Gordon Brown: Devolved leaders should unite to demand more cost of living help

Both the UK and Scottish Governments are ‘not doing enough’, the former prime minister said.

14 March 2022

Devolved leaders across the UK should join forces to demand a change in approach from Westminster in response to the cost of living crisis, a former prime minister has said.

People across the country are braced for a spike in energy costs as well as the impact of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on global gas prices and a rise in national insurance.

Writing in the Daily Record newspaper on Monday, Gordon Brown said both the UK and Scottish Governments are not doing enough in their response.

Along with the rise in national insurance, some six million families across the UK were also hit by the end of a £20 per week uplift to Universal Credit implemented during the pandemic, which was scrapped last year.

In response to the cost of living crisis, the UK Government pledged to provide a £200 discount on energy bills that would have to be paid back, along with a £150 council tax rebate.

Scotland’s Finance Secretary, Kate Forbes, announced they would mirror the UK Government’s council tax aid, which would be provided to anyone in tax band D or lower.

The Scottish Government’s plan was “almost a carbon copy” of the UK’s, Mr Brown said.

“So when it comes to failing on fairness, the Scottish Government can’t just blame Westminster.

The former prime minister hit out at both ruling administrations, writing: “And yet even when facing shocking increases in suffering, neither the UK nor Scottish Government is doing enough.”

“For years, they have pleaded for the right to do things differently and then immediately upon having the chance they do the same as the Tories,” he said.

Mr Brown added: “It’s clear what should be done.

“Leaders from Scotland and Wales, as well as mayors in England should band together to pressure the UK Government into offering more support.

“Firstly, link up with the mayors in England, the first minister in Wales and all sections of decent opinion in Scotland and Britain to demand a UK-wide change of policy on tax, benefit levels and heating help.

“One demand all could unite around is to restore the £20-a-week Universal Credit uplift taken from six million families a few months ago – worth £1,000 a year.”

He went on to urge the Scottish Government to “at least double the money they have so far made available” by focusing funding to the poorest, as well as increase winter fuel payments.

An analysis by the Daily Record found that if the funding was targeted at those in receipt of a council tax reduction, support could be increased to £600.

Kate Forbes speaking in Holyrood
Finance Secretary Kate Forbes said the Barnett consequentials were not new money (Fraser Bremner/Daily Mail/PA)

Barnett consequentials totalling about £290 million for Scotland created by the increase in local government funding by the UK Government, Ms Forbes has said, were found not to be new money and in fact already built into the Scottish Government’s funding package for 2022-23.

The Treasury rejected Ms Forbes’ claim, which meant cuts had to be made to the Scottish budget ahead of its passage at Holyrood to find the money necessary to fund the support.

SNP MP Peter Grant took to Twitter to respond to Mr Brown’s statements, attacking the former prime minister for not devolving more powers to the Scottish Parliament during his time at the top of Government.

“That’ll be the same Gordon Brown who refused to devolve control over pensions, benefits, employment, energy costs, VAT & excise duties, or Government borrowing, to the Scottish Parliament even when his own party were in power,” he said.

SNP MSP Kenneth Gibson echoed Mr Grant’s criticism of the former prime minister, saying: “Politicians like Gordon Brown sold Scotland a tale of more powers if we voted No – powers that would have helped Scotland do more to tackle the cost of living crisis.

“And yet Labour still sides with the Tories by standing in the way of more powers to tackle poverty coming to Scotland – Gordon Brown’s hypocrisy is simply breathtaking.”

He added: “The SNP has fought long and hard to see additional tax and social security powers devolved to Scotland, and we’ve used the limited powers we do have alongside our fixed budget, to make Scotland fairer – including through a more progressive income tax policy, and delivery of seven new benefits including the Scottish Child Payment, which is unique in the UK and has been described as a ‘game-changer’ by poverty organisations.

“We will be spending an additional £361 million on social security in the next financial year than we get from the UK Government, in addition to what we spend mitigating their welfare cuts – but for as long as the key powers tackling the cost of living remain at Westminster, we will be tackling poverty with one hand tied behind our backs.”

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