THE CHANCELLOR has pointed to Scotland’s important role in rebuilding the UK economy through a green recovery from the pandemic as he insisted the Government is “not done helping people” stay afloat.
Rishi Sunak, speaking on a trip north of the border, said the UK Government was still supporting Scots despite the Universal Credit uplift set to be cut in two months’ time.
The Chancellor stressed the £20 uplift was “always meant to be a temporary measure”, despite a string of warnings that it could lead to thousands of Scots being forced into poverty.
Mr Sunak arrived in Scotland as official statistics from HMRC showed that almost 35,000 people in Scotland were removed from the UK Government’s furlough scheme in June.
The figures revealed that 141,500 Scots remained on the job retention scheme, a reduction from 175,300 at the end of May.
Furlough is being further wound down from Sunday – with employers making a bigger contribution to the support scheme.
The Chancellor used his visit to boast about the UK Government support to businesses during the pandemic and pointed to the contribution Scotland will make in hitting climate targets ahead of the COP26 conference in Glasgow later this year – and the economic benefits that will bring.
Mr Sunak visited the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult Turbine in Leven, Fife. The turbine is a leading technology innovation and research centre for offshore renewable energy.
He met SMEs who have used the turbine for development and have benefitted from UK Government funding for green ventures.
Mr Sunak said: “The transition to net zero is creating jobs.
“The businesses that you speak to here, who are using this massive turbine to test their products, are all growing – they are all hiring new people, they’re developing new products and services and they’re actually now exporting all around the world.
“That’s the kind of opportunities that we’re creating as we transition.”
He added: “It’s been inspiring to hear stories of people and businesses in Scotland that are now starting to feel the weight of the pandemic lifting off them as they get back to work – our plan for jobs is working and it’s great to see people succeeding after a year of uncertainty.
“It’s been a challenging time but the UK Government has delivered one of the most generous packages of support in the world, protecting one in three Scottish jobs.
“Scotland will be key in ensuring the UK’s economic success – creating jobs, powering our growth and driving a green recovery by hosting COP26 later this year.”
But the Chancellor has faced growing pressure to ditch a proposed removal of the £20 Universal Credit uplift, due to be rolled out at the end of September.
Research from the Trade Union Congress (TUC) revealed that almost 40% of Universal Credit claimants in Scotland, 176,000 people, are in work – but do not bring home enough money to stay afloat without support.
The Scottish Government’s Shona Robison has previously warned that removing the £20 uplift would be “a callous act which will push 60,000 families across Scotland, including 20,000 children, into poverty and will result in families unable to work receiving, on average, £1,600 less per year than they would have done a decade ago in 2011”.
TUC general secretary, Frances O’Grady, said that if the Universal Credit cut goes ahead as planned, “millions of working families and key workers will be forced to get by on much less every week”, adding that “ministers should abandon this cruel cut”.
Asked about the end of the £20 uplift, Mr Sunak said: “That was always meant to be a temporary intervention, that was clear from the outset.
“Like furlough and the other things we’ve done, some will start to ease off.
“But we’re not done helping people get through this.”
He said the UK Government’s kickstart scheme was “a great example of us using our muscle, using the might of the Government to help particularly young people find new work”.
Asked about families who may find themselves in poverty when the uplift ends, Mr Sunak did not appear to acknowledge the scale of those in work who rely on Universal Credit.
He said: “There’s lots of different ways we can help those people.
“What we’re doing is providing support in a way that will sustainably help those people.
“I think the right thing is to help those families into really high-paid work, that’s the best way to help those children.
“We know that children growing up in a workless household are five times more likely to be in poverty than those that don’t.
“That tells me that the best way to help those children is to help their parents find really good jobs.”
Mr Sunak also discussed the phasing-out of the furlough scheme, saying it had saved “millions of jobs” but the UK Government’s focus was now on getting people back into work.
He added: “All the data we’re seeing about the labour market is really positive.
“A year ago people were expecting unemployment in our country to peak at 12%, 1980s levels.
“If you asked them now, they think it will peak at a level half of that – that’s two million people fewer out of work than we feared a year ago.”
“Unemployment in this country is lower than in most of our competitor nations.”