Universal Credit payments should be routinely split between partners, MSPs told

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Scottish Labour has called for Universal Credit payments to be routinely split between partners to help women experiencing domestic abuse.

Leader Richard Leonard urged Nicola Sturgeon to use new welfare powers to implement the change during First Minister’s Questions at Holyrood.

Ms Sturgeon said she thought the measure was “worthy of further consideration”.

While arrangements can be currently made for split payments, the benefit is usually paid into one bank account per household, with charities including Engender and Scottish Women’s Aid concerned this could trap people in abusive relationships.

SNP MP Dr Philippa Whitford has published a Private Members’ Bill at Westminster aimed at addressing the concerns.

Speaking during First Minister’s Questions at Holyrood, Mr Leonard said: “Child benefit is usually paid directly to the mother. It gives a degree of financial independence and is more likely to be spent on the children.

“That is something that Labour wants to see with all benefits, particularly Universal Credit.

“We think that Universal Credit should be automatically split between the two partners in a relationship.

“These split payments are supported by organisations like Engender and Scottish Women’s Aid, and an SNP MP just this week has published a private members’ bill to address this very issue in the Westminster parliament offering not just a choice but for split payments to be automatic.

“Yet just last week SNP MSPs here voted against split payments in the Social Security Bill.

“I want to see progressive change across the whole of the UK but why is this government currently blocking the delivery of benefit payments directly to women in Scotland?”

Ms Sturgeon responded: “As Richard Leonard knows, we have already made modifications where we can to how Universal Credit is paid.

“We are committed to working with women’s organisations and with stakeholders more generally to look at additional changes that we can perhaps make and I know that that one – splitting the payments – is certainly one that I do think is worthy of further consideration.

“We require to discuss this also with the UK Government because one of the things that has perhaps escaped Richard Leonard’s notice is that we don’t have full control over Universal Credit, so we cannot always unilaterally make the changes that we want to make.”

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