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Calls to scrap ‘inhuman’ benefits cap amid fears 900 Tayside and Fife families face poverty

Rising energy bills could push hundreds into poverty.
Rising energy bills could push hundreds into poverty.

The UK Government has been urged to scrap the “cruel and inhuman” benefits cap as more than 900 Tayside and Fife families struggle to cope.

New figures show 454 households in Tayside and 455 in Fife are affected by the cap.

And with predictions of a looming cost of living crisis, campaigners say families are being driven into hardship and foodbank use.

In Scotland, social security payments are limited to a maximum of £1,666 a month.

The cap works by reducing either universal credit or housing benefit.

Nearly 50 anti-poverty charities say most people receiving benefits are already finding it difficult to cover basic expenses such as rent, utilities and food.

Many are choosing between heating and eating.

And there are fears soaring numbers will be pushed into poverty once prices escalate further in April.

‘I’m dreading April’

Among those forced to make stark choices is Shauna Gauntlett, from Dundee.

She has three children under the age of six, and while her husband Benjamin has a full-time job, she is counting every single penny.

She said: “Every Monday I think ‘what can I not do this week?’

Shauna Gauntlett, and son Jacob
Shauna Gauntlett and son Jacob.

“If it means not going somewhere because I don’t have the bus fare then I just stay in the house.

“This week I’m not taking my daughter to playgroup because I don’t have the money to go.”

Shauna is really noticing the difference in food bills.

“It’s an extra £5 a week just now, which really adds up,” she said.

“Then there’s all the bills coming through the door, saying this is going up, that’s going up.

“I’m feeling the squeeze with the cost of living rising substantially.

“And I’m dreading April because of the energy price increase and everything else.

“We don’t get any benefits and it’s hard enough. How do people on universal credit cope?”

Dundee MP says benefits cap is ‘obscene’

And Shauna is far from alone.

While she isn’t directly affected by the benefits cap, more than 6,400 households across Scotland are.

And the SNP is now calling for an emergency package of measure to support households as prices continue to spiral.

They want to see the introduction of a low-income energy payment, a reversal of the £20 a week universal credit cut and a real living wage of £9.90-an-hour.

Dundee East SNP MP Stewart Hosie branded the benefits cap “obscene”.

Stewart Hosie MP
Stewart Hosie MP. Picture Mhairi Edwards/DCT Media.

He said: “It’s an ideologically-driven attack on some of the most vulnerable people in Dundee.

“When you combine that with the massive rise in inflation, particularly energy costs, people are really, really struggling.

“The very least the government should do is scrap the benefits cap and, while they’re at it, postpone the National Insurance increase and reverse the cut to universal credit.”

The benefits cap affects 220 Dundee households.

Local people are living in hardship.”

SNP MP Douglas Chapman.

Meanwhile, Dunfermline and West Fife MP Douglas Chapman added: “The cap should have been scrapped a long time ago.

“But to maintain it in the midst of an escalating cost of living crisis is just cruel and inhuman.

“In Dunfermline and West Fife, at least 360 children are affected by this policy of limiting welfare payments to those most in need of support.

“The inevitable consequence is that local people – young and old – are living in hardship, and this will only get worse as the cost of living continues to spiral.”

‘Fairness for taxpayers’

The Conservative Government introduced the benefits cap in 2013, amid claims welfare payments were too generous.

A spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions said the cap balances fairness for taxpayers with providing a vital safety net.

“Our Plan For Jobs is helping more people into and to progress in work,” she said.

“Moving into employment significantly increases the likelihood of a household not being affected by the cap.

“Meanwhile, the Scottish Parliament has significant welfare powers and can top up existing benefits, pay discretionary payments and can create entirely new benefits in areas of devolved responsibility.”

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