I was concerned to see the recent UK Government tax credit changes, which came into force at the start of April. I believe that the decision will cause severe hardship for working families and could plunge many households into poverty. A document produced by HM Revenue and Customs in December 2011 showed that 84,900 households in Scotland will no longer be eligible for tax credits when the changes to the threshold kick-in. This will mean that 118,700 children in Scotland will be affected.
If these families cannot find up to 8 hours extra work a week, they face the loss of £3,870 from their household income. To try to force people to find more hours of work to make up for the reduction in Tax Credits ignores, firstly, the very real difficulties that there are in the UK job market as a result of the UK Government’s austerity programme and, secondly, the impact that might have on childcare arrangements.
The families affected are not living a life of luxury; they are low income households who will be forced to cut back on basics such as heating costs and new clothes. In addition there is an impact on the wider economy with households spending less money locally, reducing even further the availability of jobs.
The recent budget at Westminster also spelled out a number of difficulties for local people. The Chancellor’s failed to act on fuel prices, as he used the Budget to confirm that fuel duty will increase in line with inflation.
My SNP Westminster colleagues and I have repeatedly called for a fair fuel regulator, which would prevent high prices at the pump and stop the government receiving a windfall from higher prices. People in Highland Perthshire, and right across Scotland, are crying out for action to bring down fuel prices, but the Chancellor has ignored calls to reduce fuel duty and forgotten about his pre-election pledge to establish a regulator.
We are producing millions of barrels of oil every day in Scotland yet we are subjected to the highest fuel prices in Europe. With the bulk of the pump price made up of tax, the Treasury should stop this highway robbery because soaring fuel prices are hindering economic recovery. It means less money for ordinary people to spend, higher costs for producers and is especially damaging in Highland Perthshire where car reliance is high and fuel is a necessity and not a luxury.
In July 2008, George Osborne launched plans for a ‘Fair Fuel Stabiliser’, describing it as a ‘common sense plan’. As well as being common sense, it is unanswerable and fair for Scotland, given that we pay among the highest fuel prices in Europe. With record North Sea oil and gas revenues flowing to the Treasury, we need to see some of that money used to bring fuel prices down – and to keep them stable – through a fuel duty regulator.
I believe that the decision to freeze personal tax allowances for the over-65s will hit pensioners hard. Higher personal tax allowances granted to those over the age of 65 – £10,500 for those aged 65 to 74 and £10,660 for those aged 75 plus (2012-13) – will be frozen until they come into line with the basic personal tax allowance. While the increased personal tax allowances for those under 65 are welcome, the decision to freeze the higher age allowances granted to those aged over 65 will hit pensioners hard. Given the pressures of soaring fuel and energy costs and significant food inflation pensioners are going to be hit very hard by this new blow to their income.
I can be contacted at my office in Blairgowrie at 35 Perth Street, Blairgowrie, PH10 6DL, you can call me on 01250 876 576 or email me at wishartp@ parliament.uk