Weekly Round-Up

House of Lords Rejection of Tax Credits Sparks “Constitutional Crisis”

Chancellor George Osborne says he will lessen the impact of tax credit cuts on families after the Conservative Party was defeated twice in the House of Lords where it currently does not have an outright majority.  Following the defeat on October 26th, Osborne has been forced to water down his flagship tax credit reforms after peers voted to delay the measure.

Tax credits were introduced under the last Labour government in an effort to help low-paid families. The government set out to have the income threshold for receiving Working Tax Credits and Child Tax Credit significantly cut from April 2016. This controversial decision could ultimately deprive low-income workers of up to £1,300 each year.

Despite strong opposition across the House, especially from SNP MPs, measures regarding these cuts have been approved on three different occasions by the House of Commons where Conservatives have a narrow overall majority; but there has been a growing unease on the Conservative benches regarding their impact.

The Chancellor has now announced that he will reveal, in November’s Autumn Statement, measures to soften the impact of the cuts on the lowest paid. He needs, however, to find up to £4.4bn to cover the cost of the climb down. He also remains defiant about his overall direction of travel, declaring his continuing commitment to delivering “that lower welfare economy the British people want to see.”

Commenting, the SNP’s spokesperson for Social Justice and Welfare Dr Eilidh Whiteford MP said:

“… the regressive cuts proposed by the Tories…. will push thousands of people further into poverty – especially children in low-income households.

“David Cameron said he wanted an all-out assault on poverty but the Welfare Reform and Work Bill is an all-out assault on the poor.

“Even Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson has joined her colleagues Boris Johnson and Heidi Allen to clamour for a U-turn from George Osborne and the introduction of transitional measures in the Autumn Statement to soften the blow of cuts to tax credits.

“Even the deeply undemocratic House of Lords – stuffed full of Tory donors and cronies – have resoundingly rejected the cuts to tax credits and have sent a clear message to the Government to re-examine these proposals.”

Meanwhile, Prime Minister David Cameron has already launched a review to deal with the constitutional implications of the defeat in the Lords. Time will tell whether this will include enlarging the House of Lords, already second in size only to the Chinese Parliament, to create a Conservative majority.


SNP supports initiatives for Ongoing Refugee Crisis

At the 2015 SNP National Conference which ran from October 15th to October 17th, SNP members supported an emergency resolution supporting refugees around the world.  This included calling for the UK government to opt in to the EU resettlement and relocation scheme. Scotland’s Minister for Europe, Humza Yousaf MSP, advocated strongly at the SNP conference for Scotland and the rest of the UK to participate in this plan of action.

The Irish government, have already announced that they are ready to participate in relocation efforts.  Mr Yousaf has called on the UK Government to follow the Irish example and continues to encourage increasing involvement in assisting refugees.

Mr Yousaf was delighted by the support he received at the National Conference from SNP members, including the incredibly moving input of Dr. Amer Masri, a Syrian refugee and victim of torture, now living peacefully in Scotland.

Scotland has previously highlighted the inadequacy of the UK government’s response to the Syrian refugee crisis and has already established a multi-agency Refugee Operation Task Force.  This organization works to ensure services across Scotland are ready to welcome refugees into our communities.  This task force consists of local government and other stakeholders working to show that Scotland is capable of taking its fair share of refugees with the assistance of Scotland’s councils, faith groups, community organizations, schools, and even ordinary citizens willing to help.

Scotland’s councils have announced as of the 7th of October that they are indeed ready to take at least 2,000 refugees.

COSLA’s President, Councillor David O’Neil said:

“A number of councils had already been in discussions with the Home Office about their involvement in the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme.  The last three weeks have seen all Scotland’s councils willing to support a co-ordinated response to what can only be described as humanitarian crisis.  For many councils that has seen them committing to taking refugees immediately.”

Westminster Refuses to Accept SNP Amendments on VAT

On the 26th of October, MPs at Westminster voted against cutting taxes on female sanitary products. The SNP amendment to the Finance Bill would have forced a negotiation with the EU for a reduction in the 5% VAT rate and was rejected 305 to 287 votes.

A petition calling for a change following these results has already been launched and has received more than 250,000 signatures.

SNP MP Alison Thewliss added: “It is absurd that while men’s razors, children’s nappies and even products like Jaffa Cakes, exotic meats and edible cake decorations are free from VAT, women are still having to pay additional costs on what is already an expensive yet vital product.”

Additionally, the SNP called for the UK Government to end the unfair tax burden on Police Scotland, the only police authority in the UK that cannot claim VAT back.

At the House of Commons on the 26th of October, the proposed amendment to the Finance Bill, which called for Scottish emergency services to be relieved of VAT costs, was refused.

Stewart Hosie, SNP Deputy Leader and Economy spokesman commented:

“The Tory Government’s inexcusable policy of charging Scotland’s police, fire and rescue services tens of millions in unrecoverable VAT every year is taking vital funding away from the frontline emergency services that people across Scotland depend on.”