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Politics

Benefits system ‘failing Wales’

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A REPORT from a Welsh Assembly Committee states the benefits system is too complex and does not treat people with dignity, fairness and compassion.
An inquiry held by the National Assembly for Wales’ Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee heard the benefits system is failing some people on the lowest incomes and is causing wider problems for our communities – in areas from mental health, to local government to poverty.
The UK Government’s programme of welfare reform is one of the most important political issues to affect Wales since devolution.
By 2023, one-third of Welsh households will receive Universal Credit, and the Committee heard particular concerns that long waits for the first payment and monthly, rather than fortnightly, payments were causing numerous problems.
The Committee’s report – Benefits in Wales: Options for a better delivery – contains 17 recommendations for Welsh Government. These include changes within the current devolution settlement, as well as exploring the devolution of housing-related benefits and the assessment process for disability and sickness benefits.
Included in the Committee’s report are recommendations to address these issues. They call for the Welsh Government to ensure that Discretionary Assistance Fund (DAF) payments are made available as an immediate action. DAF payments are non-repayable emergency grants for people on low-income in Wales and could ease the pressure on households as they wait for their Universal Credit payments.
Welsh Government should also seek payment flexibilities, so people can opt for more frequent payments, direct payments to the landlord, or to split payments between couples.
The complex system is not working at its best and could do more to help people on the lowest incomes, says John Griffiths AM, Chair of the Equality Local Government and Communities Committee;
“The current system is not working for far too many people. We repeatedly hear that benefits are not enough to cover basic and essential household costs, and the system does not treat people with dignity, fairness or compassion. The human cost of these failures is unacceptable, in one of the world’s largest national economies.
“Whilst recommending that Welsh Government explore opportunities to devolve more control of benefits to Wales, our recommendations emphasise what can be done now, within the current settlement, and in the longer term. We believe they set out a clear framework for positive change, which will reduce poverty and inequality at an individual and household level, improve well-being and the economy at a community and national level.
“Almost half of the Welsh population receive some kind of benefit, but the social security system is largely non-devolved. The system plays a vital role in the Welsh economy, for individual households and also the wider Welsh purse.”
Alone, among Wales’ principal political parties, Plaid Cymru supports the devolution of welfare benefits’ administration to Wales.
And a report published by the Wales Governance Centre outlines how Wales could be financially better off if it followed the same model over welfare as Scotland.
The report says that if a fiscal framework agreement similar to the one negotiated by the Scottish Government had been agreed by the Welsh and UK governments and had powers over S-benefits been devolved to Wales in 2018-19, the Welsh Treasury “would have been cumulatively better off by £700 million by the end of 2023-24.”
The Wales Governance Centre estimates we could be generating surpluses of over £200 million by the middle of the next decade if Wales had the same deal as Scotland. There would also be the indirect savings to the NHS and Housing Associations who have had to pick up the tab from Westminster’s shambolic handling of the welfare system.

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Politics

Chancellor visits local pioneering software company

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PRESELI’S Conservative candidate Stephen Crabb has welcomed the Chancellor, Sajid Javid, to Pembrokeshire to visit a pioneering education software company.

Fishguard based Edukey provides innovative software for the classroom, helping pupils, teachers and parents and was founded by former teacher Duncan Wilson.

Sajid Javid, who was promoted to Chancellor of the Exchequer following Boris Johnson’s rise to Prime Minister this summer, was given an overview of the company by its founder before a short Q&A with staff.

Stephen Crabb said: “It was a pleasure to welcome the Chancellor of the Exchequer to Fishguard town centre to visit the outstanding educational software company Edukey.”

“Edukey is a brilliant Pembrokeshire success story. What Duncan and the team have achieved there is remarkable and, with more than fifty people now employed in the company in high quality jobs, Edukey is helping to regenerate the town itself.”

“Edukey points to the way forward for the Pembrokeshire economy. I am passionate about seeing more of these types of high quality jobs created so more young people can choose to stay in Pembrokeshire rather than all move away.”

Following the visit, the Chancellor Sajid Javid said:

“I was delighted to join Stephen in Fishguard to visit Edukey and learn more about how their innovative software is helping in schools across the world.

“Our plan to invest £5 billion to ensure everyone can access gigabit-capable broadband will create the right conditions for more of these companies to grow, bringing high quality jobs to Pembrokeshire.

“Only by backing Stephen in Preseli Pembrokeshire and backing a majority Conservative Government can we get Brexit done. That will mean we can concentrate on the people’s priorities, such as broadband, education and the NHS.”

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Politics

Significant concerns for EU citizens in Wales

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THE UK Government’s EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) is causing significant problems for EU citizens currently living and working in Wales.

LOW REGISTRATION IN WALES
Wales has the lowest rates of registration in the UK.
Only 41% of those eligible to apply for EUSS to stay in Wales after Brexit have done so.
The rhetoric surrounding EU migration since the referendum has taken its toll on people’s emotional wellbeing, meaning they no longer feel welcome to live here.
The UK Government has proposed a £30,000 salary threshold for EU residents to qualify for a work visa after Brexit. This could damage the Welsh economy and leave Wales short of key health professionals, say Welsh employers.
The National Assembly for Wales’ External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee, which focuses on the implications of Brexit for Wales, is today publishing a report looking at the impact of changes to ‘freedom of movement’ after Brexit. As well as the impact on services and employers, the Committee has looked at the effect on individual EU citizens currently living and working in Wales – there are currently an estimated 80,000.
The Committee heard evidence from a range of health professionals, employers and individuals who would be affected by the proposals to change the immigration system after Brexit.
Organisations representing employers and key workers including the Welsh NHS Confederation, the Royal College of Nursing Wales, Airbus, Universities Wales, Wales TUC and the Arts Council for Wales have voiced serious concerns to the Committee. The UK Government’s proposals for EU citizens after Brexit cause concern to health services and businesses. Under the UK Government’s proposals almost two-thirds of EU workers currently in Wales would not be eligible under the proposed system with the £30,000 salary threshold, and the threshold would lead to a 57% reduction in EU immigration to Wales over 10 years.

EU SETTLEMENT SCHEME – DIGITAL BY DEFAULT
As part of the Committee’s inquiry, it heard evidence from people directly affected by the changes to freedom of movement after Brexit.
The EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) was established by the UK Government because, in most cases, EU citizens living in the UK will no longer have a legal right to reside in the UK once it leaves the EU and free movement ends.
EU citizens living in the UK must register for the EUSS.
The Committee heard many concerns about the system to register. The UK Government has adopted a ‘digital by default’ approach and there have been issues with the technology. The current system only allows the use of Android phones or tablets, not iPhones.

£30,000 THRESHOLD – TOO HIGH FOR WALES
The Welsh NHS Confederation, the membership body representing all NHS organisations in Wales, told the Committee that the proposals to include EU citizens in its £30,000 salary threshold for a visa would “exacerbate current staffing shortages”. It highlighted that 53% of EU NHS staff currently earn below that.
The Bevan Foundation highlighted that the average salary in Wales for full-time workers is £26,000, significantly below the proposed threshold. Airbus, a large employer in Wales, added that the threshold is “too high for key sectors” which could have implications for many services and industries. They argued that the proposals from the UK Government could “leave gaps in the requirements of Wales which can’t be filled in the short term.”
The Committee believes that a salary threshold set at this level will not meet the needs and requirements of the Welsh economy. It is calling on the UK Government to lower the salary threshold requirements and is recommending that the Welsh Government uses all the means at its disposal to ensure that the currently proposed salary threshold is reduced.

FEELING UNWELCOME
The Committee heard evidence from people affected directly and how many people felt that they were no longer welcome in the UK following the EU referendum.
Some argued that the policy pursued by the UK Government since the referendum has exacerbated this.
Several people said that some of the rhetoric relating to the issue of EU migration had hardened and described the toll that this had had on their emotional wellbeing, and that of friends and family members.
One participant emphasised that it is not simply an administrative process, but that real people are involved and that it was important to remember how the process affects them.
Michal Poreba from Swansea, an EU citizen originally from Poland, who gave evidence to the Committee’s inquiry, said: “The EU settlement scheme and the UK Government’s immigration proposals after Brexit are not simply about administrative processes, they are about people’s lives. Real people are involved and it is important to consider how the process affects them and their families. Yet the debate appears to be all about the practicalities of the implementation.
“Questions are asked why so few people have registered so far and how to increase the uptake. But what does it offer? Why would anybody apply? The facts are that the scheme significantly reduces the rights of the applicants. Going through the process, while technically quite easy and straightforward, feels debilitating and comes with no legal guarantees. It feels like an act of political self-harm. No wonder there are no queues to do it.
“The message repeated by politicians appears to be the same – You will be allowed to stay. We want you to stay. Of course, economically speaking they need us to stay, at least for the short term. But there is a big difference between being allowed to stay, and being welcomed. There is a big difference between a legal right and permission.”

SHORTAGE OCCUPATION LIST
Wales has specific needs. The Shortage Occupation List is an official list of occupations for which there are not enough resident workers (including EU nationals) to fill vacancies. The UK list is supplemented by a separate list for Scotland.
The majority of those who gave evidence to the Committee supported the creation of a Wales-specific Shortage Occupation List to meet the specific needs of Wales. The Committee is calling on the UK Government to establish this, which the Welsh Government would be able to amend according to Welsh needs.
David Rees AM, Chair of the External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee said: “We have significant concerns about the implications of Brexit on our workforce in Wales. The ending of freedom of movement will have consequences for business and our economy if we lose vital workers. What’s more worrying is the impact that the loss of EU citizens could have on our NHS. We rely on EU citizens who work as nurses and carers.
“We heard some very concerning and emotional evidence from EU citizens and their families living and working in Wales. We must not forget the human impact that the ending of freedom of movement will have.
“We are calling on the Welsh Government to do all it can to get the UK Government to reduce its proposed salary threshold of £30,000 in order to better reflect average earnings here in Wales. Under these proposals, almost two-thirds of EU workers currently in Wales would not be eligible to live here. This could mean that we would not be able to recruit key workers such as nurses and carers from abroad.
“The EU Settlement Scheme for those who already live and work in Wales is full of problems, with an online-only application process and limited access on smartphones, these problems must be addressed urgently.
“Wales’ economy has specific needs and changing demographics within Wales, including an ageing population, are likely to pose new challenges in the future. These challenges within the economy of Wales are likely to be exacerbated by an overly restrictive immigration regime after Brexit.
“Today we’re calling on the Welsh Government to show real leadership and send out a strong message that EU citizens are welcome, valued, and needed in Wales and we’re calling on the UK Government to rethink its proposals and take into account the needs of the Welsh economy and public services.”

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Politics

Plans to improve patient access to health professionals

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HEALTH MINISTER, Vaughan Gething, has announced plans to improve access to health professionals through new ways of working.

The new plans aim to allow people to directly access health professionals such as physiotherapists, occupational therapists, podiatrists dietitians and others at primary care health centres. There will also be a greater emphasis on prevention to reduce reliance on medicines and improve quality of life.

Mr Gething said: “Our long term plan for health and social care, A Healthier Wales, sets out how we need to radically change the way services are delivered to meet future demand. We also need to move away from health and social care which focuses on treating people when they become unwell, to one that supports people to stay well, lead healthier lifestyles and live independently for as long as possible.

By accessing allied health professionals such as physiotherapy and dietitians directly at their local health centre, people can get the treatment they need more quickly. There are already good examples of this happening around Wales. I want to see that best practice become standard, which these plans will help us achieve.”

Examples of current best practice include a first contact physiotherapy service in Caerphilly, walk-in podiatry service in Port Talbot, Prestatyn Iach Health Centre and direct access occupational therapists in south Pembrokeshire helping people get back to work.

Mr Gething added: “As we move towards a system of integrated primary care centres across Wales, the framework I’m launching today aims to make it easier and quicker for people to access services.”

The Minister officially launched the Allied Health Professions Framework at the National Primary Care Conference at the International Conference Centre, Celtic Manor, Newport today (Thursday, 7 November).

A new Allied Health Professions lead for Primary Care will be appointed to lead the transformation of services in primary care.

The framework will also improve access to allied health professions in secondary care and improve access to rehabilitation to help people recover more quickly after a hospital admission and return home as independently as possible. The Welsh Government recently provided £1.4m to health boards to increase access to rehabilitation services.

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