Almost half of disabled people in FM’s seat have seen benefit cut, as he opposes welfare devolution
Almost half of the disabled people in Mark Drakeford’s constituency have seen their benefits cut over the last decade, research by Nation.Cymru has found amid a row over the First Minister’s stance of welfare devolution.
Drakeford has been accused by Plaid Cymru of letting “unionism trump his socialism” after speaking out against the “wholesale” devolution of welfare and taxation because “it’s much in Wales’ interest that we have that machinery that allows for redistribution in that socialist way”.
Official data shows how the Welsh Labour leader’s Cardiff West constituency has been hit hard by controversial welfare reforms pursued by successive UK governments.
The UK government replaced the Disability Living Allowance with Personal Independence Payments in 2013, which saw all disabled people undergo medical assessments carried out by companies like Atos.
As a result, 27% of Cardiff West constituents who previously received disability benefits had their support removed completely – a higher number than the Welsh and UK average. A further 17% saw their support cut, according to the House of Commons Library.
The most recent data shows that, between November and January, 69% of Cardiff West constituents had their claims for personal independence payments refused. People with epilepsy and behavioural disorders were most likely to be refused.
The figures have led Cardiff West’s Labour MP, Kevin Brennan, to accuse Atos of running “claims denial factories”, raising in the Commons the case of a constituent “deemed fit for purpose, despite its being contradicted by all other medical evidence and the medical examiner being sent for retraining.”
The number of people living in Cardiff West receiving disability benefits fell from 2,410 to 1,750 between 2010 and 2016, according to the Office for National Statistics.
Having disability benefits removed resulted in an average loss of £2,600-a-year, according to the Bevan Foundation, who say the “Welsh Government could better support people trapped in poverty” if welfare was devolved.
“We believe that establishing a Welsh Benefits System along the lines we have proposed can make a real difference, however. It could lift thousands out of poverty and ease some of the pressures faced by families caught in deeper poverty,” said the think tank’s policy and research officer Steffan Evans.
A Welsh Governance Centre report on the financial consequences of welfare devolution found “no evidence to suggest that devolving these powers to the Welsh Government would be fiscally unsustainable.”
The “Welsh Treasury could stand to benefit considerably from the devolution of welfare powers” if Wales benefited from the same Barnett formula arrangements as Scotland, their report added.
But speaking to the BBC’s Walescast, Drakeford said: “I don’t share the enthusiasm that some of my colleagues have for the devolution of the benefits system, and taxation in a wholesale way.
“I think that sometimes surprises me, and it quite definitely sometimes surprises them, because those are two things which I think are part of the glue that holds the United Kingdom together and, on the whole, it’s much in Wales’ interest that we have that machinery that allows for redistribution in that socialist way.
“Obviously [it is] not used in that way by the current government, but [by] a Labour government with its hands on those levers that allow you to use macroeconomic policy and the social security system for the benefit of those people who need it most. I still think those are things better discharged at a UK level.”
Rhys ab Owen, Plaid Cymru’s candidate for Cardiff West, said: “It is disappointing but hardly surprising that Mark Drakeford puts his commitment to the union ahead of his constituents on the devolution of welfare benefits.
“It makes no sense that welfare benefits are reserved whilst health, education and housing is devolved. It creates a disjointed system that disadvantages the most vulnerable in our society. His view encapsulates the lack of ambition and vision Labour has for Wales.