Douglas Ross backs extension to Universal Credit bonus in split with UK Conservative leadership

Attempts from the Scottish Conservatives to distance themselves from the UK side of the party have ramped up after Douglas Ross announced he backed calls for an extension to the £20 a week uplift to universal credit.

Douglas Ross has split with the UK Conservatives on the policy issue of Universal Credit
Douglas Ross has split with the UK Conservatives on the policy issue of Universal Credit

Mr Ross’ change of position is at odds with the public view of the UK government who have not committed to an extension and comes as he publicly backed Marcus Rashford’s free school meals campaign despite his party’s opposition.

The new Scottish Conservative leader has also said Scottish Tory MPs will no longer vote on England-only matters after five of them voted against a Labour motion backing the extension of free school meals into the holidays. Mr Ross abstained.

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UK chancellor Rishi Sunak had announced the £20 a week uplift in Universal Credit in April as the country entered lockdown and people began to lose their jobs.

It is due to end in April 2021, but a campaign led by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and backed by the SNP has called for it to be extended.

Around half a million Scots receive the benefit.

Mr Ross announced today he backed an extension, labelling it a “vital safety net”.

He said: “Throughout this pandemic, universal credit has been a vital safety net for nearly half a million people across Scotland and many more across the UK.

“I don’t think it would be fair to pull support away from people while this pandemic continues to damage our way of life so deeply.

“The universal credit uplift should continue for the foreseeable future. I would encourage the UK Government to make that commitment now and provide the reassurance many people are looking for.

“It might not seem like a vast sum of money but to the families receiving this support, it makes a huge difference.”

Mr Ross’ announcement of his position comes after The Sun reported that Rishi Sunak is open to the idea of retaining the uplift beyond April 2021.

The SNP’s Mhairi Black MP said it was “pure glory-hunting” from the Scottish Tory leader following the hints from the Treasury.

She said: “It's no surprise Douglas Ross is now on board after the UK government hinted it would extend the Universal Credit uplift. Instead of joining with the SNP and calling for this months ago, he has waited to see which way the wind will blow before taking a stance.

"This is pure glory-hunting - a phrase he will no doubt be familiar with.

"People will not be fooled by the Scottish Tory leader's hollow rhetoric - especially after the way he flip-flopped over free school meals, eventually abstaining on a vote to feed hungry children.

"It is time Douglas Ross and the rest of the Scottish Tories at Westminster grew a spine and called on the Chancellor to not just extend the Universal Credit uplift, but make it permanent and extend it to legacy benefits, as well as extend the furlough scheme to prevent millions being plunged further into hardship."

The UK government has refused to commit publicly to the extension of Universal Credit beyond April 2021 despite pressure from charities and opposition politicians.

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