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Politics

Universal Credit now seven years late

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Iain Duncan Smith: Former Cabinet member responsible for welfare farce

THE ROLLOUT of Universal Credit has been delayed again to 2024.
Over seven years after it was originally supposed to be implemented in full and over a decade after it was first piloted, the scheme has lurched from crisis to crisis in its troubled history.
Universal Credit merges six existing benefits, including housing benefit and child tax credits, into one monthly sum.
The government’s stated aim is to simplify the welfare system, both to help claimants, cut fraud, and encourage work. However, its ultimate effect has been to slash welfare payments to the most vulnerable and plunge claimants into debt as they wait for their first payment of the new benefit.
The fresh delay, to September 2024, was uncovered in an upcoming BBC documentary about the government’s contentious welfare reform. It will add an estimated £500m to the Universal Credit programme, which is already billions over budget.
The delay has arisen because fewer people than expected had signed up to the new system, according to a new BBC documentary, Universal Credit: Inside the Welfare State.
In an excerpt released by the BBC, Neil Couling, the DWP’s director-general for Universal Credit said, in August last year: “We’ve had a lot of anecdotal evidence of people being scared to come to Universal Credit.
“It’s a potentially serious issue for us, in terms of completing the project by December 2023, but I’m urging people not to panic,” he said.
Mr Coulting continues in a subsequent meeting to say: “Three, six or nine months, it doesn’t matter – the headline will be: ‘Delay, disaster’.
“I would say, ‘Go safe, put the claimants first, and I’ll take the beating.'”
This week, the DWP admitted the delay was necessary because the number of people who had moved on to UC was lower than official estimates.
The BBC documentary shows the DWP acknowledging that the reason for the lower-than-expected uptake was the fear that new Universal Credit claimants would lose out.
Gross and ongoing delays in making benefit awards on the new system have plunged people into debt recouped from their benefits due to the waiting period for its first payment imposed by the UK Government.
Universal credit was phased in during 2013.
The benefit was first due for full rollout by April 2017. However, transferring claimants to the new system has been plagued by a series of technical delays. Those delays include a fiasco over IT infrastructure and the failure of the system to account for varying incomes for the self-employed and those employed on casual or zero-hour contracts.
Last week, the UK Government lost a major case on the benefit’s rollout.
In a decision handed down in the Court of Appeal by the Master of the Rolls, Lord Justice Singh, the court ruled transitional provisions relating to the treatment of disabled persons were discriminatory. It found that a severely disabled person who moved from an area where UC had not been rolled out to an area in which it had would be treated less favourably than a person who did not move. In a second case, the court quashed provisions meaning those who migrated ‘naturally’ from Severe Disability Premium to Universal Credit less favourably than those who made the transition under the managed migration scheme.
Last year, former DWP Secretary Amber Rudd said that payment delays of Universal Credit were ‘the main issue’ leading to dependence on foodbanks.
The delay’s announcement follows the publication of a report by the Resolution Foundation
The report notes that the final – and most challenging – phase of the roll-out, involving the transfer of existing benefit and tax credit claimants onto UC, is due to start later this year.
The Foundation states that a marginal average increase of a whacking £1 a week for some claimants ‘masks sizeable groups of families that lose out by large sums, and significant geographical variation across the UK. Thanks to factors such as local rent and earnings levels, and the characteristics of local populations, some parts of the country will be left significantly worse off as the switch to UC goes ahead’.
In areas with a relatively high proportion of single parents, out-of-work single people and disabled people, all of whom fare badly under UC, claimants lose out. Also, while Universal Credit favours working families with high rents, it hits those in areas with below-average rent levels.
The Foundation adds that policymakers in Whitehall, and across the UK, need to consider the impact of Universal Credit at a local level. At exactly the time that policy debates are rightly focusing on what can be done to close economic gaps between parts of the UK, this major welfare reform will be rolled out with very different impacts on those places.
Laura Gardiner, Research Director at the Resolution Foundation, said: “Welcome recent reforms mean that Universal Credit is now set to be marginally more generous than the benefits it is replacing. But this average hides a complex mix of winners and losers, with families in some areas of the UK faring particularly badly.
“As well as making reforms at a national level – such as helping families to overcome the first payment hurdle and offering more flexibility for those with childcare – policymakers across the country need to better understand the effect Universal Credit will have in different places. That understanding should be central to policy debates that are rightly focusing on what can be done to close economic gaps between parts of the UK.”
Welfare minister Will Quince said: “Universal Credit is the biggest change to the welfare system in a generation, bringing together six overlapping benefits into one monthly payment and offering support to some of the most vulnerable people in society.
“It is right that we revisit our forecasts and plan, and re-plan accordingly – ensuring that the process is working well for people on benefits.
“Claimants will not lose money due to this forecasting change.”

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Politics

Paul Davies Plays Cancer Strategy Jenga

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Preseli Pembrokeshire Assembly Member Paul Davies recently met with representatives of Cancer
Research UK and even had a go at their Cancer Strategy Jenga! Mr Davies heard how there are around
2,700 cancer cases per year in the Hywel Dda University Health Board area and that to achieve better
outcomes for patients, the Welsh Government needs to tackle preventable risk factors and address
shortages in the cancer workforce.

Mr Davies said, “It was a pleasure to speak to Cancer Research UK about how we can improve cancer
services and patient outcomes for those affected by cancer in Pembrokeshire. I enjoyed playing the
Cancer Strategy Jenga and learning about the different ‘planks’ that an ambitious cancer strategy for
Wales should have. Thanks to research and improvements in diagnosis and treatment, survival in the UK
has doubled since the 1970s so, today, 2 in 4 people survive their cancer and hopefully that figure will
continue to rise. I will of course, be doing all that I can to call on the Welsh Government to bring forward
a cancer strategy – and one that makes a very real difference to patients and their families in Wales.”

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Community

Closing day approaching for deposit plan consultation

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The deadline is nearing for public comments on Pembrokeshire County Council’s replacement Local Development Plan – known as the Deposit Plan.

The public consultation on the Deposit Plan opened in January and will end at 4.30pm on Wednesday, 18th March.

The consultation has included seven drop-in sessions at locations around the county. Cllr Jon Harvey, Cabinet Member for Planning, said they had been well-attended and thanked members of the public for their feedback.

“We would encourage anyone interested in the future development of Pembrokeshire to participate in the consultation if they haven’t yet done so,” he added.

The Deposit Plan and related documents are available to view on the Council’s website at: www.pembrokeshire.gov.uk/local-development-plan-review/deposit

The Deposit Plan covers the area of Pembrokeshire excluding the National Park.

It identifies a need for 6,800 new homes between 2017 and 2033 (425 a year) including 2,000 affordable homes. This growth will be distributed across the Plan area in accordance with a whole County strategy, which promotes sustainable development.

Residents can look at the Deposit Plan text and maps to view proposals in their area. The Plan proposes revised town and village boundaries (known as settlement boundaries) and a range of sites are allocated for different land uses, including 70 sites for housing. It also identifies a range of industrial sites (known as Strategic Employment Sites), local employment sites and two quarry sites.

The Deposit Plan seeks to respond to the challenges of climate change by including policies and designations to protect sites and species that are of importance for their biodiversity and nature conservation interest, open spaces and Green Wedges.

New growth is directed to sustainable locations. Proposals for vulnerable uses are directed away from flood risk areas and new development will be limited in areas at risk because of climate change. All new dwellings will be built to high quality, energy efficient designs and will incorporate charging points for ultra-low emission vehicles. Three sites are allocated for solar photovoltaic arrays.

The Deposit Plan and related documents are available to view on the Council’s website at: www.pembrokeshire.gov.uk/local-development-plan-review/deposit

Hard copies are also available at County Hall, Haverfordwest, in Pembrokeshire County Council Customer Service Centres and in local Libraries, during normal opening hours.

• If you wish to have your say on the Deposit Plan you can do so using the Representations Form available online at the above website address, or in paper format from County Hall, Haverfordwest. This form should be used for making comments wherever possible.

• Please email your representation forms to ldp@pembrokeshire.gov.uk or post to The Development Plans Team, County Hall, Freeman’s Way, Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire, SA61 1TP by 4.30pm on Wednesday, 18th March 2020.

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News

Pembrokeshire MP calls on Government to Secure Access to Cash

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Preseli Pembrokeshire MP Stephen Crabb has joined the Association of Convenience Stores, British Retail Consortium, Federation of Small Businesses, Positive Money and Responsible Finance in urging the Chancellor to use next week’s Budget to secure long-term access to cash across the UK.

Stephen Crabb has endorsed action on access to cash in a private letter to the Chancellor submitted today (Thursday). The letter outlines that to secure long-term access to cash, the Chancellor should use his Budget to:

• Reverse the arbitrary cuts to LINK interchange fees paid by banks to fund the network
• Exempt free-to-use ATMs from business rates bills
• Recognise that ATMs are the only infrastructure through which to guarantee national access to cash

ATM closures and big banks leaving communities behind are threatening the future of cash. Research commissioned by the Payment Systems Regulator shows that ‘the majority of consumers use cash regularly’ while the Access to Cash Review has found that eight million adults would struggle to cope in a cashless society.

Stephen Crabb, MP for Preseli Pembrokeshire, said: “In many rural areas cash machines have been disappearing at an alarming rate despite the fact that lots of people still prefer to use cash. Many small businesses have yet to make the move to contactless or digital payments because mobile and internet coverage is so weak in rural areas. There is a danger of cash deserts emerging in areas where there are no ATMs or bank branches. I hope the Chancellor and his team at the Treasury consider what steps need to be taken to address these trends”.

ACS chief executive James Lowman said: “We acknowledge the growth in digital payments but access to cash remains crucial for the millions who still rely on it for essential purchases. We need a planned approach to changing payment methods instead of the haphazard removal of free to use ATMs from communities.

“Cash back is not a workable replacement for the whole ATM network and comes with costs and security risks for businesses. We need the Chancellor to take action at the Budget to reverse cuts to interchange fees and exempt free to use ATMs from business rates that are making them unsustainable for ATM operators and local shops to host.”

British Retail Consortium Head of Payments Policy Andrew Cregan said: “Cash accounts for almost 40% of retail transactions and is important to many vulnerable people, especially as a tool for budgeting and control. Government should safeguard consumers’ access to cash by ensuring retailers are fairly rewarded for providing cashback services to customers and protecting the viability of free-to-use ATMs.”

Federation of Small Businesses National Chairman Mike Cherry said: “Cash is the payment method of choice for millions of small business customers, and millions more see it as an important part of the payments mix. There are some straightforward steps that the Chancellor can take on Wednesday to bolster our rapidly declining cash infrastructure. Removing business rates on free-to-use cash points is a good starting point. This a prime example of the many stifling quirks that exist within the archaic rates system. Equally, if the Treasury wants more small businesses to offer cashback, it must ensure they are given sufficient financial support to take that on.”

Positive Money Executive Director Fran Boait said: “After being bailed out by the public, banks have repaid the favour by slashing support for free ATMs, making us pay to access our own money. The Chancellor must stand up to banks’ cost-cutting in the Budget and make sure it is them and not the public who pay for Britain’s cash machine network.”

Responsible Finance Chief Executive Theodora Hadjimichael said: “The perils of relying on a single payment method have been illustrated by the weaknesses of digitalised financial systems, and the rapidly decreasing availability of free-to-use cash machines leaves million of people struggling to make payments, including the elderly and vulnerable. Paying for access to cash can compound the poverty premium for low-income families who rely on cash for their day to day budgeting and spending. It is critical that the Chancellor acts now to secure long-term access to cash across the UK.”

LINK, the ATM network body, is required under Specific Direction 8 from the Payment Systems Regulator to ensure the ongoing availability of access to free-to-use ATMs for consumers across the country. However, LINK’s own data shows over 500 free-to-use ATMs are closing every month and one-in-ten areas no longer have free access to cash via an ATM despite LINK’s commitments under the Financial Inclusion Programme.

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