Rape clause – debates and parliamentary questions

Prime Minister’s Questions – 19th October 2016

Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP): Q10. I have been asking questions for 15 months about this Tory Government’s appalling two-child policy and rape clause, but the Government still do not know how it will work. From one feminist to another, can the Prime Minister tell me how she justifies putting vulnerable women through the trauma of proving that their third child was born as the result of rape?

The Prime Minister: We have been clear that women who have a third child as a result of rape would not be subject to the limit that is being considered in relation to benefits. I absolutely recognise that the hon. Lady’s point addresses concern about dealing with individuals who have been through the trauma of rape, and that is why the Government are taking their time to consider that. We are consulting at the moment and looking at how to ensure that we do this in absolutely the right way.

Government plans to restrict tax credits to two children – Westminster Hall debate – 12th October 2016

Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP): I beg to move, that this House has considered Government plans to restrict tax credits to two children.

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Howarth.

I come to this debate in great frustration. When I first uncovered this issue in the Budget on 8 July last year, I did not expect that I would still be talking about it one year, three months and four days later. Incredibly, unless the Minister can tell me differently this afternoon, the Government are still unable to say exactly how their pernicious and medieval policy will operate.

To set the context, the then Chancellor, the right hon. Member for Tatton (Mr Osborne), outlined in his Budget the Government’s intention to limit the child element of tax credits and universal credits to the first two children in a family. The Budget stated:

“The Department for Work and Pensions and HMRC will develop protections for women who have a third child as the result of rape, or other exceptional circumstances.”

None of the questions asked on the Floor of the House or put directly to Ministers by me or my colleagues over the past year have been answered with a justification or explanation for this fundamentally flawed policy. I want to set out my anger about writing a rape clause into our social security system and about the wider impact of the two-child policy. Neither the rape clause nor the two-child policy is fit for a Government who proclaim their support for families.

Let me deal with the rape clause first. I put on record the public opposition to it from Scottish Women’s Aid, Rape Crisis Scotland, Engender and the more than 10,000 people who signed a petition on the issue. I am deeply upset and disturbed with the attitude that the Government have taken to very vulnerable women and children. No woman should have to prove that she has been raped in order to get tax credits.

I suppose it is not in the spirit of the chummy way in which people in this place like to do things, but I am unapologetic about the way I have spoken out about the meeting I had with the welfare Minister, Lord Freud, back in May. As he is a Member of the House of Lords, I have no opportunity to challenge or question him. I have been to many meetings in my eight years as an opposition local government councillor and in my year in this place, but I have never been so furious. For a Government Minister to open a meeting by saying “I’ve had to learn a lot more about this issue than I really wanted to” is appalling, and to go on to suggest flippantly that women facing the extremes of domestic violence should just flee demonstrates a dangerous ignorance. I hope the Minister will take the opportunity today to dissociate herself from her colleague’s comments. I do not think it is radical to suggest that Government Ministers ought to understand the implications of a policy before they inflict it on some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

Children being born of rape is not something that tends to happen because a rapist jumps out of the bushes and attacks a woman, as awful as that very rare ​circumstance is. Rape happens when women are so vulnerable and so powerless that they are in fear for their lives. Rape happens as the result of control in relationships. Rape happens in marriage. If a woman is in such a relationship, she is not going to nip down to her local jobcentre and report to a Government official that her child was born as the result of rape. For a start, with the single household payment in universal credit, she is not going to see the money in any case; it will go straight to her partner and he will know what she has done. Nor will she want to go through a third-party reporting mechanism, as suggested by Lord Freud. She will not want to tell her family GP. If the family are not known to the social work system, she will probably not want to alert social workers. She might not yet have sought the support of her local Women’s Aid or of other sources of assistance. She will almost certainly not want to contact the police just for the tax credits.

There is no clear statement from the Government on how their policy will operate. Once the rape is disclosed, what burden of proof will be acceptable to HMRC and the Department for Work and Pensions? After all, they are not organisations known for taking people at their word. What will the time limit be? Once a woman has left an abusive relationship and is in a position of safety, will she be able to make a claim retrospectively? Can that claim be backdated? For how long? If a woman needs to claim tax credits at a later stage in her life, because that is the nature of tax credits, will she need to trawl through her sexual history to identify that one of her children was conceived by rape?

How will a claim be recorded? I cannot conceive of a way of doing that that would not be hugely stigmatising both for the woman and for the child. Lord Freud suggested to me that it might take the form of a letter that a woman would have to retain in her records at home. I cannot imagine the distress caused if somebody else in the family came across that letter at a later stage. Alternatively, will the information have to be held on the woman’s records with DWP and HMRC? Will staff have access to it? Which staff? Will they receive appropriate training? The Public and Commercial Services Union has come out against the policy because of the difficult position it would put its members in.

Tax credits may be required at different stages in a woman’s life; would her claim be flagged up on any further occasion when a claim was made, or would she have to declare it on each separate occasion and relive that abuse again and again? Asking a woman to recount such abuse, perhaps on multiple occasions, to different officials is not protection in any sense of the word. The Government are not protecting any woman, or indeed any child, with this policy. In her heart of hearts, does the Minister believe that putting women through such trauma and humiliation is worth it? The rape clause must be scrapped.

I will not be content, though, with solely removing the rape clause, because doing that would offer no protection to families either. The two-child policy must go too. Women’s Aid, the Child Poverty Action Group and the StepChange debt charity all believe that the policy runs counter to the Government’s much-vaunted family test and produces a perverse incentive for families to separate or for single parents to forgo entering new relationships.​
The Government have stated that twins and multiple births will also be protected, but I have discovered that that is true only if the twins come after a single birth. According to the Government, people who have twins first have had their lot. That is despicable.

The letter I received from the Chief Secretary to the Treasury on 30 September stated that the Government’s intention was that

“all families—those in receipt of benefits and those supporting themselves solely through work—will be faced with the same sorts of financial considerations when making decisions about having more children”.

Aside from sounding as if it has come from some kind of totalitarian regime, that statement is absolute nonsense. Quite evidently, not all families start from the same point, but all families are valuable and worthy of support. The state has a duty to protect the most vulnerable among us.

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury is also quite wrong in his assumptions about those claiming tax credits. Some 63% of families who currently receive tax credits for a third or a subsequent child are in work. They are the very “just managing” families that the Prime Minister referred to on the doorstep of Downing Street. Will she make good on her commitment through deeds and not just warm words? Pursuing the two-child policy would pull the rug from underneath the very families she claims to want to protect.

The two-child policy is completely disproportionate. The Child Poverty Action Group notes that 42% of those who claim child tax credits have only one child, 36% have two children, 16% have three children and only 7% have four or more children. The policy will have a devastating impact on those families and their income but a very limited effect on Treasury coffers.

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury’s claim about people

“making decisions about having more children”

fails to recognise that perhaps when a family had their children, they were well able to afford them. I also doubt that many families make life decisions solely on the basis of their future tax credit income. Is this the thin end of the wedge from the Government? Life is not that simple. It could take only sudden illness, the death of a partner or changes to circumstances that could not reasonably have been foreseen to plunge a family into a situation in which they might need to claim tax credits. The third child that we are speaking of already exists and needs to be cared for. The extra support that tax credits provide could make the difference that gives that family enough food to eat or the ability to pay their bills. Providing for people in such situations is the very essence of why social security exists.

Evidence that I have received from StepChange demonstrates that if the two-child policy were applied to their current clients who have three or more children, 90% of those families would have absolutely no money left at the end of the month. The charity fears that, faced with mounting bills, unexpected everyday expenses and other commitments, those families will become extremely vulnerable to going into unmanageable debt. The cost of the bankruptcies that will follow will then end up being passed on to the state. StepChange’s ​research says that the average client that it deals with would be £327 worse off per month under the Government’s plans.

The policy also has very serious equalities implications, which the Government have not addressed at any stage. Concerns have been expressed to me by the Interlink Foundation, which represents the Orthodox Jewish community and which strongly believes that the policy will perpetuate disincentives to work for families with three or more children, as any additional earnings would reduce their entitlements. It will also make it impossible to achieve the Government’s aim of being better off in work. Interlink points out the substantial differential impact on religious communities, where reproduction, use of contraception and family size can be determined by beliefs and prevailing cultures, which the Government do not appear to have taken into account. According to Interlink’s figures, 52% of Jewish families have three or more children. For the Muslim community, the proportion is 60%. That stands in stark contrast to the population as a whole, out of which only 30% of families have three or more children. I am shocked that the Government have not addressed such a clear equalities issue.

It has been said by no less than the former Prime Minister—perhaps the Minister will repeat these claims today—that I am endlessly whinging, and that the Scottish Government now have the powers to deal with this issue. Those who say that are being extremely misleading, and also unfair to women and children in the rest of the UK, with whom I express my solidarity. The powers being transferred by the UK Government do not allow us in Scotland to set the eligibility criteria for child tax credits. Tax credits are a reserved benefit, and our Government in Scotland should not have to pay for the UK Government’s regressive policies. We have already spent £55 million on mitigating the hated bedroom tax. I would rather see the Scottish Government making positive choices, with all the powers of a normal Parliament, supporting families and lifting people out of poverty.

Dan Jarvis (Barnsley Central) (Lab): The hon. Lady is making a powerful speech and I very much agree with the argument she is advancing. I am pleased that she mentioned the Child Poverty Action Group; I pay tribute to the work it is doing on this matter. Does she agree that if the Government are determined to pursue such a punitive policy, at the very least they should publish an analysis of its impact on child poverty levels?

Alison Thewliss: I absolutely agree. The United Nations suggests that impact assessments should be carried out on policies that affect children. Such an assessment appears not to exist for this policy.

The Scottish Government can provide top-up benefits where someone is already eligible, but not where they are not. There is also a gap: the two-child policy and the rape clause come into force early next year, but it is unlikely that the full range of social security powers will be operational in Scotland until 2018.

I shall conclude by speaking briefly about our obligations to protect and support children. I contend that the limiting of the child element of tax credits and universal credit to the first two children in a family runs counter to our obligations under the United Nations convention on the rights of the child. We are obliged by article 2 of the UNCRC not to discriminate on the basis of birth, ​but the two-child policy clearly does so, by apportioning value according to when the child was born into a family. We are obliged under article 3 to make the best interests of the child a primary consideration, but the two-child policy and the rape clause stigmatise, and say that the Government do not value all children equally. They also limit working parents’ ability to feed and care for the children they already have. We are obliged under articles 26 and 27 to provide access to social security and an adequate standard of living, to assist parents in the bringing up of their children. The two-child limit completely undermines that right.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights have both recently investigated the UK for its approach to welfare reform and highlighted in very strong terms their concerns about the Government’s austerity agenda and the cuts to tax credits that have already happened. In its July report, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child stated that it was

“seriously concerned that…Recent amendments to the Tax Credits Act (2002), the Welfare Reform Act (2012) and the Welfare Reform and Work Act (2016) have limited the entitlement to child tax credits and social…regardless of the needs of the households”.

That is absolutely appalling. In their report to the UNCRC, the UK’s Children’s Commissioners said that:

“measures should not discriminate against children from particular groups for example children of lone parents, children with disabilities or children from large families.”

The rape clause and the two-child policy do discriminate in those ways.

The two-child policy and the rape clause fundamentally punish families for the circumstances they are in— circumstances that may be beyond their control and in which children already exist. I urge the Minister and the Government to act in the best interests of children, as our international commitments make clear they must. I urge them to stand up for the most vulnerable in our society. Families in situations of poverty, who are working hard and doing their best, are extremely vulnerable. Women who have been raped are extraordinarily vulnerable. The Government need to think incredibly carefully about how they wish to pursue these policies, if they wish to pursue them at all. I call on the Government to protect the “just managing”—those people they say they value and wish to support—and to scrap the abhorrent rape clause and the pernicious and discriminatory two-child policy.

Prime Minister’s Questions – 6th July 2016


Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP): Q13. The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights recently joined the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in expressing serious concerns about this Tory Government’s brutal welfare cuts. How much more international condemnation will it take before the Prime Minister drops his regressive two-child policy and scraps his rape clause?

The Prime Minister (Mr David Cameron): What we have seen under this Government is many more people in work, many fewer households where no one works, and many fewer ​households with children where no one works; all those have been a huge success. Of course, the hon. Lady and her party have an opportunity, now that we have made some huge devolution proposals, including in the area of welfare: if they do not think that what we are doing on a UK basis—[Interruption.] I do not know why you are all shouting. You are getting these powers; instead of whinging endlessly, you ought to be starting to use them.

International Women’s Day debate – 8th March 2016

Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP): When we miss out women from our legislatures, we make grave errors that seriously affect women and their families: we do not give the attention we should to maternal health and breastfeeding; we do not consider the impact of legislation on women; we leave women destitute without recourse to public funds; we get a Chancellor who believes that women paying the tampon tax for their own domestic abuse services is appropriate; and we see the introduction of welfare reforms such as the household payment in universal credit, the two-child tax credits policy and the rape clause.

In the brief time I have, I would like to concentrate on the two-child policy and the rape clause. It is a vindictive piece of policy that passes judgment and says the Government consider only the first two children worthy of support. To ask a woman to prove that her third child has been born as the result of rape to gain eligibility for child tax credits is utterly abhorrent. It stigmatises that woman and her child and is inconsistent with our obligations to treat children equally under the UN convention on the rights of the child.

There seems to be an assumption by some that rape just happens somehow. It is not acknowledged that it is most likely to happen to women already in coercive, abusive relationships. These women are in a particularly vulnerable place.

Drew Hendry (Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey) (SNP): My hon. Friend will be aware of the additional funding announced by Scotland’s First Minister today to help abused women get back into work. Does she agree that we need more of these initiatives across all Governments to help women in such positions?

Alison Thewliss: I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend.

Members will be aware that I have been questioning the rape clause since last July’s Budget, but I have still not had a satisfactory answer to explain why this policy is required and how it will work. Lord Freud suggested on 27 January in the other place that proof that a woman’s third child was born of rape might not come via the criminal justice system, but instead come from a third-party official such as a GP or a social worker. This does not, however, resolve the problem. For many reasons, these women may not be able to tell their GPs about their circumstances, and there may be no social work involvement.

I am not sure how many women will end up claiming under this policy. If a woman is in a relationship and suffering domestic abuse, she might be putting herself at serious risk by making the claim in the first place. A similar issue arises in the household payments system and universal credit—if a woman requests a split payment, her partner will almost certainly know about it. She may well be doubly damned by this Government, because Lord Freud has also refused to allow an exemption to the two-child policy for women escaping abusive, controlling relationships, which is what the Scottish Government are trying to counteract.

There is still a distinct possibility that a woman could tell her story to the Department for Work and Pensions and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and not be believed. Those organisations are not known, after all, for taking people at their word. There is not yet guidance, and the Government will not say who they are consulting.

The two-child policy also fails completely to recognise the complex nature of families in 2016. A couple who have children from previous relationships will, under the two-child policy, lose their child tax credit eligibility when they come together. There is no detail yet on exactly how multiple births will be protected. There is no acknowledgement of the impact on those who, for religious reasons, may traditionally have larger families. That is hardly fitting for a Government who vaunt their “family test”.

I have heard it said that families should have only the children they can afford, but that point of view does not acknowledge the challenges that life presents. A family may have three children and be well able to afford them, but what if one parent loses their job, takes ill or dies? There is no safety net whatever in the two-child policy to cover that eventuality, particularly if the remaining parent is required to work less to care for the family.

The two-child policy is rigid, ineffectual and unnecessary. The rape clause stigmatises vulnerable women and their families. This is a policy made on the hoof for the sake of a Daily Mail headline and a Tory conference press release. It is tantamount to social engineering. My plea on International Women’s Day 2016 is that we reject this kind of policy—the two-child policy and the rape clause—and we support every woman and every child equally.

Topical Questions – 1st February 2016

Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP): Does the Secretary of State believe that the two-child policy and the rape clause are consistent with his Government’s obligations under the UN convention on the rights of the child?

Mr Duncan Smith: I am quite convinced that the proposals that we bring forward will make it absolutely certain that all those who suffer rape will not be put upon in any way by this proposal.

Prime Minister’s Questions – 16th December 2015

Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP): Q4. The Prime Minister promised during the election campaign that he would not restrict child benefits to two children. Since then, he has not only reneged on that but, as a result, brought in the rape clause for women in order for women to receive child benefits. Since July, I have asked a number of his Ministers a number of times, and nobody has been able to tell me how this will work. Will he now drop the two-child policy and the rape clause?
The Prime Minister: First of all, we have made it absolutely clear, and let me make it clear again, that there is no question of someone who is raped and has a child losing their child tax credits or their child benefit—no question at all. But is it right for future claimants on universal credit to get payments for their first two children? I think that it is.

Prime Minister’s Questions – 9th December 2015

Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP): Q6. Since the Chancellor’s Budget in July, I have asked time and again how he intends to make women prove, in order to qualify for tax credits, that they had their third child as a result of rape. Will he now admit that his abhorrent, vile policy is completely unworkable, and will he drop the rape clause? [902488]

Mr Osborne: It is perfectly reasonable to have a welfare system that is fair not just for those who need it but for those who pay for it. We have identified the specific cases that the hon. Lady refers to in her question, in which women have been victims of domestic abuse—or, indeed, rape—and that is why we are consulting and discussing changes to protect vulnerable women.

Topical Questions – 7th December 2015

Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP): The Minister said earlier that there is no place for domestic violence in our country, and I firmly agree with him. When will he confirm how his Department intends to make women prove that they have had their third child by rape?

Mr Duncan Smith: I missed the question, Mr Speaker. There was a lot of noise, so I did not hear it.

Mr Speaker: The hon. Lady was asking about the treatment of someone who has a third child through rape

Mr Duncan Smith: My apologies to the hon. Lady. May I say to her that we will come back with our exact reasons and rationale for how we will decide that? The reality remains, however—and this is, I believe, popular among the public—that those who make choices and take responsibility for them want everyone else to do the same as well.

Business Questions – 29th October 2015

Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP): Since the opening of today’s sitting, welcome news has emerged from China that it is to end its one-child policy. Will the Leader of the House arrange a debate in Government time on the workings of their two-child policy, with particular reference to the “rape clause”?

Chris Grayling: Of course, full details will become available. I am aware of the issue and will ensure that the fact that the hon. Lady has continued to raise this concern is communicated to my colleagues.

Welfare Reform and Work Bill – Report Stage – 27th October 2015

Hannah Bardell (Livingston) (SNP): I welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Neil Gray) to his position as I move across to the business brief. From his speech earlier, I am sure the social justice team has a very talented member.

I shall speak to amendments in this group tabled by my colleagues, particularly amendments 53, 54 and 55, which clearly state the SNP’s opposition to the Government’s two-child policy. The SNP wholeheartedly condemns the Tory Government’s intention to restrict tax credits to two children, which by definition excludes many of the poorest children in society from our social security system, going against the very principles for which it was set up. The Government’s proposals also stray into an area of policy making that I never thought I would see suggested by any Government who had a shred of compassion for their people. Hidden away in the Red Book were the words:

“The Department for Work and Pensions and HMRC will develop protections for women who have a third child as the result of rape, or other exceptional circumstances.”

No detail was provided. How much disrespect can this country take?

Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP): Does my hon. Friend agree that it is appalling not only that that appeared in the Budget statement, but that during the consideration of the Bill there has been no explanation of how that will work in practice?

Hannah Bardell: I could not agree more. The two- child policy will hit more than 872,000 families who receive support for third and subsequent children. The Government’s own national child poverty strategy recognises that the risk of poverty is much more significant in larger families than in smaller ones. Currently a third of children living in poverty live in families with three or more children. Perhaps that is why the Tory Government seek to airbrush child poverty from the statute books.

It is easy for this Tory Government to espouse theories and claim that reducing financial support to just two children will make poorer families rethink their “financial choices”. That is based on the falsehood that all children are planned and that it is possible to financially plan for children. I am sure we are aware that that is not the case. What if a second pregnancy turns out to be twins or even triplets? What about the many families who are supported or led by kinship carers? Perhaps the Tories need a biology lesson, or a simple lesson in humanity.

Such eventualities cannot be planned for, so are we telling families across these nations to stop having children, just in case? I have raised many times in Committee, and many of my colleagues have raised on the Floor of the House, the sensitive issue of children resulting from rape and the insensitive Government plan to make women justify their children in front of DWP caseworkers. Many domestic abuse charities have expressed grave concerns, and Rape Crisis Scotland has warned that the plan is “inherently unworkable”. It has asked how DWP workers will prove whether someone has or has not been raped, and said that many women would find explaining that situation extremely uncomfortable. Many women do not report to the police that they have been raped, or go years without reporting it or speaking about it, so they cannot be expected to explain it to a DWP worker.

What training will a DWP worker have to deal with rape victims? It is clear that this is an unrealistic, ill thought out and unhelpful proposal. In evidence before the Select Committee on Work and Pensions, stakeholders described it as “unpalatable”, and the hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) wrote in The Guardian recently:

“A rape test for welfare is a chilling way to save money”.

I could not agree more. It just goes to show that at the height of the Tories’ insensitivity, they will quite literally leave no vulnerable group untouched in their scramble to, as they put it, balance the books. The policy will ultimately result in a complete abuse of rape victims’ privacy, leading to potentially serious emotional damage for children should they become aware that they are a child resulting from a rape. The SNP amendments would see the policy abolished, and we urge the Government to remove the two-child policy from tax credit and universal credit to ensure that no victim or child goes through the torment associated with having to justify a third child due to such an horrific crime being inflicted—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing)

Order. I am sure that the hon. Lady is about to conclude.

Hannah Bardell: If we as parliamentarians are in this place to legislate for those we represent, let us legislate well and with compassion and good conscience. The proposals do not make good legislation. They are wrong for our society and wrong for this generation, so I ask Members to think again and vote with us.

Budget Resolutions debate – 13th July 2015

Alison Thewliss: Does the hon. Gentleman consider it fair that a woman who has been raped will have to declare that to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and the Department for Work and Pensions to qualify for her child to receive tax credits?

Richard Fuller: The hon. Lady repeats a point that one of her colleagues made in an earlier day of the debates on the Budget. We need to examine in this debate the broad range of the impact of the Government’s policies. When the Government make any change, they are moving big blocks around—that is one reason why I am a Conservative, actually. When that happens, there will be specific examples of an impact on people’s lives that the general policy was not supposed to have. The hon. Lady should raise those instances directly with Ministers, so that changes can be considered. However, we should not undermine the entire sweep of Government policy because of a particular example. I have found the Government reasonable in understanding the need for certain changes to benefit policies if they have a deleterious impact on individuals.

Budget Resolutions debate – 13th July 2015

Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP): It is a dubious honour to be called to speak in this Budget debate—not because I am not keen to speak on behalf of my party and my constituents, but because so many things about it still upset me deeply. I raised the issue last week, but I have yet to receive an answer on the provision set out at the top of page 88 of the Red Book. Specifically, what kind of system will the Department for Work and Pensions and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs introduce to ask women who have been raped to prove it in order to qualify for child tax credits? I still seek clarification on that appalling clause, and I hope that the Secretary of State will eventually be able to give it. I know how hard my constituents and people across these islands will be hit by the Budget. I stand here on behalf of my party to do my best to represent them and fight their corner today. I will speak first about the impact on communities, and then I will discuss investment and city deals.

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions once claimed he could live on £53 a week. I am not clear whether he tried, but I know that more than 480,000 people signed a petition asking him to do so. As Members of this House, we are comfortably off. Even if we were suddenly to lose our jobs, as so many hon. Members’ colleagues in Scotland did in May, I suspect that none of us would starve. That is not the daily reality of life for many people across the United Kingdom today. Even when people are in employment, they do not earn enough to live more than hand to mouth. We in this House do not have the right to pull up the ladder and leave them behind. Let us be in no doubt—this is not because our lowest-paid do not work hard enough. Many work extraordinarily hard for long hours doing difficult, dirty and dangerous work. They need our support and they need our respect. Most of all, they need fair pay— a real living wage, not some hastily badged imitation—and access to Government support mechanisms such as tax credits to help them live with dignity. This Government should apologise to the Living Wage Foundation for stealing the campaign it has worked so hard to build.

I was glad to hear of the shadow Secretary of State’s conversion, because an Opposition who oppose opposing are no good at all. I urge all Labour Members to remember the toil of many people in our country struggling to make ends meet when they consider backing the Tories’ Budget. Those people elected Labour Members to stand up for them, not for the Secretary of State.

This Tory Budget has been assessed by groups such as the Fawcett Society as being disproportionately hard on women. The Fawcett Society considers that this Budget gives with one hand and takes away with two, stating:

“Women are going to be pushed further into a poverty trap following a Budget that offers little to help them increase their income…We fear that many more will find themselves in a low benefit, low wage situation that is increasingly difficult to escape.”

The House of Commons Library says that, since 2010, 85% of the £26 billion-worth of cuts made to benefits, tax credits, pay and pensions has been taken from women’s incomes. That is unacceptable. I ask all feminists in this House to consider it very carefully.

The communities I know best are resilient. They look out for one another and make sure their neighbours are okay. They collect for food banks. They donate what little they have to ensure that their vulnerable neighbours are looked after. The sharp increase in food banks in this country is a stark example of a community response to crisis. Visits to food banks increased from 25,899 in 2008-09 to 1,084,604 in 2014-15, according to the Trussell Trust’s figures. This speaks to a crisis in our policies in this nation and a very human response by ordinary people to that crisis. We should not have a requirement for food banks in a wealthy nation such as ours. Being ahead in our GDP and our status is not important when people are starving.

What shocks me most is the role of our social security system in forcing people to use food banks. The Trussell Trust’s figures show that just shy of 30% of people are using food banks because of benefit delays: families cannot feed themselves because of an administrative problem. That is absolutely unacceptable and shameful. Twenty-two per cent. of people use food banks due to low income. These people have jobs, but because of their pay and the uncertainty around zero-hours contracts they do not earn enough to eat. This is not right. We must act and not accept the Tory narrative, shake our heads, and throw up our hands.

The benefits statistics from advice agencies such as the citizens advice bureaux show further evidence of an unfair system that exacerbates the poverty in our communities. In the category of benefits, tax credits and national insurance advice, one single citizens advice bureau in the Bridgeton area of my constituency saw an increase in its caseload from 4,092 in 2011-12 to 7,266 in 2014-15. Its evidence shows that delays are built into the social security system at every stage, through application, mandatory reconsideration, and appeals. When people are supported by agencies such as the CAB, they are far more likely to be successful in those appeals. That clearly speaks to a system that is off-putting and difficult to navigate; it is not people-friendly. On Friday I learned of a person who waited over a year for his personal independence payment case to be processed—a whole year, for someone who needed support more than most. Who picks up the pieces? Neighbours, friends, churches, and community organisations filled the gaps when this Government forced citizens to the brink. The Government’s Budget undermines people’s sense of community and puts unsustainable strain on the vital services so many rely on.

I have seen the impact of cuts to local government over the past few years. During that time, the Scottish Government have done their utmost to protect local government from the worst of the cuts it has faced, but decisions have already resulted in significant detriment to services. Cuts were made to the flesh, with efficiency savings, reductions in office costs, and the need to work smarter. Cuts were then made to the muscle—to the staff—

David Rutley (Macclesfield) (Con): I am listening to the hon. Lady with interest. Does she believe that there is any room at all for reform of the benefits system or the welfare approach to encourage more people to get into work, or support them into work, or is everything perfect in Scotland?

Alison Thewliss: When the powers this Government have force people into poverty and do not help to support them at their time of need, I say that that is a crisis and that we are hamstrung in our ability to help people. This Government expect the Scottish Government to mitigate the worst of their policies, but we should not exist to do so. Give us the powers, and we will do what we can.

Cuts have now come to the bone. Service provision has been removed, including things that make no logical sense to cut because such low-level interventions save money down the line. Sheltered housing services, which keep the elderly active, and services such as the Glasgow Association for Mental Health, which prevents those with mental health problems from slipping into crisis, have had their funding removed. This makes no sense: we can spend to save by investing at a certain level, but the cuts now mean that local government has to make such choices.

I do not know what the full impact will be of cuts that are starting to amputate huge chunks of our local bodies, but I very much worry that they will threaten the life of the patient. Local government serves both a social and an economic purpose, and the shrinking of public services takes well-paid and useful jobs out of areas and damages small business. In the past few days, the Local Government Association analysis has suggested that a £3.3 billion cut in 2016-17, or some 12%, will mean potentially devastating choices in many areas. These are not arbitrary cuts or figures on a balance sheet; they affect lives.

The proposed housing changes will have a significant impact. In Scotland, we take the attitude that a house is a home. That does not vary depending on whether someone’s house is a bought house or a rented one. I know from my case load that a social rented home in Glasgow is very desirable indeed. The huge numbers on housing waiting lists highlighted by organisations such as Shelter certainly seem to bear that out.

A lot of what has been said in the Budget seems to assume that markets will take care of the housing crisis in this country, but I would turn that contention on its head. The commercial rental market has driven up rents to the point at which people on average or even generous wages cannot afford to live, particularly in this city.

Richard Fuller: The acting leader of the official Opposition has said that their goal is not to oppose just for the sake of doing so. The hon. Lady has not mentioned anything in the Budget with which she agrees. Does she disagree with the acting leader of the Opposition?

Alison Thewliss: The hon. Gentleman will find that the Scottish National Party takes its own stance on many issues and does not follow the Labour party.

The problem with market rents is not, as the Red Book implies at paragraph 1.154, with social rents. I believe that, by and large, council and housing association rents are fair, not subsidised. I was glad that the shadow Secretary of State mentioned the proposed pay-to-stay policy, and I agree with a lot of what she said on that. The policy will drive people out of the communities they call home, push out key workers on modest salaries and all but ghettoise swathes of our towns and cities. The proposals are unfair in that local authorities will not see the benefit of the policy, because their share from increased rents will go back to the Exchequer, while local housing associations get to keep the funds. If the Government insist on pursuing this daft policy, they should at least give an even playing field to all housing providers to allow them to invest in new housing.

I note that there is a proposal to end so-called lifetime tenancies. Long tenancies can contribute positively to the fabric of our communities by ensuring that people stay and make their lives in an area and that they belong to it. They are part of what makes renting with a housing association or a local council attractive, as opposed to the uncertainty of the private sector, where people have to move all the time.

Andrew Bridgen: The hon. Lady is making her case, but is there anything in the Budget with which she agrees? Does she support the new national living wage and the cut in rents for housing association tenants?

Alison Thewliss: I have made it abundantly clear that it is not a living wage; it is a rebadging of the national minimum wage, and it is not good enough. [Interruption.] Would Government Members give me a break?

Long tenancies give a degree of certainty and reduce costs to housing providers, who know that a tenant is there for the long term and do not constantly have to manage the turnover of stock. That is costly for housing associations and local councils to manage, so knowing that a tenant will stay reduces their costs. The Government should think very carefully about this policy’s impact on well-established and strong communities.

This Government seem to be making a further attack on the social rented sector and its tenants, following the distress caused by the bedroom tax. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has found that only 6% of affected tenants were actually able to move, and that 50% of those who did not move fell into arrears. I am glad that the Scottish Government were able to mitigate that, but it is another example of a policy built to deal with a London problem that did not exist in Scotland, and which simply punishes people for their circumstances. The Scottish Government should not exist simply to mitigate the policies of another Government. That is unfair and unsustainable.

The Government are also in real danger of undermining their own work on city deals. One of the intended outcomes of the Glasgow and Clyde Valley city deal is to help long-term unemployed people back to work, and if the actions of this Tory Government undermine that by slashing benefits and making life harder for people who are looking to work, that will undermine the potential success of the deal. We must co-ordinate and work together. We need job-creating powers in Scotland and more than the simple power to mitigate the wrongheaded approach of this Government.

Although I say that, the hon. Members for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen) and for Bedford (Richard Fuller) will be glad to find that I welcome the further development of city deals in the Budget. They will go some way to redressing the imbalance in the UK economy, and not before time. Looking at the rhetoric about the northern powerhouse, I would suggest that it is perhaps a final admission of the fundamental failure of the UK economy. London is indeed the giant suction machine that the former Business Secretary spoke of, and the map on page 67 illustrates that investment in the south and east of England is focused through the prism of how best to serve London rather than to build up those areas in their own right and advance the economy.

I have attended Adjournment and Westminster Hall debates on city deals for Aberdeen and Cardiff and I listened with great interest to the debate on elected mayors. I have also followed discussions on the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill in the other place. I am keen to see the development of deals that meet local needs and have been disappointed in some of those debates to find that the wishes of local people seemed to rank behind the pet project of some local authorities and the requirements of business. If more powers come to cities, it should be to serve the ambitions and priorities of local people to raise their opportunities in life and to make things better according to local demands. They must also be the devolution of funding to match those powers, as devolution and the reform of local government cannot be a cover for passing on cuts.

I am of course delighted to see continued commitment to the city deal for Glasgow and Clyde Valley, which the UK Government established in partnership with the Scottish Government, each putting in £500 million, with £130 million coming from the eight local authorities involved. I hope, too, that the deal will involve listening to local people. It is early days and the work of the joint board is just getting under way. I commend the fledgling city deals for Aberdeen and Inverness, which are mentioned in the Red Book, and ask that attention be paid to potential deals in Scotland’s other cities.

In considering city deals, we must also consider how we support areas outwith large conurbations. Rural areas should not be left behind, and if they are it will only exacerbate the difficulties of rurality. The approach in Scotland has been about collaboration through the Scottish Cities Alliance rather than cutthroat competition, and I believe that that is more productive. Setting regions against one another and failing to seize the opportunities to make links will only waste money in the long run. I note with interest that an Oyster-type system is being considered for Manchester. That is of course welcome, but it should not operate in a way that builds barriers between different regions. There is much opportunity for interoperability rather than running in entirely different directions and I note with some concern the comments made by the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) about incentives for businesses. If we are not careful, that could lead to a race to the bottom on standards in different areas.

I would also guard against the temptation to reach for shiny prestige projects at the expense of more sustainable projects that benefit local communities and urge that further attention is paid to the importance of community benefit policies within public contracts. They were used effectively in Glasgow during the Commonwealth games and on other projects and are a simple way to ensure that local people get jobs, training and investment in every large or small infrastructure project that comes along.

A Westminster Hall debate last week touched on the fact that elected mayors had been rejected in some areas in local referendums. It would seem to me to be unwise to overrule that democratic right, but the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones), said:

“I reiterate that where there is a request for the ambitious devolution of a suite of powers to a combined authority, there must be a metro mayor, but no city will be forced to take on those powers or to have a metro mayor, just as no county will be forced to make any governance changes.”—[Official Report, 9 July 2015; Vol. 598, c. 187WH.]

That seems to make no sense and to disrespect local democracy. People can have the funding, but only if they have the mayor. If people do not want a local mayor and think that the power is better vested in their local authority and local democracy, the Government should respect that. Members might also like to note that there is no such obligation for the Glasgow and Clyde Valley plan to come with an elected mayor.

Robert Neill: The hon. Lady is making an interesting point, but if she trusts local authorities in that regard it is legitimate to trust them to vary certain levels of taxation within an area and to increase their prudential borrowing against a revenue stream. Would she support us on such measures?

Alison Thewliss: Having come from local government, of course I trust it to do those things, but it should not be forced with a gun put to its head.

I will close by asking the Secretary of State to reflect on the purposes of power being devolved, and on how best we support local communities. People will be unsurprised that we in the SNP reject the austerity agenda, and the people who voted for us support our policy. That austerity agenda has already led to so much damage to the fabric of our communities, and there is only so much that people can take.

Budget Resolutions debate – 9th July 2015

Dr Eilidh Whiteford (Banff and Buchan) (SNP)

When the Chancellor delivered his Budget speech yesterday, he made the oft-repeated claim that the

“best route out of poverty is work.”—[Official Report, 8 July 2015; Vol. 598, c. 333.]

That was probably true once, but it is no longer true—it has not been true for a number of years. The truth today is that, for millions of low-paid workers, poverty persists no matter how many hours or how hard they work. For people who are bringing up children on low or, indeed, average incomes, the costs of housing and of childcare mean that they are running to stand still. I have said before in this House that in-work poverty is the great scandal of our age. Sadly, very little was announced yesterday to tackle the underlying drivers that are stifling the opportunities and aspirations of the working poor.

Instead, we learned that the axe of the £12 billion-worth of cuts will fall most heavily on low and middle-income families. Last week the Government announced changes to the way in which child poverty is measured. Having heard yesterday’s announcements, it is not hard to understand why they did that, because the lowering of the threshold for tax credits and other changes announced yesterday will take income largely from the pockets of working parents and compound the projected increases in child poverty arising from the last round of cuts.

Antoinette Sandbach: Housing and childcare matters are devolved to the Scottish Parliament, so does the hon. Lady agree that, if there are structural imbalances, they need to be dealt with by the Scottish Parliament?

Dr Whiteford:

I am sure that the hon. Lady is well aware that Scotland’s childcare offer is significantly better than that enjoyed by people in other parts of the UK, and that our housing situation is not exacerbated by real rent imbalances similar to those experienced in London and the south-east of England in particular. I will pick up on that later.

The hon. Lady will also be aware that the Scottish block grant is calculated on the basis of the contents of the Red Book. The money currently allocated to Scotland is determined by this Chamber, so this Budget is relevant to everybody throughout the UK. It would be very wrong to ignore the fact that the purse strings are still controlled here, and that is one of the reasons why I argue for those powers to be sent up the road to Scotland, where we can use them more wisely.

I want to return to the issue of child poverty and the paper exercises conducted to measure it. Whatever we do to massage the figures, I do not think any of us can avoid the evidence of our own eyes in our constituencies. We are seeing growth in child poverty on the ground. We see it in the rise of food banks, which have already been alluded to, and in the larger number of people coming through MPs’ doors with income-related problems. That is also being experienced by advice bureaux. We also see it in the evidence of organisations that work directly with vulnerable families and those on low incomes.

In my constituency, one in five children is growing up in poverty. That might come as a surprise, because we enjoy some of the lowest unemployment in the whole country. A very small percentage of people are not in work, but many thousands of people are in low-paid work, and it is those working poor who are going to be most affected by what was announced yesterday.

More families than ever are running to stand still, and under this Government more people are being left behind. The UK has a deeply polarised labour market, and the ability of people in low-paid work to get ahead is severely curtailed.

Jeremy Quin (Horsham) (Con): Will the hon. Lady give way?

Dr Whiteford: I will not give way at the moment.

Amid all the rhetoric and the hyperbole of Budget day, it would have been very easy to form the impression from the media lines being trotted out yesterday that tax credits are predominantly a benefit paid to unemployed people, when in fact the opposite is the case. In Scotland, the overwhelming majority of tax credits are paid to working people. In fact, half of all families benefit from tax credits, and 95% of tax credits in Scotland are paid to families with children. We should make no mistake about where the cuts are being targeted.

It is inevitable that today we will consider the short-term consequences, because those cuts will put acute pressure on families, but we should be under no illusion: growing up in poverty has serious long-term consequences for children, too. It is associated with poorer educational attainment, poorer job prospects, poorer health throughout life and lower life expectancy. That is why asking families to bear the brunt of the cuts is so short-sighted. It has not only an enormous social cost, but an enormous economic cost: it holds back our economic progress and productivity, which are what we should really be focusing on and trying to improve.

The Government have tried to argue, today and yesterday, that the cuts will be offset by increases to the minimum wage and changes to the personal allowance, but that claim simply does not stand up to scrutiny. I think we all welcome the announcement of a long-overdue increase in the minimum wage to £7.20 an hour from next year and, indeed, the changes to national insurance, but let us not kid ourselves that rebranding the minimum wage as a living wage will actually make it a living wage.

There is already a living wage: it is calculated by the Living Wage Foundation and is already used by employers in the public, private and third sectors, including, I am very pleased to say, the Scottish Government. The living wage is based on the actual cost of living and it is already £7.85 an hour outside London and is due to go up again in November. We need to be absolutely clear that £7.20 is not a living wage and it will not offset the cuts in tax credits.

The critical point about the living wage is that it has been calculated on the basis of low-paid workers claiming their full entitlement to tax credits at the present rate, so any cut in tax credits means that the living wage will have to go up even further in order for it to provide enough for people to live on. If the Government take on board only one of the points I make today, I want it to be that one.

Graham Evans: Does the hon. Lady want Scotland to be a high wage, low benefits, low tax economy? Does she agree with what the Government are trying to do?

Dr Whiteford: Scotland has already shown the progress we are making towards a high-skill economy. I was interested to hear yesterday’s announcement on improving the apprenticeship scheme in England. I hope the Government will aspire to do what the Scottish Government have already done. The uptake has been phenomenal and we are well on course to reaching 30,000 apprenticeships a year, which is far more proportionately per head of population than the current number in England. The Opportunities for All scheme guarantees a place in education or training for every single young person. It has been a phenomenal success, with more than 90% of our young people going into sustained employment afterwards. Instead of waiting until people have been unemployed for a year before intervening, we are intervening early so that every school leaver gets those opportunities. The approach is much more carrot than stick. The scale of the uptake shows that in Scotland we are committed to having a more successful economy and to growing it to meet the needs of our population.

I want to return to tax credits and not be distracted from them. Today the Resolution Foundation, which has done so much to promote the living wage and highlight the issue of in-work poverty, has said that the living wage would need to be £10 an hour by 2020—not the £9 announced yesterday—to keep pace with the cost of living under the new tax and benefits regime. Let us be clear: we are not going to get out of the poverty trap with this rebranded minimum wage. We need to bring it up to the level of a living wage if we are going to take away the support currently provided through tax credits.

The huge cuts in tax credits will make the gap between the minimum wage and the living wage even greater and it will leave the earnings of low-paid workers even further below the actual cost of living. At present, a family with two children where both parents work and who live in a house with average rent will be below the breadline, and the changes announced yesterday will not change that. Such families will still struggle to keep their heads above water and their children will still grow up disadvantaged.

We need to recognise that bringing up children is expensive—for everyone, in all income groups—but children are not some sort of luxury lifestyle accessory. Having children and encouraging family life is an essential, necessary and natural part of the human life cycle. For some years, however, we have made it really difficult for younger adults to even contemplate starting a family, simply because of the pernicious combination of low pay, job insecurity and exorbitant housing costs.

That brings me to the differential impact of this Budget on women, because, in spite of the progress that has been made, women are still heavily concentrated in low-paid work. We are far more likely to be working part-time or in zero-hours jobs, and we are more likely to be the primary carer of children or, indeed, frail or disabled relatives. Too many women end up in low-paid, part-time work such as cashiering or cleaning simply because they can work their hours around their family responsibilities. While I welcome the increase in the personal allowance, we need to recognise that many of those women working part time in low-paid jobs will not see the full benefit of it. Indeed, the key beneficiaries are, of course, higher-rate tax payers like ourselves, and 80% of the benefit of the increase will fall in the upper half of the income spectrum.

I have a number of questions for the Government about limiting tax credits to two children. I am not sure why they would do this—certainly in Scotland, we have a worryingly low birth rate so we should not be trying to deter people from having more children. I ask Ministers for clarification about the basis on which the number of children eligible for support through tax credits will be determined. Will it be a couple’s first two children together, or will children from a previous relationship be counted in the total? What will happen, for example, if a woman has her first child with a partner who already has two children from previous relationship or if a mother’s third child is the father’s first? As anyone who ever runs a constituency surgery will know, these are not abstract questions, and I hope Ministers will address them this afternoon.

Maria Caulfield (Lewes) (Con): Does the hon. Lady not agree that it is absolutely right for those on benefits to make the same choices as hard-working taxpayers, including choices about how large their families should be?

Dr Whiteford: The point I am trying to make is how important it is for us to have children. If our birth rate stays as low as it is, we will be storing up long-term economic problems for ourselves. Scotland has the lowest birth rate in the UK and one of the lowest anywhere in Europe. That is precisely because people know that they have to combine their incomes even to get a starter flat. They do not have room for a baby, they do not know how they would pay for a baby if one parent had to work part time, they do not know how they would be able to continue to pay a mortgage—still less a mortgage on a bigger house—and they do not know how they would pay the rent. People have to make serious choices, but the bigger social picture is that we must absolutely encourage people to have a family and encourage family life.

Mr Duncan Smith: I will make sure that the hon. Lady’s questions are answered in the winding-up speeches, but there are all sorts of provisos involved. If two families are joined, the original child element is kept. Following up the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield), the six deciles in the middle can end up paying for others to have more children than they can afford themselves. This is a point about fairness: they are the ones paying, but they do not feel that they can afford to have more children themselves.

Dr Whiteford: The key point is that a falling birth rate is not good for anybody in whatever decile. Even those of us who do not have children are going to be dependent on the next generation being large enough to support us in our dotage when we need people to come in and look after us. The economics do not stack up. In the context of worryingly low birth-rate projections, we desperately need to encourage and make it easier for people in all deciles to decide whether having children is a possibility for them.

I have to say that I was appalled at the reference on page 88 of the Red Book to:

“protections for women who have a third child as the result of rape, or other exceptional circumstances.”

I know this point was picked up yesterday, but I think the implications need to be addressed more thoroughly. It is perhaps important to acknowledge that rapes do not necessarily result in pregnancy. After all, rape is a crime that affects pre-pubescent children and post-menopausal women, as well as people of child-bearing age. How does the DWP intend to establish that a child has been born as a consequence of rape? Will there seriously be a box to tick on the form? Will a criminal conviction against a perpetrator be required?

We know that rape is one of the most unreported and poorly prosecuted serious crimes in the UK, with most surveys suggesting that 85% of women who are raped do not report it—for a variety of reasons, not least because most victims know their assailants and know that securing a conviction is a very long shot under our criminal justice system. Many simply do not want to put themselves through another traumatic ordeal.

I put it to Ministers that the women most likely to become pregnant as a result of rape are those in long-term abusive relationships who are being repeatedly assaulted. They are among those least likely to report rape, and those in the most extreme danger if they do. So I ask again, what will this “protection” mean in practice? How will the DWP arbitrate? Will women be believed? What steps will be taken to preserve their dignity and privacy? I would like to hear some answers to those questions.

Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP): Does my hon. Friend agree that these circumstances could stigmatise the child and run contrary to our obligations under the UN convention on the rights of the child?

Dr Whiteford: My hon. Friend raises a very pertinent point—we should not be stigmatising children whatever their parentage. This could indeed cause many problems.

Before I conclude, I want to address the lowering of the benefits cap. One aspect that always seems to get lost in the debate is that the main driver of the excessively high benefit payments we see in London, the south-east and a few other hotspots across the UK is excessively high private sector rents. In most cases, the claimant does not see a penny of that money; it goes straight into the pockets of the private sector landlords. This is a very serious problem, but I think the Government are tackling it from entirely the wrong angle. They need to address the chronic under-supply of affordable housing, because until they address that underlying issue, rents will continue to soar and housing—to rent or to buy—will continue to be completely unaffordable for people on low and average incomes, by which I mean people who earn normal wages doing normal jobs. Plans to force housing associations to sell their properties to tenants will only make matters worse.

I remember that when the benefits cap was first introduced, I went to the Library to look at the impact on my own constituency. There was a grand total of three claimants affected, and two of them were people in temporary accommodation—they were in a short-term transitional situation. That was simply because our rental market was not quite so out of control as the rental market in some other parts of the UK.

My main concern about the new benefit cap is that it is entirely arbitrary and will mostly affect people in the private rented sector in high-rent hotspots. Fundamentally, it does not tackle the underlying problem of affordable housing supply, which is one of the main drivers of income poverty right across the UK. Instead, it seems to me that this arbitrary cap will create perverse incentives for people to move to areas or stay in areas of low economic growth where housing is more affordable but jobs are thinner on the ground. That gets us to the heart of the problem with this Budget. It puts a desperate squeeze on low and middle-income families, but there is little in the Budget to boost productivity. There is nothing to give Scotland a competitive advantage or give us a jobs boost. Instead, those who have already carried the can for the banking collapse of 2008 will stay trapped in work that does not pay.

Austerity has been a failed policy. It has held back our economic recovery and has harmed the most disadvantaged people. That is why we need powers over our economy, our employment and our benefits system to be devolved to the Scottish Parliament, where we can use them to build a more successful and a more equitable country that is in everyone’s long-term interest.