Scottish Government accused of taking ‘cheapest option’ on benefits

Scottish Labour has accused the Scottish Government of “shortchanging” carers and going for the “cheapest possible option” in uprating their benefits.

In an opposition debate in the Parliament, Labour’s Mark Griffin called on the Government to commit to uprating the Carer’s Allowance and the Carer’s Allowance Supplement by Retail Price Index (RPI) rather than the Consumer Price Index (CPI).

MSPs voted 93 to 28 against using RPI.

Both CPI and RPI measure inflation and measure the changes in cost in buying a notional basket of products, with CPI not including home costs such as mortgage payments, rents and council tax.

Scottish Parliament Information Centre analysis indicates that for 2019/20 uprating the £74.85 weekly payments by RPI rather than CPI would give 82,000 claimants an extra £33.36 a year.

“Carers are being shortchanged, with the Government using the cheapest possible option,” Mr Griffin told MSPs.

“This is about setting a precedent as we go on for the cheapest possible option to uprate devolved social security benefits.”

He questioned why the SNP is happy to use RPI for train fare increases but not for carers and said the measure is that “RPI is generally more generous and crucially includes housing costs”.

“The public sector pay increase will be 3%, figures released today show fares have risen by 3% and council tax bills look set to rise by 4.8% so why are we giving carers just 2.4%?” he added.

“It’s a cut to save the Government money at the expense of people in need and responsible for pushing families to foodbanks as they struggle to makes ends meet.”

Mr Griffin said switching from RPI to CPI was one of “George Osborne’s first welfare cuts in 2010” and the SNP “seem entirely content with that”.

Shirley-Anne Somerville
Social Security Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville argued CPI is the best measure to use (Shirley-Anne Somerville/PA)

On the use of RPI for railways, Social Security Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said: “There are historical areas where it is in use but it is discouraged by the Office for National Statistics.”

She said economists and statisticians do not believe RPI meets international standards and said CPI “accurately reflects the cost of living”.

Ms Somerville said the Scottish Government has given an extra £442 to over 77,000 carers last year through the Carer’s Allowance Supplement.

“The response to the Carer’s Allowance Supplement has been hugely positive and we know we are doing the right thing in making this increase,” she said.

“What I won’t do is agree to what is considered by experts as a poor measure of inflation.”

Green MSP Alison Johnstone said: “There remains a vast mismatch between the value of care and the support carers receive.”

Her party backed Labour but called for more action.

A Conservative amendment calling on Ministers to look at alternative methods of uprating  benefits for carers fell when the Government amendment was passed.

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