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Local authority leaders call for an 'urgent summit' as 'alarming' increase in benefit claims sparks fears of a bleak winter for many Highland residents


By Ali Morrison

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Universal Credit applications rocketed 78 per cent between March and June.
Universal Credit applications rocketed 78 per cent between March and June.

Concern about a potentially “bleak winter” have prompted Highland Council to call for an urgent summit of MPs and MSPs in a bid to secure support from both the UK and Scottish governments.

The move was tabled by the leader and deputy leader of the local authority, councillors Margaret Davidson and Alasdair Christie, and will be put to a vote next week at a full meeting for cross-chamber support.

Mushrooming Universal Credit claims, described as “alarming and rapid” – up 78 per cent across the region since March – as well as statistics that clearly show the high dependency many locals have on the furlough scheme, prompted fears for many individuals and families.

The members were also worried about the complexities of the replacement for the furlough scheme, called the job support scheme.

The motion states: “Our economy has been devastated and whilst we have placed a lot of resources and time on aiding recovery, it will take time.

“As a council we will need to use our own resources carefully, ensuring that we can meet all the demands for our services and interventions whilst working closely with the public, third sector and community partners as we face the continuing impact of the pandemic.

“We must all do our best to keep food on all tables, roofs over residents’ heads and warmth in our citizens’ homes.”

Another move supported by Cllr Christie and Cllr Alex Graham calls on the UK government to end “clear and substantial long-standing inadequacies in the sick pay system.”

The two members said problems were highlighted this year by the Covid-19 crisis with a particular need to increase Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) from £95.85 per week to a fairer level, such as the real living wage.

They also want the government to remove the waiting period so that it is available from the first day off work and also remove the eligibility requirement to have average earnings of £120 per week.

The motion read: “This council urges UK government to review the sick pay system and reform it as a matter of urgency.”



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