Midlothian South MSP slams Tory welfare spokesperson

Midlothian South MSP Christine Grahame has called into question the record of Scottish Tory welfare spokesperson Michelle Ballantyne MSP.

Monday, 31st December 2018, 2:00 pm
Scottish Conservative List MSP Michelle Ballantyne and Midlothian South MSP Christine Grahame (SNP).
Scottish Conservative List MSP Michelle Ballantyne and Midlothian South MSP Christine Grahame (SNP).

This comes after a Freedom of Information request revealed she has written one letter to the DWP, introducing herself.

South of Scotland list MSP Ms Ballantyne has come under fire in recent months for her defence of the controversial roll out of Universal Credit. SNP MSP Ms Grahame has previously sharply criticised her statement that “people on benefits cannot have as many children as they like” in defence of the new two child cap on child benefit citing a range of reasons people with more than two children may end up claiming including redundancy and abusive partners.

Ms Grahame said: “This shows, once again, that Ms Ballantyne is nothing more than a mouthpiece for her bosses in London, blindly defending a UK Government policy which has been condemned, even by the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, as a political choice to inflict poverty rather than an economic necessity.

“I hear first-hand from my constituents of the challenges Universal Credit presents, particularly that they are often expected to go five weeks without payment when making a claim. An advance is available but it is reclaimed from future payments, meaning hardship is simply deferred.

“Anyone who thinks this is reasonable is woefully out of touch with the reality of life for those on low incomes or unable to work.

“Rent arrears and food bank usage continue to rise across Midlothian and the Borders as a direct result of the Universal Credit roll out, with even some children in our towns forced to line up for emergency food parcels. It is an absolute disgrace and a failure of the UK government to protect our most vulnerable citizens.

“That Ms Ballantyne, in all her impassioned defence of this, has not seen fit to raise one single concern with the UK government in her role as Scottish Tory welfare spokesperson is astounding.

“It really goes to show that no matter how bad the Tory welfare system gets, or how much of a disaster Universal Credit turns out to be, Michelle Ballantyne’s only interest is in point-scoring against the SNP at the expense of those vulnerable constituents she should be standing up for.”

Responding, Michelle Ballantyne MSP (Con) said: “Ms Graham’s style of vicious attacks and personal vilification is not the kind of politics I am interested in. Those who are genuinely interested in my thoughts and views know that her rants lack credibility and are twisted versions of the truth.

“Ms Graham was in the chair during the debate where I answered a question on the two child cap. My argument was clear then, and remains so. We all have to make choices about how many children we want and how many we can afford, this should be the same whether or not we are receiving benefits. The benefit system is therefore limited to a maximum value of approximately the average salary.

“There is no limit to the number of children you can have just to the amount of money the state provides. This is both reasonable and sensible and is supported by the majority of people, not least because we all have to pay for it.

There is no magic money tree and it is the ordinary tax payer that funds the system particularly in Scotland where we don’t have a large wealthy population.

“Delivering on the core fairness principles of Universal Credit - that a person should always be better off in work than on welfare, whilst maintaining a safety net befitting one of the world’s wealthiest countries is not an easy task. Though Universal Credit records a satisfaction level of 83 per cent among recipients, it is a new system and there are clearly some challenges for the remaining 17 per cent of beneficiaries. These are not all new challenges and many problems existed with the previous systems and we should not forget that.

“My approach, as the Scottish Conservatives’ representative for welfare, has been to provide a link through which local organisations, foodbanks and individuals can continuously provide feedback to the DWP and Westminster in trust and confidence, ensuring that Midlothian, the Borders and the wider Scottish experience is represented within the development of the system. These conversations take place on a regular basis through conference calls, face-to-face meetings and further letters to the Secretary of State written outside of the short period covered by Ms Grahame’s FOI request.

“Though quick to issue public criticism, the SNP Government have privately recognised the complexity of providing an effective Social Security System, they have delayed some of the devolution of welfare powers for two years because they are not currently willing or capable of taking on this responsibility.

“For me this is about getting it right for people who genuinely need help, it is about having a real vision and understanding about how we can ensure that no one is left behind or parked on benefits with no way to improve their life. Ms Graham has no real interest in ensuring the benefit system works she is actively undermining people’s confidence to serve her politics, there is the real shame.

“If you are having difficulties with the welfare system, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me. It is in all of our interest that those in long- or short-term need are matched with the maximum support available within the Universal Credit system, and that the system continues to be adapted to better support the most challenging circumstances.”