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Councils write off £6m in overpaid housing benefit

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Plaid Cymru’s housing spokesperson Jocelyn Davies

Plaid Cymru’s housing
spokesperson Jocelyn Davies

WELSH local authorities wrote off more than £6.6m of public money that was paid out in error during the last three years, according to information obtained by Plaid Cymru.

Requests to the 22 councils under the Freedom of Information Act found that overall overpayments over the three-year same period totalled £70m.

Local authorities said the reasons for overpayments were several fold. They include late reporting of changes in circumstances by claimants, errors by claimants, the Department of Work and Pensions and local authorities and even fraudulent claims.

Plaid Cymru’s housing spokesperson Jocelyn Davies said: “The level of overpayments is significant and it is disappointing that local authorities have needed to write off millions of pounds.

“The level of overpayments suggests there may be a breakdown of communications between entitlement notification from the Department of Work and Pensions and local authorities. This may led to delays in adjustments for individual claimants.

“There may also be delays in the submission of payslips by people who accept some short term or intermittent agency work such as zero hours contracts and this may cause either an under or overpayment to the claimant. I’m also concerned about the potential impact of the full introduction of Universal Credit.”

The South Wales East AM added: “It is clear that those who are termed as the working poor will still receive housing support because of a low wage economy and zero hours contracts that exist in many parts of Wales.

“Even with the reduced level of housing benefit paid to families, who may have more bedrooms than the UK government reckons the family need, local authorities are still paying out significant funds in support annually.”

Plaid Cymru maintains the view that there should be no evictions in relation to arrears as a result of the bedroom tax.

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‘I was left suicidal’ says Welsh MP who assaulted wife, as he states he is not rejoining Plaid Cymru

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A WELSH MP who received a police caution for assaulting his wife will not be representing Plaid Cymru at Westminster.

Jonathan Edwards, who represents Carmarthen East and Dinefwr was suspended by Plaid following his July 2020 arrest on suspicion of assault

Last week the MP’s now ex-wife Emma Edwards issued a statement saying she was appalled that he had been readmitted to the party.

Plaid said it was reviewing the situation again.

In his personal statement Mr Edwards said: “It is with deep regret that I announce that I will not be rejoining the Plaid Cymru Westminster group to allow a period of calm reflection. I wish to state at the outset that I have never made any public comments in relation to the event that led to my arrest or my marriage.

“My priority has always been my children and not my career. Suffice to say that my wife and I are nearing the end of a divorce process and I will not be responding to any comments she chooses to make while I am a Member of Parliament and our children are young. I will say only this, that relationships can often be very complex. I take full responsibility for the action that led to my arrest and subsequent police caution. I will regret that day to the end of my life.

“The past two years have been a period of deep reflection in which I enrolled on a domestic violence awareness course which has helped me understand the impact my action had on others. The story of a relationship however does not begin and end with one isolated incident.

“Throughout this period I have complied fully with the party and their requirements. I have never made any public statements about my personal life or my concerns about how the party was dealing with my case.

“I know that some will disagree but I feel that we are in a very dangerous environment when there is no space for anyone in the public sphere to speak honestly about mistakes they make, to be allowed to show genuine remorse, and to try and build a better life. I am concerned that there has been no distinction in any of the discussions about the difference between an incident and a pattern of behaviour.

“Over the part two years there have been periods when I have felt suicidal as my personal and professional life crumbled and I was offered no safeguarding by the party. I am also concerned that in recent weeks senior politicians within the party have misused their positions of power by subjecting me to vindictive and vengeful coordinated political attacks.

“My politics has always been driven by the desire to build a fairer country for our communities and I hope that those in the party will continue with this work and restore a healthier politics. I adore my home communities of Carmarthenshire and without their support and that of the local party and my family and friends I don’t think I would still be alive today. I am particularly grateful to my new partner Fflur, who has shown me what love is and what joys a healthy relationship can bring.

“The local party and I have fought many battles over the years and my thanks for their unwavering support could never be expressed in words. However I can’t ask them to march up a hill for me.

“I’ve given my whole adult life to serving the communities of Carmarthenshire. In my time of need they stood by me. My priority must now be to rebuild my life as best as I can and serve the communities of Carmarthenshire for the remainder of this parliamentary term. I will not be making any other public statements at this time.”

Plaid Cymru did not wish to respond specifically to Mr Edwards’ statement but party leader Adam Price issued a statement on Twitter which said: “It is my firm belief that Jonathan Edwards cannot continue to represent Plaid Cymru in Westminster and should resign immediately. I also call on Jonathan Edwards to leave the party. His actions do not represent our values and his position as an MP sends the wrong message out to domestic abuse survivors in Wales and beyond.

“I would like to thank Emma Edwards for speaking out yesterday and for her to know that her voice has been heard. I would also like to offer my apology to her and all domestic abuse survivors for the pain this has caused.

“Our disciplinary processes must change to give victims of gender-based violence a central role in any enquiries. This work will begin immediately and will be given the urgency and gravity it clearly deserves.”

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Costs of agency social workers soars in Pembrokeshire from £250k to £1.4m

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CONCERN over the welfare of children has emerged after new figures show that the number of agency social workers employed by councils, and their cost, have been increasing in recent years.

In 2019 Pembrokeshire County Council spent £250k on agency social 8 workers, but by 2020 it had increased to £770k on 11 staff members. By last year it had increased to a staggering £1.4m on employing 12.

Experts say the difficulty experienced by our council, and other local authorities, in attracting permanent staff means vulnerable children and families were often seeing multiple social workers in a single year, making it harder for them to engage with services.

They said the large-scale use of agency social workers was a poor use of dwindling local authority funds, as locums received a higher hourly rate than permanent staff, on top of the fee paid to the company they were employed through.

Across all of Wales, 376 agency social workers were employed by Welsh councils last year at a cost of £20,423,189. This is an increase from 365 for £18,522,072 in 2020/21 and 279 for £16,149,980 the year before.

Already since April this year, £1.8m has been spent on 143 such staff but the cost is likely to far exceed this over the course of a whole year.

The reliance of local authorities on agency social workers has become a significant area of concern in recent months after a council that admitted it failed to prevent the murder of toddler Star Hobson has a serious staff retention problem in its children’s services.

Bradford Council spent £12.3m on agency staff in the last year – representing a doubling of its spend since the 16-month-old girl died on 22 September 2020. It also has the highest spend in the country.

Pembrokeshire was one of five councils to have spent seven-figure sums on agency social workers. On top of Pembrokeshire’s £1.4m, Cardiff spent £5.4m, Powys £4.4m, Merthyr Tydfil £3.3m and Rhondda Cynon Taf £1.3m.

The Welsh Conservatives say that the revelations come after Mark Drakeford’s continued reluctance to implement a review of children’s services across Wales – the only UK nation not to do so – despite having the worst rate of looked-after children of British nations. Calls were prompted after the murder of Logan Mwangi.

Ray Jones, a former director of children’s services and an emeritus professor at Kingston University, said working conditions for social workers had deteriorated, with bigger caseloads, less support and inadequate pay, which made locum work more attractive.

He explained: “You’re paying more for a poorer service [with agency workers] because what you need in terms of children’s and adults social services is continuity – people who know the people they are working with, can build relationships with those families over time, and know their history.”

Commenting, Welsh Conservative and Shadow Social Services Minister Gareth Davies MS said: “We’ve known about understaffing in Wales’ social services departments for a long while now, well before the current labour shortages we are seeing nationwide, which is what makes councils’ reliance on agency workers so concerning.

Logan Mwangi’s case is a prime example of a failure in social services. His mother, stepfather and a teenager were been given life sentences for murdering five-year-old Logan Mwangi and dumping his body in a river last year (Image: Family photo)

“We’ve seen tragic cases like Star Hobson and Logan Mwangi that only go to show that we need a strong presence from social services. This cannot happen when councils are so dependent on agency staff because permanent placements lead to better outcomes as someone can handle a case consistently that way.

“That’s why it is startling to see hundreds are employed every year at substantial cost to the taxpayer, costs that would be lower if resources focussed on paying permanent staff better than shelling out for agency premiums.

“I think our findings only serve to support our calls for a Wales-wide review of social services, especially since Wales is the only British nation not to be doing so and has the worst rate of looked-after children in the UK, which makes Mark Drakeford’s rejection of one so disappointing.”

Speaking in 2019, Nadhim Zahawi, the children and families minister, said: “There are more full-time equivalent social workers than ever before across the UK, which means there are more dedicated people on the frontline to offer much needed support to some of most vulnerable children and families in the country.

“Agency staff can play a vital role in managing short-term recruitment needs, fluctuations in demand or to support improvement.

“We are supporting the recruitment and training of social workers so they have the skills they need for this important job.”

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More than eight in ten want Truss to win – new poll reveals

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LIZ Truss is the overwhelming choice to become the next Prime Minister, a new poll reveals.

In what will be regarded as a blow to Rishi Sunak, 83 per cent of those polled said they’d rather see Ms Truss in Number 10.

The survey of 2,625 voters was carried out by GB News and is the latest boost to Ms Truss’ campaign which has been gaining momentum ever since her ill-tempered TV debate with the former Chancellor.

Of those polled by the channel just 17 per cent – less than ome in five opted for the former Chancellor.

Many of those polled said it was Ms Truss’ pledges on tax and the fact she hadn’t walked out of her Cabinet post that were among the reasons they wanted her to become leader.

Sunak, meanwhile, was described by many as having “betrayed” the PM.

Earlier today Ms Truss told GB News how she had no intention of wasting her time on wallpaper if she got to Number 10.

The Foreign Secretary said there was work to do while also admitting she enjoys winding down by listening to 80’s music and singing karaoke.

She said yesterday: “We’re now going to campaign in the country, I’m very much looking forward to that and putting my case across that we need a bold new economic policy, we need to take full advantage of all the opportunities of Brexit.

“We need to cut taxes and we need to deliver for all the people right across the United Kingdom.”

She added: “What people rise across Britain care about is how we are going to help them with the cost of living, how we’re going to unleash opportunity and I’m somebody who can get things done in government.

“I’ve shown that I’m willing to push things through Whitehall and that’s why we need to cut taxes.

“We shouldn’t raise national insurance in the first place. We need to cut it now, we need a moratorium on the green energy levy to cut people’s fuel bills.

“And we need to power recovery by attracting investment, getting new businesses to set up so if we carry on with our current economic policy that is currently projected to lead to a recession that will not put us in a good place to win the election.

“I’m somebody who can get things done, get the economy growing, put us on a positive footing, but I can also relate to people right across the country.

“I grew up in Paisley, Leeds. I went to a comprehensive school. I understand the struggles people are facing now and I’m the candidate who can really communicate how we are going to change things and turn things around in Britain.”

Asked why she has supported 15 tax rises in the past, she said: “I opposed that in Cabinet at the time.

“I said it was a bad idea at the time but I’m a loyal person. I respect cabinet collective responsibility.

“Once the decision had been made, I was obliged to respect that decision but I’ve always been clear. It was a mistake, breaking our manifesto commitment and putting up taxes. And I would never have done that…”

Ms Truss was asked how she could reconcile cutting taxes with improving public service and she said: “I’m very committed to building the 40 new hospitals we promised and continuing to fund the NHS and education to get economic growth up.

“The fact is we’ve had low economic growth for two decades. And what that means is a lack of opportunities, lack of new jobs or lack of new businesses.

“By reducing taxes and by taking the full advantage of all the opportunities of Brexit, we can get economic growth going and for me economic growth isn’t just numbers on a page, it is about a new job, a new business, making sure the towns and cities across the country that we promised levelling up to get those spades in the ground, they get those new projects going.

“That is what we can deliver. If we unleash economic growth, if we get rid of a lot of the bureaucracy and the red tape that’s still on our statute books from the EU.

“So as well as doing those tax cuts, I would have a programme of massive reforms to our economy to get our growth rate up, that will fund our public services in the future.”

She was asked about the wallpaper in Number 10 and a fact that people would not know about her.

She said: “Believe me, I’m not going to have time to be thinking about the wallpaper in Number 10 because we’ve only got two years until a general election.

“We need to hit the ground running. We need to get on with changing our economy to really deliver for people right across the country. I’m not going to be thinking about wallpaper.

“I think maybe the one thing people don’t know about me is I do love 1980’s music and I do love karaoke.

“I like to enjoy music as well. My favourite song is I Want To Dance by Whitney Houston.”

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