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Nurses in Scotland say Universal Credit is pushing people further into poverty

Staff raised their concerns at the Queen’s Nursing Institute Scotland Conference.
Universal Credit

Nurses have expressed concerns about the Universal Credit scheme and the depths of poverty they are seeing among people during their working days.

The credit system replaces a number of benefits including income support, child tax credit and housing benefit.

The nurses discussed its impact at the Queen’s Nursing Institute Scotland Conference, which took place in Edinburgh last week. Their conversation followed a talk given by health and well-being charity COPE Scotland’s chief executive Hilda Campbell, and Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) welfare rights adviser Mark Willis.

Mr Willis said forecasts predicted increased poverty as a result of the credit scheme. He advised nurses to be aware of different agencies they could direct people to for help, especially as claims for Universal Credit must be made online.

Ms Campbell showed a harrowing video of children growing up in poverty in

Nurses have expressed concerns about the Universal Credit scheme and the depths of poverty they are seeing among people during their working days.


Picture: Alamy

The credit system replaces a number of benefits including income support, child tax credit and housing benefit.

The nurses discussed its impact at the Queen’s Nursing Institute Scotland Conference, which took place in Edinburgh last week. Their conversation followed a talk given by health and well-being charity COPE Scotland’s chief executive Hilda Campbell, and Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) welfare rights adviser Mark Willis.

Mr Willis said forecasts predicted increased poverty as a result of the credit scheme. He advised nurses to be aware of different agencies they could direct people to for help, especially as claims for Universal Credit must be made online.

Ms Campbell showed a harrowing video of children growing up in poverty in Scotland and called for nurses to be ‘small “p” political’.

However, she also highlighted a successful project by COPE Scotland to introduce ‘dignity baskets’ in the toilets of the charity’s headquarters in Glasgow. The baskets include items such as food and women’s sanitary products, and visitors seeking help from the charity can take what they need – and can donate items too.

The scheme has now been adopted by many other agencies and organisations across Scotland, including the Scottish Youth Parliament.

Ms Campbell said the content of the baskets was now self-generating, through a steady stream of donations.

Negative impact of credit scheme

During the nurses’ discussion after the talk, one nurse said: ‘The impact of Universal Credit in Inverclyde has been absolutely horrendous.’

She said community nursing teams struggled to make an impact because their clients were in ‘absolutely dire living conditions’.

Some nurses suggested education and school nurses could partially help with the issues they were encountering, such as budget management and early health problems, but others said school nurse posts had been cut.

One nurse from the Shetland Islands said: ‘I am from a traditionally affluent place and food bank usage has increased massively. Until two years ago I was never involved in taking food round to families, and now I am.

‘It’s quite shocking seeing a mum go to the cupboard and finding it bare. I will drive to another island on a ferry and come back with a box of food for them, because you can’t leave them like that.

‘We developed a food poverty programme, trying to identify what the problems are, but it’s difficult because you can have a very affluent household next to a very poor household, but you wouldn’t necessarily spot which was what.’

She added that the benefits system was very difficult to navigate, particularly for those who cannot afford a computer.

Risk of poverty becoming ingrained

Another nurse added that the levels of poverty in north east Glasgow were in danger of becoming normalised, because they have continued for so long.

Many nurses became emotional during the session, and it ended with everybody explaining how they manage to unwind and take their mind off their job at the end of the day.

Ms Campbell challenged the conference attendees to send anonymised case studies to COPE and CPAG, so that the charities could send them to MPs and MSPs (members of the Scottish Parliament) and request reforms to the credit scheme.

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