YOUR AM WRITES: Alun Davies, AM for Blaenau Gwent
EVEN before the latest cuts under the UK Government’s plans for Welfare Reform have had a chance to bite, London councils are in preparations to move their homeless to other parts of the UK, as it becomes impossible to find housing within the government’s housing benefits cap.
We are already in the midst of hugely challenging times in terms of meeting housing needs within Blaenau Gwent and Wales as a whole. This will only be exacerbated if local authorities in England are relocating tenants in order to meet the UK government’s new regime.
The cumulative impacts of the welfare reform changes have the potential to drive many of the most vulnerable members of our society into deeper poverty and undermine the Welsh Government’s efforts to reduce poverty in Wales.
The Welsh Government has itself commissioned a comprehensive assessment of the cumulative impacts of the welfare reforms on people in Wales and this is now under way.
Early work undertaken as part of this assessment has drawn on regional analysis published by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), revealing that Wales has more people dependent on welfare benefits than the rest of the UK and a higher proportion of people on disability and sickness benefits.
The Welsh Government is not opposed to the principle of welfare reform, but would welcome a simpler, more transparent benefit system that makes work pay; and provides genuine support to individuals to help them find and keep work.
I recently met care managers and tenants at the sharp end of three flagship projects. They provide sheltered accommodation, women’s refuge and supported housing within Blaenau Gwent.
The services provided by all three schemes are crucial in helping those in greatest need in our communities; predicting that a perfect storm of job losses and housing benefit cuts will increase homelessness at a time of squeezed budgets.
Just about everyone in Wales who receives housing benefit is going to have to make up a greater shortfall between their benefit and the cost of their rent.
An estimated 40,000 tenants are going to be hit by next year’s “bedroom tax” and around 91,000 households are on waiting lists for council and social housing.
Elements of the Social Fund scheme, currently run by the Department for Work and Pensions, will be abolished and delivered through a new local provider, Northgate Public Services. It is the Labour Welsh Government that will have to pick up the pieces as UK government reforms leave people worse off.