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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Welsh Government is letting down Wales' poorest and most vulnerable people

Today's Guardian covers the report of the Welsh Assembly's Public Accounts Committee on the impact of welfare changes on social housing tenants in Wales. It is the third successive report to criticise Labour Ministers for their failure to stand up for the country's poorest and most vulnerable people.

As the paper says last month the Welsh government was strongly attacked by an assembly committee for its lack of progress in tackling poverty, claiming women, children and refugees had been particularly badly affected.

Whilst earlier this month another committee highlighted the striking number of Welsh people over 50 who are struggling to find work, and said the government had become so focused on youth unemployment that it was neglecting its older citizens:

The Public Accounts Committee found that of recent welfare changes, the removal of the spare room subsidy, dubbed the bedroom tax, had been the most significant in Wales.

While the Scottish government mitigated the effects of the bedroom tax by handing out discretionary housing payments, the Welsh government chose not to. Instead it prioritised investment in the construction of smaller properties and the provision of advice services. The committee has called on the government to look again at whether it should follow the Scottish model.

During its inquiry, the committee heard claims that hundreds of larger homes in the social housing sector were being left empty because of the bedroom tax and millions of pounds were being wasted because disabled people had to move out of properties that had been adapted for their needs.

The committee’s report points out that the housing benefit reforms are a prelude to further changes that will be imposed by the UK government including the full roll-out of universal credit. It says:

“The Welsh government should take a more proactive position in coordinating Wales’s response to the welfare reform agenda.”

It is certainly true that the Welsh Government has been fairly timid in its response to the bedroom tax due to concerns about the cost of a Scottish-style intervention, but it is also the case that they sat back and waited for the measure to be implemented before acting, despite having two years notice of what was to come.

A proactive and co-ordinated approach from the very start could have helped more people stay in their homes and mitigated some of the impact of this change, especially in terms of funding the building of smaller properties and targeting assistance to those with adaptations.

I am also concerned about the Government's general approach to dealing with poverty. The Enterprise and Business Committee's report underlined the view of the Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee that there is no joined-up approach across the Welsh Government in tackling poverty, whilst the latter committee also concluded that far from tackling poverty, Ministers were in fact just alleviating it, focussing on the symptoms of poverty rather than tackling the root causes.

What is becoming clear is that Wales is falling further behind the rest of the UK and the Welsh Government is failing to address that problem.
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