Public Health Scotland (PHS) supports retaining the £20 a week uplift to universal credit and working tax credits, brought in by the UK Government in April 2020, to help create a Scotland where everybody thrives.

The social security top-up payment was introduced in April 2020 to help low-income households deal with the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and is due to expire in October. The evidence is becoming stronger that increasing the incomes of the poorest, including by increasing means-tested benefits, can help narrow the gap in life expectancy and improve mental health and wellbeing.

All of those families affected claiming working tax credits are already in employment, as are 35% of people claiming universal credit. Another 31% of people claiming universal credit have health problems or caring responsibilities which compromise their ability to secure and retain jobs. Therefore, focusing on getting people into work, in itself, will not be sufficient.

Martin Taulbut, Public Health Intelligence Adviser at PHS, said:

“People with higher incomes are healthier and live longer. Experiencing material hardship can have a profound direct impact on health by affecting our ability to buy the goods and services that support good health and underpin healthy life expectancy. 

“The increase in value of universal credit and tax credits has reduced poverty, protecting the physical and mental health of low-income families and supporting working-age adults’ ability to find and keep good work. Decreasing the value of means-tested benefits is likely to result in a decline in the (already poor) health of the unemployed and low-income families, particularly after the experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As well as enabling families to live healthier lives now, action taken to improve and protect the health of children from early in life pays dividends for decades. By embedding health and wellbeing into policy decisions across areas of economy, employment and mental health, Scotland has an opportunity to make real progress on national outcomes”.

Last updated: 06 October 2022