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  By a Newsnet reporter

The SNP has condemned the UK Government’s discriminatory welfare reforms as a new report has revealed that women will lose out the most due to Westminster’s changes to the benefits system.

The report, published today by the Scottish Government, highlights how key changes implemented by Westminster's Welfare Reform Act 2012 will disproportionately affect women and families, including the slashing of Child Benefit, reduction in the proportion of childcare costs covered by Working Tax Credit, and the overall benefit cap, of which 60 per cent of those affected by the change are single female households.

Women are hardest hit by the benefit changes as more women are engaged in caring roles, and certain benefits are thus predominantly or mainly received by women.  Child Benefit, Child Tax Credits and the Childcare Element of Working Tax Credit are paid to the main carer of children, which is usually a woman.

The report also criticises the UK Government's shift to the new Universal Credit System.  The new system is structured in a way which is likely to have a negative impact on women and children. 

Universal Credit is to be paid as one single household payment. In couple households where this is paid to the man, this will represent a loss of independent income for women.  The report notes that this will concentrate financial resources and power in the hands of one person and may result in resources not being shared equally.

Other studies have shown that benefits provided to women are more likely to be spent on children’s needs than money allocated to men, therefore the move to a household benefit payment could potentially reduce spending on children.  The Scottish Government report also raises the concern that the new benefits system signals a return to a male breadwinner model in couple households and way weaken the incentives for second earners - mainly women - to return to work or to seek paid employment.

Opinion polls have consistently shown that a majority of the Scottish population want the Scottish Parliament to have full control over benefits and welfare policy.  In a YouGov poll published in March this year, 53% of respondents said that they believed the Scottish Government would be best at deciding welfare and pensions policies for Scotland, with just 34% wanting this power to be retained by Westminster. 

Despite this, all the main anti-independence parties have refused to consider devolving control of benefits and welfare policy to Holyrood.

Reacting to the report, SNP MSP Christina McKelvie said:

"This report is extremely troubling. The UK Government’s benefits cuts are now shown to disproportionately affect women, particularly mothers and their children – one of the sections of our society that we should be protecting most.

"From tax credit changes to child benefit cuts and benefits disqualification, those who need support the most are being made to pay the price for Westminster’s economic incompetence.

"It doesn’t have to be this way, and it shouldn’t be this way. Scotland has already made its opposition to these welfare cuts absolutely clear, and a majority of Scots believe that the Scottish Government would be best at deciding welfare policy for Scotland. An SNP Government in an independent Scotland would abolish these discriminatory cuts and ensure that women and families get the support they need."

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