The UK Government must completely halt the roll-out of universal credit to prevent it from driving people into poverty, Nicola Sturgeon has said.
Speaking at First Minister’s Questions on Thursday, Ms Sturgeon also called for welfare powers to be fully devolved to Scotland to avoid having to mitigate such policies from Westminster.
A vote on whether to move three million benefit claimants on to universal credit was due to be held in Westminster over the coming weeks.
But it was pushed back and MPs will instead now be asked to vote on transferring just 10,000 people to the new benefits system.
Universal credit, which merges six different benefits for working age people into one monthly payment, has been heavily criticised and has faced delays.
The First Minister urged the UK Government to implement changes in order to make the system “fit for purpose”.
She said: “There should be a complete halt to universal credit in order that fundamental changes are made because people are suffering.
“People are being driven into poverty and debt because of universal credit and it is completely and utterly unacceptable.
“It is time for the UK Government to listen to the overwhelming evidence of the failings of universal credit.
“The UK Government should make fundamental changes to make it fit for purpose and halt it in the meantime.”
Ms Sturgeon indicated the Scottish Government has repeatedly raised issues around universal credit with successive work and pension secretaries at Westminster and will continue to do so, but said it would be better if Scotland could implement its own welfare system independently.
The First Minister said: “As I’ve said in this chamber before, I’d far rather be in a position of, rather than just having to plead with a DWP minister in Westminster, that this Parliament has full powers over universal credit and the wider social security system so that we could take our own decisions – another reason why this country should sooner rather than later become independent.”