Cuts Watch Cymru media coverage and press releases.
UK Government welfare reform
Disabled people face being stigmatised by UK Government welfare reforms – says Cuts Watch Cymru – Western Mail
Wales On The Edge report launch
Benefit changes will hit one in four in wales, poverty campaigners warn –Western Mail
Benefit refrom ‘could put 6,000 children into poverty’ –BBC News
‘A quarter affected by benefits cuts’ – Daily Post
Newidiadau i’r system les – ‘un ym mhob pedwar mewn perygl’ – Golwg 360
Cuts Watch Cymru (video) – Wales Tonight (ITV Wales)
Short debate: Cuts Watch Cymru (video) – BBC Democracy Live
Welsh Government need to put money where its mouth is to protect poorest from welfare impacts – says Cuts Watch Cymru
Put your money where your mouth is – a stern challenge has been issued by Cuts Watch Cymru to the Welsh Government as the coalition releases its second report Crisis Loans: experiences of people in need, focusing on the Social Fund – the first area of the welfare system to be devolved from Westminster to the Welsh Government.
Crisis loans are interest-free loans given to anyone – whether or not they are on benefit – to meet their immediate, short-term needs in an emergency where there is a threat to health or well-being, or as a result of a major change in circumstances.
The Welfare Reform Act transfers responsibility for Crisis Loans and the related Community Care Grants to the Welsh Government which has been consulting on how to deliver its new responsibilities. About £10 million will also be allocated to the Welsh Government.
Cuts Watch Cymru, a coalition of charities and voluntary organisations working on the front-line of poverty in Wales, argues that the Welsh Government has a chance to make the new arrangements work much better for the increasing numbers of people who may face crisis, by focusing on flexibility, consistency and assessing on the basis of need when it assumes responsibility for Crisis Loans in April 2013.
Responding to the consultation, Cuts Watch Cymru does not discount the option of the Welsh Government topping up the loan fund as a demonstration of its serious commitment to helping the poorest people in Wales during times of extreme hardship and emergency.
Dr Victoria Winckler , Bevan Foundation, said, “With this being the first area of the welfare system to be devolved to the Welsh Government, it will really test its commitment to the people of Wales during these tough times. These loans are for when people have absolutely no money and their health or safety is at risk. The Welsh Government has the chance to redesign a flawed system and deliver for the needs of people in Wales. It’s a test of how serious they are about supporting people in crisis”.
At a UK level, there has been a significant increase in the number of people applying for a crisis loan – up 38% since 2007 – a number which is expected to rise as the impact of job losses, welfare reforms and public spending cuts start to bite. But the current arrangements have also come in for criticism for the way in which applications are handled, the perceptions of some applications being handled in an arbitrary way, and the accessibility of the fund.
One interviewee told Cuts Watch Cymru how despite being in dire circumstances, she was only awarded enough support to cover £5.75 worth of food for a week. Another participant in the study said that “On the phone, if they don’t like your voice, you might not get the loan.”
With some of the first changes to the welfare system and some of the big cuts, such as working tax credits, just coming into effect at the end of last week the demand for emergency loans is expected to increase.
Added to this the figures recently released by the food banks network in Wales show around 43% of those accessing a food bank have done so due to a change or delay to their benefit payment or the refusal of a crisis loan.
Stephen Doughty, Head of Oxfam Cymru, said, “We’ve heard bold statements and big promises on how this Welsh Government wants protect the poorest people in Wales from the effects of welfare reform. We expect many more people to be in need of a crisis loan in the months ahead, which is why it is crucial the Welsh Government gets this right.
“We urge them to step up now and show us that they are not only prepared to put their money where their mouth is, but also to introduce a fairer and more transparent system, which treats people in very difficult circumstances with respect.
Cuts Watch campaigners want any new arrangements to be more flexible to meet people’s immediate needs, to provide support to reduce the re-occurrence of crises, and to be delivered fairly and transparently. They point to the unacceptably high number of applications that are initially refused only to be overturned on appeal under the current system.
Dr Victoria Winckler added “Fair and efficient administration of the new system is vital. It is unacceptable that so many people who are eligible for a loan – money that they have to repay – are wrongly refused help. Appeals waste money and precious time. We want the Welsh Government to do much better when it takes over the system.”
Cuts Watch Cymru Launch
No place to hide – Cuts Watch Cymru keeps a closer eye on biting cuts
No job, no money, no home – just a few of the realities faced by thousands of people in Wales today as the economic climate continues to bite – and the reason why 13 non-statutory organisations in Wales have joined forces to launch Cuts Watch Cymru.
With almost 700,000 people in Wales already living beneath the official poverty line, Cuts Watch Cymru has grave concerns that thousands more people across Wales will be plunged into poverty with the implementation of the biggest cuts in public spending and services for decades and a fundamental reform of the welfare system.
With one hundred percent increases in demand at welsh food banks in the past months and another charity noting a huge rise in mortgage payment problems and advice requests, leading service providers and organisations working on poverty in Wales have formed a network to support the thousands of vulnerable people across Wales. Over the next two years the network will research how the cuts in public spending and services and the welfare reform have affected geographical areas of Wales or groups of people. The Network will show how good practice in implementing the proposed policies has minimised the impacts on vulnerable people.
Victoria Winckler, from Cuts Watch Cymru, says, “Twenty three percent of people in Wales are already living below the poverty line. The impending public spending cuts and big changes to welfare benefits and social housing could snap the fragile structures that are helping them to survive and those on the brink of poverty. Cuts Watch Cymru will be monitoring and reporting on how these changes affect different areas and different groups of people in Wales so that the right polices are implemented. ”
Cuts Watch Cymru members highlight debt, hunger and homelessness as three ready symptoms of the reality of the current economic climate in Wales.
Chris Johnes from Cuts Watch Cymru says, “There are serious warning signs around us. People are already telling us that they have to choose between paying the bills or putting food on the table, and that meeting mortgage payments is getting tougher and tougher even when they are working. Not all cuts are necessarily harmful, but we’re watching to see what gets cut – the devil is always in the detail. The Welsh Government’s equality assessment of last year’s budget is the kind of approach that can help protect the most vulnerable groups from the worst impact of cuts. We need to see similar principles being applied by other budget holders such as local authorities and health boards”.
Cuts Watch Cymru are urging policy makers to listen and carefully assess the impact of their decisions before taking steps which will send more people into survival mode.
Miranda French from Cuts Watch Cymru says: “Reform of an overly complex and bureaucratic welfare benefits system is long overdue, but we are concerned that new systems are being rushed through and redesigned without fully considering the long term sustainability of the system. Now is the time to listen to the people that have to use the systems so that the change works for everybody.”
Anecdotal evidence from the network’s organisations that provide front line support services paints an alarming picture of the hardship that people in Wales are facing already. .
Adrian Curtis, from The Trussell Trust is a member of Cuts Watch Cymru and runs the network of Welsh food banks said “The signs of desperate times are not diminishing. Last week was one of the busiest weeks for the food bank in Ebbw Vale since we opened in 2008 with a fifty percent increase from our average number of clients. Cardiff food bank saw a 100% increase in clients during April and May compared to the previous financial year feeding an average of 250 clients each month.”
“Families are pushed right to the edge at the moment. Mothers talking about turning to prostitution to feed their children; fathers getting a job but having to pay for fuel and not food as he tries to support his family. Where will they be if they’re pushed further? ”
The number of food banks providing the supply of emergency food to individuals and families in Wales is expected to grow by another 30 over the next three years to support over 40,000 people in crisis each year.
Amanda Oliver from Community Housing Cymru expressed great concerns about the proposed welfare reforms and how they will affect on the most disadvantaged groups in society with many being driven into debt, falling into arrears or losing their home.
“There is a big danger that these reforms will be a false economy and will not generate anywhere near the savings required. 236,110 people currently receive Housing Benefit in Wales and some Housing Associations anticipate that, in total, their tenants could lose up to £1m per year”, said Amanda Oliver.
Jennie Bibbings from Shelter Cymru added, “In the last six months the proportion of mortgage problems we see has grown significantly. Higher numbers of owner-occupiers have been approaching us with mortgage arrears problems and we are also seeing issues with the switch from Incapacity Benefit to Employment Support Allowance for clients, insufficient medical assessments and higher rates of revoking of benefits.”