Slim pickings for third sector campaigners in UK Budget

Phil hammond

Budget 2017: chancellor condemned by anti-poverty campaigners and environmentalists

22nd November 2017 by Robert Armour 1 Comment

An easing of Universal Credit has done little to offer Christmas cheer for Scotland’s third sector as Brexit fears dominated Philip Hammond’s budget.

Despite saying his vision for the UK was as a "safe haven for the vulnerable" the chancellor delivered a speech roundly condemned by anti-poverty campaigners and environmentalists.

Of the small concessions coming the sector’s way, Universal Credit was easily the most significant, as the chancellor gave in to pressure and slightly eased access to the benefit. 

The main anxiety among charities has focused on the six-week wait claimants have been forced to endure before receiving their first payment under the new system.

A £1.5 billion package will now remove the seven day waiting period at the beginning of a claim with an advance payment available within five days of making their application.

Those already receiving housing benefit and transitioning onto the new system will have their housing benefits extended by two weeks to cover the overlap.  

Key points

Universal Credit – seven day waiting period removed

National Living Wage up by 4.4% (£7.50 up to £7.83)

Tax personal allowance up to £11,840

£46,350 higher rate (not Scotland). 

Package of measures on tax avoidance and evasion forecast will raise £4.8 billion by 2022/23

£3.3 million for veterans charities from Libor 

£44 billion of funding to deliver 300,000 homes per year in England  

Higher road tax for diesel cars - not vans - to pay for "clean air fund"

Details of how these measures will reduce the six week wait will be released tomorow (Thursday), said the Treasury. 

John Dickie, head of the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland, said there wasn’t the structural reform needed to revive the central promise that Universal Credit would strengthen rewards from work.  

"What happens to Universal Credit will shape the future for children in low-income families," he said. 

"The budgets of ordinary families will not be fit for the future until the work allowances in universal credit have been restored to support parents who want to bring home higher wages.”

Citizen's Advicer Scotland chair Rory Mair added: “We would urge that the changes be introduced as quickly as possible so that claimants do not have to go for long periods of time without income."

In terms of the enviroment, campaigners see this budget as a missed opportunity as the tax levy on fuel remains frozen while the chancellor offered incentives to rejuvenate the hard-pressed north sea oil industry. 

Richard Dixon, director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: "The UK government’s budget continues to encourage people to drive, fly and waste energy, and this budget will increase oil production and therefore climate emissions. 

"Apart from some extra cash for electric vehicles and a small increase in cost for the most polluting diesel cars there is little green about this budget.”

John Sauven, chief executive of Greenpeace, called it "one of the least green budgets ever." 

And Sam Gardner, acting head of policy at WWF Scotland, said: "It seems strikingly contradictory that only days after attending the UN climate conference in Bonn, the UK government has announced a new way to encourage the exploration of more fossil fuels from the North Sea."

Elswehere Scottish charities - mostly air ambulance and veterans' organisations - will receive £3.3 million of Libor funding raised from fines levied on banks.

In addition to this, the UK government will provide £2.2m to support the Lady Haig’s Poppy Factory in Edinburgh.  

John Downie, director of public affairs at the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, said the staement did little for Scotland or hard-pressed families.  

“For Scotland, specifically, there was little to sing about.

"The chancellor’s vaunted extra £2bn for the block grant is already facing scrutiny and it looks like Scotland’s budget will fall in real terms.

“Some effort to rectify the problems with the roll-out of Universal Credit is certainly welcome progress, but in our view it would have been wiser to pause the roll-out altogether." 

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22nd November 2017 by Bill Scott

Funny how the Magic Money Tree seems to be available for the Government's pet projects but not to prevent cuts to the benefits of those who need them most. How can it find £1.5 billion to clear up its own, self-created, mess of Universal Credit but can't prevent people from losing their Mobility Component when they are moved from DLA to PIP? Other priorities it seems.