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Martin Docherty-Hughes, MP for West Dunbartonshire, has said that the UK government must take action to change its benefit payments system after concerns were raised about the risk it poses to vulnerable women and children.

The SNP MP has added his support to a Private Members’ Bill tabled by his party colleague Dr Philippa Whitford at Westminster. The Bill aims to protect women from financial abuse through the introduction of routine split payments for Universal Credit – the Tory UK government’s flagship welfare policy.

Universal Credit, which is due to be fully rolled out across West Dunbartonshire in October, brings all household benefits into a single monthly payment paid into one bank account per household.

A number of charities including Scottish Women’s Aid and the Child Poverty Action Group have expressed concerns that paying recipient couples one joint payment, rather than individual payments, puts domestic abuse victims at increased risk of financial coercion.

Dr Philippa Whitford MP’s Universal Credit (Application, Advice and Assistance) Bill, which will be considered by MPs later this month, has been backed by women’s aid groups seeking a better system of benefit payments for domestic abuse victims.

Martin Docherty-Hughes MP said:

“I work closely with our local women’s aid charities and there is serious concern about the detrimental impact Universal Credit will have once it is fully rolled out in West Dunbartonshire in a few months’ time.

“A number of charities have raised concerns that the Tories’ flagship welfare policy will make it more difficult for people to leave harmful and abusive relationships due to the single payment system.

“Introducing a split payment system by default for UC would better promote financial independence and equality. The SNP will continue pressing the UK government and DWP to ensure this flawed payment system is changed.

Dr Philippa Whitford MP said:

“Quite fittingly, my Bill is published on the eve of International Women’s Day. It is astonishing that women in the UK may be having to choose between poverty and abuse because of Tory welfare policy.

“Financial dependence and control isolates women from their friends, family and support networks, so I am calling on the UK government to make split payments the default. The Tories should not persist with policies which put vulnerable women and children in danger, making it easier for them to be financially deprived or abused when a simple amendment could provide protection instead.

“My Bill would help right that wrong and end the terrible choices some women are forced to make because of this government’s insidious welfare policies.’’

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