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Politics

No boost from Budget for Wales

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FINANCE SECRETARY Mark Drakeford has responded to the UK government’s Autumn Budget saying it provides no significant boost for hard-pressed public services.

The Autumn Budget includes approximately £1b of additional capital funding for Wales between 2017-18 and 2020-21 – but more than half of this must be repaid to the UK Treasury.

The UK Budget also includes additional revenue funding of £215m for the period 2017-18 to 2019-20.

Finance Secretary Mark Drakeford said: “While these small increases in the resources available to Wales are to be welcomed as they will help support our priorities, this additional funding will do little to ease the pressures on frontline public services, which have been struggling to cope as a result of the successive cuts to our budget we have experienced since 2010-11.

“Even with this additional funding, the Welsh Government’s budget will be 5% lower in real terms in 2019-20 than it was in 2010-11.

“As a result of the measures the Chancellor announced today the funding Wales receives from the block grant will increase. But more than half of this increase is in the form of funding which must be paid back to the UK Treasury. £650m of the additional capital funding is in the form of financial transactions – this is a form of capital funding which must be repaid to the Treasury and there are tight restrictions on what it can be spent on.”

The Finance Secretary said the budget was also a missed opportunity to provide additional investment in infrastructure to support the economy during this period of uncertainty.

Professor Drakeford said: “The Office for Budget Responsibility has confirmed the UK economy has slowed markedly and its growth forecasts have again been revised downwards. In my recent letter to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, I urged the UK government to listen to the International Monetary Fund and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development to take advantage of low interest rates and invest in economic infrastructure.

“This is why we called on the UK government to commit to important infrastructure projects in Wales, including the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon. Once again the UK government has failed Wales by failing to invest in key projects.”

He added that the UK Budget gave little detail regarding additional funding about UK government plans to cut the public sector pay cap and give public sector workers a much-needed pay rise.

“The Welsh Government, standing with our hard working public sector workers and trade unions, has repeatedly called on the UK government to lift the public sector pay cap and provide additional funding to give workers across the UK the pay rise they deserve. I was clear this must be fully funded.

“Today’s Budget was a missed opportunity to do this for all public sector workers. For NHS staff who are waiting the outcome of the independent pay review body, I expect the Chancellor to honour his commitment to fund any pay recommendations in full and to provide a full Barnett consequential.”

The Cabinet Secretary also said there must now be discussions between the Welsh and UK governments about the UK government’s intention to explore a tax on plastics – the Welsh Government is currently investigating a disposable plastic tax as one of four new tax ideas.

“I am pleased the UK government is taking our lead in considering how to use taxation to change behaviour in areas such as disposable plastic.

“I announced a tax on disposable plastic as part of the shortlist of proposed taxes in October, I expect to discuss this in detail with the UK government as part of its evidence gathering.”

BUDGET A MISSED OPPORTUNITY

Welsh Lib Dem Leader Jane Dodds commented: “This budget presents a missed opportunity for Wales. The Welsh Liberal Democrats have presented an ambitious vision for Wales, it is disappointing that the Chancellor lacks this ambition.

“Instead of investing in making Wales a world leader in Tidal Energy by giving the green light to the Swansea Tidal Lagoon or giving South Wales the transport investment it needs the Chancellor decided to throw £3b into a Brexit black hole. It’s clear only the Welsh Liberal Democrats have the ambition and ideas needed to ensure opportunity for Wales.

“As one of the most deprived regions of the UK and even the EU, Wales has suffered more than most from austerity. With the Chancellor failing to take meaningful action on Universal Credit and the public sector pay cap and growth set to be much slower than expected, this suffering will only continue.

“The Chancellor needed to immediately end the roll out of Universal Credit to prevent rising child poverty and homelessness and end the public sector pay cap to end the scandal of public sector workers relying on food banks to survive. It is bitterly disappointing the Chancellor has failed on both counts.

“This budget is yet another example of the crippling damage Brexit is already doing to the Welsh Economy. Instead of investing in public services or vital infrastructure projects, the Chancellor is spending £3b preparing for a disastrous no deal Brexit his party foolishly refuse to rule out. The Welsh people deserve to have the final say on the Brexit deal and a chance to choose an exit from Brexit.”

WALES ‘LEFT OUT IN THE COLD’

Plaid Cymru’s Treasury spokesperson and Carmarthenshire Member of Parliament, Jonathan Edwards, said that the British Government once again delivered a budget for the south-east of England whilst Wales is ‘left out in the cold’.

Mr Edwards said the only we can build a better Wales is to demand the tools to do it ourselves.

Speaking after the Budget statement Jonathan Edwards MP said: “In prolonging austerity well into the next decade and sticking to the most economically damaging form of Brexit, the squeeze on living standards will only get worse.

“There was nothing in the budget to drive up wages, and nothing to push down the cost of living.

“For the second budget in a row, economic growth, business investment and productivity have all been downgraded. The result of the Chancellor’s stubborn insistence on sticking to his failed plan is ultimately felt in people’s pockets through lower wages.

“Once again the British Government has delivered a City-centric budget, deliberately overheating the south east of England while Wales is left out in the cold. Our roads and railways are neglected whilst Welsh taxpayers’ money is pumped into London.

“The only way we can build a better Wales, drive up wages and spread prosperity is to demand the tools so we can get on with the job of doing it ourselves.”

Politics

Disabled people hit hardest by changes to benefits

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CHANGES to the welfare system over the past ten years have left disabled adults four times worse off financially than non-disabled adults, according to new research commissioned by the Disability Benefit Consortium, a coalition of over 80 UK disability organisations.

While many people who receive welfare support have experienced cuts of an average of £300 as a result of changes to the welfare system, disabled people have typically lost around £1,200 per year.

. The research, funded by the Three Guineas Trust, is the first comprehensive study looking specifically at the cumulative impact of welfare changes on disabled people, and conducted by the University of East Anglia, the University of Glasgow and Landman Economics.
The research also found:

. The more disabilities you have the more you lose out, for example someone who has six or more    disabilities loses over £2,100 each year on average, whereas someone with one disability loses around £700 each year.

Households with one disabled adult and one disabled child lose out the most, with average losses of over £4,300 per year.

Today’s report by the Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC), ‘Has welfare become unfair – the impact of changes on disabled people’, which is based on this research, looks at the financial impact and lived experiences of welfare reform on disabled people over the past ten years.

As part of the research, 50 people living with a variety of conditions and disabilities were interviewed about their experiences. People said that they found the application and assessment processes highly stressful, and that they did not feel trusted, and constantly challenged.

The DBC also state that the current system has become so complex and dysfunctional, that many disabled people have found it has had a devastating impact on their wider health and wellbeing.

Pam McGee, 48, from Kent, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 1994, which severely impacts her mobility. After a PIP assessment in 2017 she lost the higher rates for both the mobility and daily living components, which means her support was cut by £290 a month and she no longer qualifies for a Motability car. She’s now appealing the decision and says the stress caused by this process has impacted her health. She said: “If I lost my car, I don’t know how I’d carry on. I’m terrified I’ll be out of a job because without the car I won’t be able to get anywhere. If I can’t work at the age of 48, I would lose all of my pride. People always ask ‘What’s your name and what do you do?’ My job is what defines me.

“In the last 10 weeks I’ve had a massive relapse. I went dizzy and lost all feeling in my left leg. When I spoke to my neurologist he said the relapse was probably caused by stress. I’ve also been depressed and eating less.

“PIP has caused me and my family a lot of anxiety and stress. It’s caused my MS symptoms to worsen, which has reduced my mobility, confidence, and ability to take care of myself physically as well as mentally.”

The DBC say that the failure to include disability premiums as part of Universal Credit, and poorly designed assessment criteria are just two examples of the problems that are leaving disabled people worse off and is calling on the Government to make urgent improvements to the welfare system to ensure it works for everyone.

Michael Griffin, Research Lead for the DBC and Senior Policy Adviser at Parkinson’s UK, said: “For the first time, our research has shown just how much disabled people are bearing the brunt of the disastrous changes to welfare.

“Many disabled people have not yet even experienced the full extent of the cuts because they are still waiting to be moved over to Universal Credit. However, when this happens there will be a surge in poverty among those who are already at a crisis point.

“This is simply disgraceful and cannot be allowed to continue. The Government must make urgent improvements to the application processes and assessment criteria, and resolve the flaws in Universal Credit before more people are denied the support they desperately need to live independently.”

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Politics

Carers Week: Eluned Morgan AM says thanks to carers everywhere

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by Eluned Morgan AM

WE’VE just celebrated ‘Carers Week’; an opportunity to say a massive ‘Thank You’ to all carers everywhere. No matter what age you are, who you care for and support, where you live or how much time it takes, every act of caring matters and deserves to be recognised.

Every day, people start caring for the first time. Carers are often hidden from view – putting their own health and wellbeing to the back of the queue. Many can become socially isolated, and some face financial pressures as a result of juggling work life with caring responsibilities.

We know that there are at least 370,000 carers in Wales (that’s more than the population of Cardiff) and that three in five of us will undertaking a caring role at some point in our lives. The latest census revealed that there were at least 15,000 carers in Pembrokeshire, a figure that probably underestimates reality.

I had the opportunity to meet carers from across the region in an event organised by Carers UK at the National Assembly. It became apparent from my conversations that, for many, it is a challenge to know how or where to get help. Caring can creep up unnoticed: for many, it begins with parents suddenly being unable to manage alone, or a partner’s health gradually becoming worse.

But it is important to know that there is support available and people shouldn’t put off asking for help. Organisations like Carers UK are there to listen, to give expert information and advice, tailored to your situation, to champion your rights and support you in finding new ways to manage at home, at work, or wherever you are.

If you know someone who could benefit from some help, please spread the word. We can all play our part in recognising and celebrating the essential contributions carers make, sharing information about caring support services within our local communities.

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News

Pembrokeshire Liberal Democrats wants more pensioners to keep their free TV Licences

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Pembrokeshire Liberal Democrats have expressed their concern at the decision taken by the BBC to save £450m a year from 2020, to remove the free TV licence for those over 75 years of age from those pensioners not in receipt of Pension Credit.

This could see 3.7m pensioners currently benefitting from a TV licence, having to start paying from 2020. The decision was made by the BBC following the government’s decision to transfer the funding of licences from the government to the BBC.

Liberal Democrat Department of Culture, Media and Sport spokesperson Jane Bonham-Carter said “Concessions for over 75’s are a social cost which should not be paid from the licence fee, but from central Government funding.

Government, not the BBC should be responsible and accountable for their social policies. If the Conservative Government does not want to pay for free licences for over 75’s then they should be upfront about their policy. However, passing the buck onto the BBC is underhand and risks undermining the BBC’s financial viability to provide what the license fee payer expects.”

Age UK have said that 1 in 4 over the age of 65 say that TV is their main form of companionship.

Alistair Cameron, the Welsh Liberal Democrat Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Carmarthen West & South Pembrokeshire said “There has been much coverage of this issue on TV and social media since the BBC made the announcement that it was withdrawing free TV licences from all pensioners except those on Pension Credit.

Many pensioners over the age of 75 are not able to get out a lot. For them, the TV is a really important part of their lives.

A lot of pensioners have to survive on a low income, including those who do not claim pension credit. Having to pay for a TV licence will be very hard on them.”

Andrew Lye, the Chair of Pembrokeshire Liberal Democrats said “Many people are annoyed at the decision and rightly so.

I can appreciate that the wealthy over 75 currently receive a free TV licence as do those on a basic state pension. We must remember that there are many pensioners not in receipt of pension credit and struggle to manage on their pension. MP’s need to remember that the Conservative 2017 Manifesto committed them to free TV licenses for the over 75’s for the duration of this Parliament, and the ‘grey vote’ will remember this broken promise at the next General Election.”

Andrew Lye went on to say, “Of course with the latest released figures showing £3.1bn of unclaimed Pension Credit in the UK, I would call upon pensioners in Pembrokeshire to phone 0800-991234 as the website https://www.gov.uk/pension-credit/how-to-claim states that phoning them is the quickest way to find out if you qualify. Who knows, you may get money that you are entitled to”.

Andrew Lye added, “We call upon the Government to resolve this issue as it is unfair that it will affect millions of pensioners and we hope that Pembrokeshire MP’s, Stephen Crabb and Simon Hart will make representations to the Prime Minister. Just because you do not claim or get Pension Credit, you cannot automatically assume that they are all well off on their pension. With the growing problem of loneliness in the elderly, especially where a partner has died, the TV is a vital lifeline and we should treat our pensioners better”.

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