News in brief: Plaid Cymru call for action to protect vulnerable from ‘perfect storm’ of poverty and debt
Plaid Cymru have urged both the UK and Welsh Government’s to take action to protect the most vulnerable people in Wales from a “perfect storm” of economic threats which could push “thousands” of families into further poverty and debt.
Energy bills are set to soar by up to £140 this winter and the UK government has also confirmed the £20 uplift to Universal Credit at the start of the pandemic will be removed this autumn, prompting Wales TUC to warn 280,000 people will be made worse off.
“Household bills are rising. Incomes are falling. Furlough is ending. This, coupled with the Tories’ disastrous decision to cut the £20 top up to universal credit payments, will mean thousands of Welsh families are pushed even further into poverty and debt,” Plaid Cymru spokesperson for social justice and equalities Sioned Williams MS said.
“It’s a perfect storm and one that the Tories could help mitigate by permanently retaining the Universal Credit uplift which has been so vital to so many families during the last few months of hardship and economic uncertainty. So, rather than pulling the rug out from under people mid-way through the year, a permanent retention of the £20 top up would secure the UK safety net and support consumer spending in Wales, aiding the long-term economic recovery.
“And to the Labour Government in Cardiff, tell us what you will do to shield our citizens from Tory harm. We can’t wait for one Government at the other end of the M4 to grow a conscience. Scotland for example have control over 11 welfare benefits and the ability to create new social security benefits in devolved policy areas.
“Use the powers at your disposal now to support the most vulnerable in our society – beginning with demanding control over the way benefits and welfare are handled to better protect Wales’ citizens from the worst effects of cruel Tory policies.”
New study reports fall in Covid deaths in Wales
The number of deaths in Wales involving Covid-19 fell slightly over the seven days covered by the latest study published by the Office for National Statistics.
Over the week ending 30 July, there were 13 deaths registered involving Covid, three fewer than the previous week, accounting for 2% of all deaths recorded.
The number of deaths from all causes for the week was 641, 75 more than the previous week and 13.3% above the five-year average.
In England, there were 9,481 deaths recorded from all causes, 389 higher than the previous week and 12.2% above the five-year average. The number of deaths involving Covid increased to 389 from 308, 4.1% of all deaths.
Since the start of the pandemic in March last year, the ONS has recorded a total of 51,328 deaths, 7,941 (15.5%) of which mentioned Covid-19. This was 5,120 deaths above the five-year average.
According to the latest figures from Public Health Wales, 5,630 people have died due to Covid.
The daily figures released by Public Health Wales include the deaths of a hospital patients or care home resident where Covid-19 has been confirmed with a positive laboratory test and the clinician suspects this was a causative factor in the death.
Deaths counted by the ONS are when Covid-19 is mentioned by doctors on the death certificate and which occur in all settings – including hospitals, care homes, hospices and people’s homes.
Meanwhile, PHW reported one further death due to coronavirus in today’s report and 543 new positive tests across Wales.
The newly recorded death was in the Cardiff and Vale health board area.
The national case rate over the last seven days is up from 133.4 to 135.5 per 100,000 people since Monday’s report and the positivity rate has also increase, from 9.8% to 9.9% per 100,000 tests.
The case rate in Denbighshire remains the highest in the country and has also risen, from 290.5 to 299.9 since yesterday’s report.
Welsh majority say lifestyle changes needed to combat climate emergency
A new survey has revealed that 84% of people in Wales believe that the way we live our lives needs to substantially change to address the climate emergency.
The survey, commissioned by the Welsh Government, also found that 84% of respondents would like to see even less food being wasted, less packaging and increased recycling, while 81% reported they were already minimising their food waste or were likely to do so.
Although 86% admitted they are concerned about climate change, only 15% of respondents thought that it would affect their local area ‘a great deal’. However, 42% of those surveyed recognised that climate change could impact their local area ‘to some extent’, reflecting the recent Climate Change Committee report which detailed the widespread climate related risks Wales now faces.
“In Wales we look out for each other, so I have no doubt in our ability to unite in big and bold actions to fight the climate emergency. Reaching net zero by 2050 will require decisive action over the next ten years, meaning government, businesses and communities coming together to change the way we eat, shop, travel and heat our homes,” Minister for Climate Change Julie James said.
“Whilst there will be up-front costs in taking action, the long-term financial and wellbeing costs of doing nothing will be significantly higher. We know climate change will impact all of our communities, with floods in Wales predicted to become even more frequent and drastic than the last two years we have experienced.”
New student block gets the green light
Richard Youle, local democracy reporter
Another large student development, up to 11 storeys high, will be built in Swansea.
It will replace the Ty Nant office block, by the city’s High Street railway station, and accommodate 370 students.
Swansea Council’s planning committee approved the new scheme although long-serving member, Cllr Des Thomas, said he and colleagues were “underwhelmed” by its design.
The largely vacant Ty Nant office block is six storeys, and approval has already been given to demolish it. The student building will range from five to 11 storeys and be delivered by Watkin Jones, which built the 967-bed St Davids student complex off New Cut Road.
The new development will be the fourth purpose-built student accommodation scheme in the immediate area.
The Oldway Centre on High Street has been converted into a 556-bed development, work is well-advanced on a 780-bed complex on nearby Mariner Street, while planning consent has been given for a 328-bed student building on Jockey Street.
Ty Nant has been occupied for years by HM Revenue and Customs and the Valuation Office Agency but both organisations, according to a marketing report submitted on behalf of Watkin Jones, plan to leave it this year.
The Savills marketing report said it had been very difficult to attract potential occupiers, partly because of the building’s low ceilings. It added that refurbishing the office block would cost in excess of £4 million.
Speaking at the committee meeting, planning agent Chris Marsh, on behalf of the applicant, said Watkin Jones would start work this autumn and complete the building by summer 2023, should planning permission be granted.
Mr Marsh said the building would be an “extremely high quality, sustainable development” which had been amended significantly following dialogue with council planning officers and the Design Commission for Wales.
The accommodation will have a landscaped courtyard area, 15 parking spaces and 190 bike spaces. Students will have to sign an agreement preventing them bringing cars to the site.
Another report on behalf of Watkin Jones said Swansea’s two universities could have 31,800 full-time students in 2025-26, based on long-term growth levels, and that more purpose-built accommodation will be required.
Cllr Peter Black said he felt the report didn’t place enough emphasis on the number of students from the Swansea area who lived at home. He added that he “was not exactly enamoured” with the design of the proposed development.
Cllr Mary Jones asked about the provision of disabled parking spaces, what type of glazing was proposed for rooms closest to the train station, and whether the building could potentially be adapted for one-bedroom flats for non-students in the future.
Cllr Mike White said Watkin Jones, in his view, did not have the best track record in implementing the car element of tenancy agreements, and asked Mr Marsh to relay this to the company.
Council officers said there was a planning condition relating to noise and vibration levels, and that there was sufficient disabled parking space. The committee was also told that purpose-built student accommodation wasn’t generally adequate for use as permanent flats.
Before members voted to approve the scheme, Cllr Des Thomas, said: “I think it’s safe to say the committee is underwhelmed by the proposed design of the building.”
“I would have thought we could have come up with something a bit better these days, especially at the entrance to the city there.”
Watkin Jones will need to make a £35,000 public realm and highway contribution as part of the planning consent.