Senedd committee calls for benefits system to be simplified as cost of living crisis bites
The Welsh Government has been urged to simplify Welsh-devolved benefits in a report launched today by the Senedd’s Economy, Trade and Rural Affairs Committee.
The Committee has been considering the challenges facing people in Wales during the cost-of-living crisis and has warned the government that people may be losing out on crucial support because of an over-complex applications system.
Benefits funded by the Welsh Government are currently issued in several different ways and the Committee is calling for ministers to explore the creation of a one-stop portal for households across Wales to apply directly for the different means-tested schemes.
The report says that it would not only make things easier but increase take-up and help to end the post-code lottery on systems that currently vary by local authority area.
The Committee is also pushing for the Welsh Government to look at extending the eligibility of its means-tested schemes to support lower income households with livings costs, energy bills and the soaring price of food.
Paul Davies MS, Chair of the Economy, Trade and Rural Affairs Committee, said: “The escalating cost of living can be felt all across Wales.
“Although the Welsh Government is trying to support people through the crisis, our inquiry has shown that the support is simply not reaching enough people – the benefits available are complex and that can affect take up. We need to see a simpler system, so the schemes are easier and more accessible to increase take-up.
“The Committee believes the Welsh Government should use its considerable ‘soft power’ to improve terms and conditions for the lowest paid, for example by improving sick pay for social care workers and providing a fair wage for those paid from the public purse.”
The report also warns that ‘off-grid’ households in Wales are paying a “rural premium” with heating oil prices increasing 128% over the last 12 months but support for struggling household being very limited.
The Committee says is it very concerned about the forthcoming winter- with energy prices expected to surge again in October.
Members describe the current support from Welsh Government as inadequate, with interventions via vouchers such as DAF (discretionary assistance fund) only covering 2000 of the 275,000 off-grid properties.
It says ‘robust support’ must be made available to off-grid consumers ahead of winter and that longer-term support for harder to reach houses is needed.
Mr Davies said: “I’m particularly concerned about the impact of the increased costs of heating fuel. I urge the Welsh Government to act before winter to support people living in rural off-grid properties.”
“With high rates of inflation, the lowest paid are feeling the pinch hardest and the report today, with 27 recommendations, outlines how more must be done to support those feeling the squeeze.”
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Just about any benefit in Wales or the UK requires an applicant to hire a lawyer to translate the jargon. One can only assume that the overly complicated business of application is deliberate.