Westminster Comment - Budget dominates proceedings

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In the last fortnight we’ve had another packed agenda at Westminster, with the new Conservative Government’s budget dominating proceedings. I am very concerned that George Osborne’s Tory budget will hit hard working families, the poorest and young people the hardest. In this budget he has continued with his harsh austerity agenda - particularly the savage cuts in tax credits.

I am worried for many of my constituents given that working-age benefits are to be frozen for four years – including tax credits and local housing allowance. Tax credit changes mean a family with one earner on average earnings will lose over £2,000 in tax credits from the changes announced last week. On top of that, Tax credits and Universal Credit is to be restricted to two children. It’s not yet clear what the full implications of this policy will be for people, particularly the most vulnerable in our communities. I will be working hard with all my colleagues to ensure that there will be measures put in place to mitigate the potential problems that this budget poses.

This budget will also have a big impact on those of us who are under 25. 18-21 year olds will not be entitled to claim housing benefit automatically, with a new “earn to learn” obligation. The new National Living Wage of £7.20 from April 2016 is something which I welcome as a step in the right direction, however, it will exclude workers under age of 25. The proposal by George Osbourne fails to meet the Living Wage which is already £7.85 in Scotland at the present moment. It is simply a rebranding exercise that coupled with the cut in working tax credits will do nothing to help working families. Indeed, the Scottish Government estimate that the actual Living Wage is forecast to be £11.82 in 2020 – considerably greater than the UK Government’s £9 plans. The SNP has long campaigned for a minimum wage not based on age, however, our pleas seem to have fallen on deaf ears.

There have, however, been lots of positive experiences for me in the last two weeks in parliament. I recently met with the Scotch Whisky Association, who were able to bring me up to date on all their work in the constituency. I am looking forward to visiting some local whisky businesses over the summer recess, particularly given that this is the year of Scotland Food and Drink.

I was also recently elected as an office bearer for the All Party Parliamentary Group on Body Image. This group is an opportunity for MPs to discuss and investigate causes of body image anxiety. We will be working cooperatively, across all the parties, to see what steps can be taken to promote body confidence, working with advertisers, the media, fashion industry and youth organisations, throughout the UK. I am very much looking forward to making a valuable contribution to this group and I’ll keep you updated on our work.

Meanwhile, in the constituency, I recently had the chance of looking at the new plans for the Fife Arms Hotel in Braemar. It was great that the local community were able to see details of the plans and quiz developers on the future of this landmark at the centre of Braemar.

As ever, if you need to get in touch, please email me on stuart.donaldson.mp@parliament.uk or call on 02072194618.