FMQs Round Up: FM under fire over Universal Credit 'Inconsitency'

Scottish Government attacked over 'inconsistency' in approach to split Universal Credit payments, as social security and arts funding dominate First Ministers Questions.

Nicola Sturgeon came under fire at today’s First Minister's Questions from the Scottish Labour leader, Richard Leonard, for voting against a Labour amendment to the Social Security Bill, which would ensure that Universal Credit payments would be split between partners in a household, whilst an SNP MP in Westminster put forward a Private Members Bill on the same issue.

Under the current system, Universal Credit is paid to a single bank account per household, potentially leaving women in abusive relationships unable to access the benefit.

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard said:

“Universal Credit should be automatically split between the two partners in a relationship. These split payments are supported by organisations like Engender and Scottish Women’s Aid.

“The new powers in this Parliament over social security give us a chance to build a fundamentally fairer society. The Scottish Government has already taken action around the flexibility of Universal Credit – paying the housing element directly to landlords and paying fortnightly rather than monthly.

“These moves establish the principle and the practice that payments can be delivered in a different way in Scotland.

“Automatic split payments need to happen because there are too many women experiencing domestic abuse, where the abuser holds the purse strings.

“Automatically splitting these payments is a practical step that this Parliament could take – Labour wants to see it delivered by secured in the Social Security Bill.”

In response the First Minister said that although the SNP were not ‘ideologically’ opposed to splitting Universal Credit payments, the Scottish Government wanted more powers around benefit legislation devolved to Holyrood before they could take this step, asking for Scottish Labour’s support in doing so.

The First Minister also drew flak from the Scottish Green leader, Patrick Harvie, echoed by SNP MSP for Glasgow Kelvin, Sandra White, who brought up the funding crisis that the Scottish Youth Theatre was undergoing, after the decision of Creative Scotland to stop funding the organisation during the period 2018-21.

The Chief executive of the Scottish Youth Theatre Jacky Hardacre released a statement yesterday stating that "Without a realistic expectation that we would be successful in securing financial support in such a limited time to meet the significant funding gap, we are left with no other realistic option but to cease trading on 31st July 2018.”

The First Minister argued that Creative Scotland had its own internal mechanisms for deciding funding, despite the fact that in 2014 the then First Minister, Alex Salmond, had provided £750,000, after Creative Scotland had last pulled funding from the group.

The Scottish Labour spokesperson for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs, Claire Baker said:

“The Scottish Youth Theatre has seen many of the country’s most successful talents tread their boards. This opportunity cannot be lost to future generations. Creative Scotland’s funding programme has been poorly handled from the very beginning. We are now seeing the consequences of Creative Scotland’s decisions and the Scottish Government’s inaction. If the Scottish Government are serious about 2018 being the year of the young people then the First Minister must now step in and secure the future of the Youth Theatre.”

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