enshrining the commitment to individual payments in law, the Scottish Parliament has paid attention to the different needs of men and women. We’re thrilled to have a positive outcome that will promote and protect women’s financial autonomy and safety.”

Writing on its Facebook page Scottish Women’s Aid said:

This is a huge victory and a critical one for women experiencing domestic abuse; no one should have to choose between putting food on the table or leaving an abusive partner.

We are proud to have worked on this alongside Engender and many other organisations – thanks to all MSPs who voted to support.”

The split payments will also now be made fortnightly instead of monthly.

The changes come as MSPs unanimously passed the final stage of the social security (Scotland) bill last night.

The welfare reforms, which recognise social security as a human right, came part of the package of promised devolved powers following Scotland’s 2014 independence referendum.

Social security minister Jeane Freeman heralded the changes as a “historic moment”.

“Our system will be different. It will be rights based, with a right to independent advocacy for those who need it; fast-tracked arrangements and no arbitrary timescale for people with terminal illness; the right to have a supporter and the right to challenge decisions without having your money instantly cut,” she said.

The new powers make up 15 per cent of Scotland’s total benefits, with 11 in total being wholly devolved. These include the introduction of housing allowance going directly to landlords rather than claimants and the scrapping of the controversial and rigorous medical assessments faced by disabled living allowance and personal independence payment applicants.

Inclusion Scotland, a disability organisation, welcomed the passing of the bill in which it was consulted on during its development.

Bill Scott, Inclusion Scotland’s Director of Policy said, “As an organisation we have had a hand in achieving significant improvements to the original Bill by securing amendments that have granted disabled people new rights to access advocacy services when seeking social security assistance; to be communicated with in accessible ways; and in getting rid of many unnecessary and stressful face-to-face medical assessments.

A report released by The Trussell Trust this week cited Universal Credit as a direct cause of the record high number of families reliant on foodbank use.

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