Frontline charities and campaigners fighting the war on poverty have united to condemn David Cameron and George Osborne's latest welfare policy announcements as an outrageous attack on Scotland's most vulnerable families.
With almost one million Scottish families set to be hit by the Conservatives' planned benefits freeze, experts fear that thousands of households across the country will now be forced below the poverty line.
John Dickie, director of the Child Poverty Action Group Scotland, said: "This policy will inevitably force thousands of Scottish families into poverty. It is extraordinary that, yet again, the poorest will carry the greatest burden for austerity.
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"All in it together? We are stripping the last vestiges of dignity from people who have nothing else left, but these are political choices, not pragmatic ones. The current administration has effectively reversed the progress made to eradicate poverty over the preceding 10 years."
Unveiled at last week's Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham, the latest wave of policy announcements targeting vulnerable families - which include plans to pilot a pre-paid card for benefits that would allow claimants to buy only approved items, excluding alcohol - have been rejected as unworkable by leading campaigners, academics and frontline workers across Scotland.
With thousands more children from families existing just above the poverty line likely to be pushed below it by the two-year benefits freeze, which the Joseph Rowntree Foundation calculates will cost families £480 a year, outraged campaigners have lined up to condemn a raft of policies targeting society's most vulnerable citizens, including:
l 18 to 21-year-olds to be denied access to housing benefit, and to have benefits frozen if they don't get a job or join a community programme within six months.
l Further cuts in the benefits cap, meaning that in real terms some 2015 household incomes will now fall £4046 short of the total the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies says families need to survive every year.
l The botched introduction of Personal Independence Payments (PIP), which has left thousands of disabled Scots facing serious payment delays and unable to meet the cost of living.
l The controversial bedroom tax, only defeated after the Scottish Government stepped in to provide the finance required to mitigate the effects of the policy.
Allan Young, research and development officer at the Poverty Truth Commission, said: "These are deeply cynical policies that make no sense. Again and again the most marginalised members of society have been targeted, placing a huge question mark over how these decisions are made.
"There is clearly still a massive disconnect between the UK's decision-makers and the realities of life on the poverty line. Recent years have seen this issue tackled at Scottish Government and local level, but judging by this week's announcements Westminster still doesn't get it."
Many campaigners expressed outrage at the Conservatives' calculated decision to unveil tax cuts worth £1333 for people earning more than £50,000 a year on the same day as announcing a further freeze in benefits.
Darren Carnegie, who co-founded Glasgow's Needy and organised the recent George Square foodbank donation drives, said: "This is nothing short of a war on the poor. While the Conservative Party continue to hand out tax breaks for the rich, across Scotland thousands of families are struggling to feed their kids. It cannot be tolerated."
Concerns have also been raised that while, purportedly designed to target those unwilling to work, the new measures will in fact disproportionately strike at working families. Citizens Advice Scotland has estimated that two-thirds of the households likely to be affected have at least one member in full-time employment.
John Downie, director of public policy for the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, said: "It is easy electioneering to attack those who can't respond, but this policy of continually cutting welfare payments won't work on any level - politically or socially."
Darren Carnegie, co-founder, Glasgow's Needy: I find it absolutely disgusting that the Tory conference can cheer the introduction of yet another attack on welfare while across the country families are making a daily choice between feeding their children and heating their homes.
We live in a country where corporations run legal scams to avoid paying millions in taxes and get a slap on the wrist. But where wee Jean from Drumchapel works a few hours on the side and gets six months in jail, that's obscene.
People aren't claiming benefits because they're lazy, but because they don't have any other choice. Every night we make deliveries of food to houses around Glasgow only to find that they can't pay for the fuel to cook it.
We have to use the positivity generated during the referendum campaign to step up and fight this. It's time to stop stigmatising the poor and start stigmatising those who seem to believe public policy is only there to serve the better off in society.
Margaret Lynch, director, Citizens Advice Scotland:
The proliferation of foodbanks is a clear indication that we are losing the war on poverty in Scotland.
There is something not quite right here. It is hard to understand how a country as rich as Scotland should be struggling to feed its people, but one in every 50 of our clients has to be referred to a local foodbank, and we have had people through our doors who report not having eaten in a week.
This is unacceptable. Blaming the people on the margins themselves does not fit with Scotland's communitarian spirit, and it is clear that today's more brutal approach to welfare is not working.
The vast majority of our case load is now made up of people contending with housing problems, welfare issues and debt. It is as if we have had a values bypass.
We need to turn that around, to reconnect with the ethos that made us proud to create the welfare system in the first place, and remember the pride we once felt that no matter what happened to people here, there was always a social safety net to break their fall.
Graeme Brown, director, Shelter Scotland:
This latest set of announcements will come as a hammer-blow to individuals and families across Scotland. It's badly judged and we are extremely concerned that thousands of families already living on the edge could be pushed into bigger problems with rent arrears, particularly in the private sector where demand is pushing up the cost of housing.
We also have very specific concerns that the removal of housing benefit rights for people aged under 21 could have a devastating impact upon a lot of young lives.
We have just come out of a referendum campaign in which both sides focused on fairness and social justice, and have recently seen the bedroom tax only halted by the intervention of the Scottish Government. That will raise the question of whether the Smith Commission should expand to consider devolution of the entire welfare system.
John Downie, director of Public Policy, SCVO: This is a policy that is economically illiterate. Quite apart from being an outrageous attack on the poorest in society, it will not work either economically or socially.
The consequences of attacking the poor are well-documented. Such policies increase the divisions in society while increasing the workload borne by the wider welfare network, because when people cannot cover their basic living costs the price must be paid elsewhere.
This week saw the burden of austerity placed largely on the poor in almost the same breath that tax breaks for the middle class were unveiled.
A policy that will hit the strivers in society just as hard as the tiny minority abusing the system, the consequences of this could deliver stagnant growth and a jobless economy.
In a year where social justice has returned to the top of the Scottish public agenda there still seems to be a fundamental disconnect between the Westminster decision-makers and reality. Have they learned nothing from the referendum campaign?
John Dickie, director, Child Poverty Action Group Scotland: According to independent projections by the IFS, cuts to the up-rating of benefits are already the biggest factor set to drive up to 100,000 more children into poverty by 2020. This week's announcement would inevitably put more children in poverty and further questions any claim that the UK Government is on track to meet its 2020 child poverty targets.
This is bad news for working parents struggling on low wages, already coping with rising living costs and previous benefit cuts, as well as those unable to work.
A couple both working full-time on the minimum wage are already nearly one-fifth short of the money they need for children's basics; another freeze will make it a whole lot harder for them, as well as those out of work.
The bottom line is that growing up in poverty, whether parents are in or out of work, damages children's health, education and life chances, and stores up huge costs for us all in the long term.
Carla McCormack, policy and parliamentary officer, Poverty Alliance:
We're incredibly disappointed by the latest welfare announcements from the Tory party. Far from targeting the unemployed, these policies will disproportionately affect thousands of working households and will largely serve to damage the interests of hard working families.
Many people are particularly angry at the introduction of pre-paid benefit debit cards. They are extremely stigmatising, completely remove their dignity, and imply that even people who have worked all their lives before being made redundant should no longer have freedom of choice over what they spend their money on once forced to claim welfare.
What, for example, will be on the list of restricted "luxury" items these cards cannot buy? Is a pet cat a luxury, or new school clothes for the children?
This policy goes against the spirit of Scottish social justice and we can only hope it never comes to fruition.
Robina Qureshi, director, Positive Action in Housing:
It is difficult to describe just how insidious the impact of pre-paid benefits debit cards has already been on Scotland's asylum seekers, who have been used as guinea pigs to test the system since it was introduced in 2010.
It is a shame that, instead of criticising and fearing asylum seekers, more people didn't look at what was being done to them, because the policy was always going to be rolled out.
The Azure card comes pre-loaded with just over £30 for single asylum seekers and carries a number of restrictions.
It can only be used in certain major supermarkets, cannot be used to purchase a range of so-called luxury items and cannot be spent on travel. It removes freedom, enforces control, and deducts any value above £5 at the end of each week - making it impossible to save for larger items. Because these cards are so easily recognisable they also leave the people using them feeling stigmatised. Make no mistake: if introduced, they will strip the last shreds of dignity from Scotland's poor.
Martin Crewe, director, Barnardo's in Scotland: There is no question that a further real-terms cut in benefits could tip the balance for a lot of families currently just managing to survive.
If the people who devise or support these policies could see the struggle many of the families we work with face just to get by, they might come to terms with how fundamentally they misunderstand the realities of poverty.
In return for very marginal benefits to the public purse, another round of welfare reductions is likely to push more people further into debt and the arms of the payday lenders.
In the wake of the referendum we are now waiting to discover what form the increased powers promised by the vow will take.
That is another discussion, but our concern is that if a more devolved welfare system is on the table, it will have to work coherently, drawing upon the services of a range of agencies currently under Westminster control.Getting that right will take very careful consideration, and we need to start asking these questions now.
Allan Young, research and development officer, Poverty Truth Commission: It is a myth that people somehow choose to follow a welfare lifestyle. In real life nobody does that, yet UK decision-makers appear to be utterly disconnected from this fact.
However it happens, the political leadership desperately needs to engage directly with people working on the front line of poverty.
They need to understand the pressures that people are under, and to appreciate the catastrophic effect on their lives that losing even a couple of pounds a week can have.
In recent years, Scotland has seen progress made in this area with the creation of the Kinship Care Commission. Now in its third year, the initiative gets MSPs, civil servants and carers sitting around the same table, and while things aren't perfect, we have seen a clear improvement in government understanding of the issues. Westminster clearly needs to learn the lessons from this as a matter of urgency.
Nick Bailey, professor of urban studies, Glasgow University:
The idea that we need to save money by taking it from the poorest is appalling and makes no sense. What's particularly baffling about this is that once again the primary targets are working-age people.
It might be a popular gambit to attack the unemployed but the fact is that of all those categorised as living in poverty, more than half are already working 40-hour weeks.
It is people on lower incomes who already suffer the most in times of rising costs. Fuel, food and housing costs account for the major part of their income, so even incremental cuts in any welfare payments they receive can have catastrophic effects.
At that end of the scale, a couple of pounds can make the difference between making it to the end of the week or not. Forcing more families into poverty can only have a negative impact upon the economy.
Paul McNamee, editor, The Big Issue:
Any policy that looks like it's punishing the poor cannot sit well. The benefits freeze will see more people suffer, and it's frustrating that it's being done for reasons of politics, appeasing the right-wing electorate to fend off the challenge of Ukip.
While the welfare system is in need of reform, the idea that these policies are tackling the mythical figure of the lazy dole scrounger is a bogus concept.
The majority of those likely to be affected by the freeze are working people hit by rising costs, low wages and zero-hour contracts.
I find it deeply disappointing that neither the Conservatives nor Labour have come up with particular measures to address the issue of sustainable job creation, which is the real key here.
Ewan Gurr, Scotland network manager, The Trussell Trust:
The Trussell Trust has seen the demand for emergency food increase at an exponential rate over the last financial year.
Our Scottish foodbanks provided support to 14,318 in 2012-13 and over 71,428 in 2013-14, which highlights an increase in demand of over 400%. Those presenting at our Scottish foodbanks do so primarily due to benefit delays, benefit changes and low income.
As an apolitical charity, it is important for us to highlight the crises men, women and children using our services experience, and encourage elected officials to identify and implement policy that eases that pressure.
It is difficult for us to speculate on policy outcomes at this stage, but there is an indisputable upward trajectory in the demand for our services since April 2013 and there is no indication that this will decrease in Scotland in the coming months.