Universal Credit ‘could make Scots carers worse off’

18 Aug 15

Family carers for vulnerable children in Scotland are likely to be left worse off under Universal Credit because of the UK government’s failure to take proper account of Scotland’s different legal framework, a report has warned today.

The Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland has sent its report, Coping with Complexity, to both UK and Scottish ministers, urging the former to amend the Universal Credit regime to pay closer heed to Scotland’s distinctive systems, and the latter to use devolved powers to help protect cared-for children and their family carers from poverty.

According to the report, support for kinship carers – non-parental family or friends who care for looked-after children – is patchy and sometimes inadequate in Scotland, “despite good intentions”.

It lays some of the blame on “tortuous” interactions between local authority, Scottish Government and UK support, but fears that matters will worsen when Universal Credit takes the place of most means-tested working age benefits and tax credits.

The current regime allows kinship carers to refuse local authority payments where the consequence would be a net loss of income from tax credits and other central support.

However, the report concluded that under Universal Credit. this will no longer be an option, potentially leaving kinship carers and their children with even lower incomes.

This risk, the report says, is further aggravated by George Osborne’s recent Budget proposal to restrict tax credits and Universal Credit to the first two children in a family.

The report’s author, CPAG welfare rights expert Alison Gillies, said the Universal Credit rules posed “very serious difficulties” for many kinship carers

“The new system assumes that looked-after children living with kinship carers receive support at the same level as fostering allowances, ignoring the very different legal and support framework in place in Scotland, and the fact that many Scottish kinship carers receive allowances far below fostering allowance rates.

“The clear lesson from the experience of Scottish kinship care payments is that every level of government must co-operate fully to ensure that the financial support they provide has the maximum possible impact on families struggling on low incomes.”

She added: “As Universal Credit is rolled out and further social security powers are devolved to the Scottish Parliament that lesson is more important than ever if we are to avoid the iniquitous outcomes that many kinship carers have faced.”

  • Keith Aitken
    Keith Aitken

    covers Scottish affairs for Public Finance from Edinburgh. He was formerly economics editor and chief leader writer on The Scotsman and now has a busy freelance career as a writer, broadcaster and event chair.

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