News in brief: Minister slams ‘deplorable’ cut to Universal Credit payments
Minister for Social Justice Jane Hutt has condemned the planned cut to the Universal Credit uplift next month as “indefensible and frankly deplorable”, during a debate in the Senedd.
The UK Government confirmed last month that it would remove the £20 increase, introduced at the start of the Covid pandemic, in October, leaving struggling families £1,040 a year worse off.
The minister also revealed the Conservative government at Westminster has failed to respond to a joint letter from the UK’s devolved administrations asking for details of its assessment on the impact cutting payments by over £1,000 a year would have on poverty levels.
“It is inconceivable that the UK Government would now choose to abandon those who need us the most and who played their part in protecting our country from Covid-19, Ms Hutt said.
“The warnings and evidence are clear, it is those who most need a safety net, who most need their government to have their backs that will suffer.
“The ending of the £20pw means households across Wales are heading towards a financial cliff edge. It is vital we help people to deal with the financial difficulties that they are facing now.”
“When there is so much opposition to the £20 cut, it is indefensible and frankly deplorable that the UK Government are refusing to listen and to stand by those who need them the most. Austerity is clearly and firmly back for the poorest and lowest paid,” she added.
Last week the UK government admitted a risk assessment had not been conducted into the impact of scrapping the addition payment.
Work and pensions minister, Baroness Stedman-Scott, told the House of Lords an assessment was not conducted, “as it was introduced as a temporary measure”, adding “This is because we have no obligation to conduct an impact assessment as we’re returning to business as usual, as the temporary Covid uplift is expiring as it was always intended to do.”
Analysis of the planned cuts by Wales TUC estimates 280,000 people will be worse off due to the uplift being axed.
Covid cases fall for fifth day in a row
The Covid case rate in Wales has fallen for the fifth successive day, according to the latest figures from Public Health Wales.
PHW has recorded 2,891 new positive tests for the virus in the last 24 hours and 15,585 new cases in the seven days up to 11 September, meaning the weekly case rate now stands at 494.3 – down from 500.1 yesterday.
Four further deaths due to Covid have also been recorded since yesterday’s report, in the Cardiff and Vale, Cwm Taf Morgannwg, Hywel Dda and Swansea Bay health board areas.
Since the first death involving Covid in March 2020, PW has recorded 5,774 deaths due to the virus in Wales.
Neath Port Talbot currently has the highest weekly case rate in the country a 711 and has the worst positive test proportion at 20.6 per 100,000 tests.
In the six days up to Tuesday PHW also recorded 3,283 confirmed cases of the Delta Covid variant, taking the total detected since May to 24,568.
Two cases of the Alpha variant were also identified in the sequenced samples tested last week.
Betsi Cadwaladr health board has recorded 7,888 confirmed cases of the Delta variant, 31% of the national total.
Devolved government’s call for physical proof of status for EU nationals
The governments of Wales Scotland, and Northern Ireland have called on the UK Government to offer EU citizens physical proof of their settled or pre-settled status in a joint letter.
Following the UK’s departure from the European Union, EU nationals now must prove that they have been granted either settled or pre-settled status by the Home Office.
Currently, EU citizens who have secured settled or pre-settled status have no way of proving with physical documentation that they have the right to reside in the UK, potentially causing problems for their employment and access to services.
The letter to Kevin Foster, UK Minister for Future Borders and Immigration, signed by Wales’ Minister for Social Justice Jane Hutt, Scotland’s Minister for Europe Jenny Gilruth and Northern Ireland First Minister Paul Givan and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill, states that a physical document, to be offered in addition to existing digital proof as an additional safeguard.
The letter states: “We all have an obligation under the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020 to ensure that EU citizens are treated fairly.”
“All other groups of people who choose to make the UK their home and to contribute to our communities and economy are given physical proof. It cannot be right to deny EU citizens the reassurance that is offered to other migrant groups.
“Having two types of proof for two groups will lead at best to confusion and at worst to discrimination.”
Councils hit back after care leader’s broadside
The body that represents local authorities in Wales has hit back at comments made by the chair of Care Forum Wales following last week’s announcement by the Welsh government of a £48m package of funding to support social care.
£40 million of the latest support has been allocated to local authorities to help the sector recover from challenges caused by the Covid pandemic, but Mario Kreft, who heads the body which represents independent care providers in Wales, described the proposals as “putting foxes in charge of the hen house” and said local authorities cannot be trusted to distribute the cash from Welsh Government fairly.
Responding to Mr Kreft’s comments, Councillor Andrew Morgan, leader of Rhondda Cynon Taf council and the WLGA Leader said: “Hard working health and social care staff have been Wales’ heroes during the pandemic.”
“These comments are as unfortunate as they are insulting to a workforce that has been stretched to breaking point.”
“Partnership has been a key feature over the past 18 months, which makes these comments even more disappointing.”
“As has become crystal clear to us all, dedicated care workers continue to go above and beyond to care for the most vulnerable in society, and will not be lectured to by faceless, profit-driven individuals.”
“We are also committed to working to help deliver Welsh Government’s ambition to rebalance the social care sector, deliver the Real Living Wage, remove profit motive from children’s services and focus on meeting the social care needs and improving the wellbeing of the vulnerable in our communities.”
Following last week’s announcement, Mr Kreft welcomed the new funding but said it would not significantly change anything unless the “broken social care system was fixed” first.
“The first tranche of the hardship fund which ran until the end of June last year was given to local authorities without guidance and, in some areas, it did not reach where it should have done, with some councils being more supportive than others.”
“The Welsh Government looked at that and decided that a better mechanism was needed.”
“So giving councils this extra £40 million without stringent guidelines to ensure it reaches the front line is like putting foxes in charge of the hen house.”
“It is the case that the majority of social care, particularly for older people, is provided by the independent sector but I suspect the bulk of the money isn’t going to go there.”
“Some local authorities will do their best but we have some councils that would much rather not work with the independent sector.”
“They are openly saying they want to take services in house so this presents them with another opportunity to bolster their own provision at the expense of the people being cared for by the independent sector,” he added.
“This already happening. The fees they pay to their own council-run care homes are far in excess of what they allocate to independent care homes and the wages they pay are higher than the budget they allocate to the independent providers to pay our staff.”
“As far as local authorities are concerned, they will see this as another golden opportunity to feather their own nests.”
Electric refuse collection truck joins council’s green push
Gareth Williams, local democracy reporter
An electric powered truck is set to become a permanent member of Gwynedd Council’s recycling fleet after Welsh Government grant funding was secured.
As the authority bids to reduce its carbon footprint, it was confirmed that the cash will allow the authority to purchase an electric vehicle to join its refuse service.
Promised to be quieter than traditional refuse lorries, the trucks are also capable of travelling up to about 80 miles between charges.
But in order to fulfill the geographical challenges posed by the terrain in parts of Gwynedd, it has previously been mooted that Hydrogen powered vehicles may also be needed in the event of a fully carbon-free fleet.
The successful funding bid – of which the amount has not yet been disclosed – follows the trial of a similar electric vehicle earlier this year.
Cllr Catrin Wager, Gwynedd Council’s Cabinet Member for Highways and Municipal matters, confirmed that funding had been secured at a recent cabinet meeting.
She added: “As a council we’re committed to tackling climate change, and part of this commitment is to introduce more electric vehicles into our fleet over the coming years.
“I am very pleased that the first electric vehicles will join the council’s recycling and waste collection fleet in the coming months and I am hopeful that more low carbon vehicles will follow.
“Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to see a similar electric vehicle being trialled here in Gwynedd and it’s clear that there is great potential to make further use of such vehicles over the coming years.
“The new vehicle will contribute to our goal of reducing carbon emissions.
“As I saw from the trial some months ago, these vehicles will be quieter as they travel through communities and can travel up to about 80 miles between charges.
“We will be assessing which areas of the county these electric vehicles will work best, as vehicles of different sizes operate in some communities depending on the geography of the areas.
“Although electric vehicles will be the first to arrive, we will continue to monitor developments in the field to see if there is potential to invest in hydrogen powered vehicles in the future that could be more suitable in some landscapes and areas of the county.”
Cabinet members heard that the authority is currently recycling, reusing or composting 67% of all material, ahead of the current Welsh Government target of 64% but with further work necessary to hit the 70% needed by 2024/25.
It was also noted that 15,000 of the county’s 17,500 street lights have by now been changed to the more energy efficient LED lights, also resulting in significant savings as well as slashing the 2014/15 emissions by a third.