‘We don’t want to punish the unemployed and disabled’ claims Welsh Secretary
The UK Government has no intention of punishing the unemployed or disabled people, according to Secretary of State for Wales David TC Davies.
Instead, the increase in working from home since the pandemic would make it easier for them to find jobs.
The Westminster government has been strongly criticised by opposition politicians and groups representing benefit claimants following confirmation in the Autumn Statement that unemployed and disabled people would be “helped” into work.
But Mr Davies told Nation.Cymru: “We don’t want to cause problems for people – we want to help them back into work and I believe that the great majority of people who are unemployed want a job. I also believe that many disabled people would like to work, but that up until now in many cases it has been difficult for them to do so. But the huge increase in working from home has made it easier for unemployed and disabled people to get jobs and we want to encourage them to take up such opportunities.”
When it was put to Mr Davies that there had been many documented instances where private companies contracted to the Department for Work and Pensions to carry out capability tests on severely disabled people and decided they were capable of working when medical evidence suggested otherwise, he said: “This isn’t about punishing people – it’s about helping them get back into work. Of course there are people who are severely disabled and who can’t work, but there are many who would like the opportunity to get a job and that’s what we’ll offer them.”
Mr Davies said that every unemployed person would get the promise of a job offer. Asked whether people would be sanctioned and lose benefits if they failed to accept the job they were offered, he said: “Virtually every unemployed person will be keen to get work and they will be offered every help in terms of retraining. Only in circumstances where people have turned down training or a job offer will they be at risk of having their benefits cut.
“We are showing our commitment to improve the lives of the poorest people in our communities by raising the living wage to £11.44 an hour and by helping people off benefits and into work.”
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Chancellor Jeremy Hunt have made great play of the reduction in National Insurance contributions for those in work from 12% of their salary to 10%. Yet the government’s own spending watchdog, the Office for Budget Responsibility, has pointed out that the overall level of taxation will increase because of the failure to increase income tax bands in line with inflation.
Asked about this, Mr Davies said: “I haven’t had a chance to study all the figures yet, but I do know that the cut in NI contributions will make people better off in the short term.
“We are doing what we can to help people, bearing in mind that the government has had to spend £100bn on combatting the impact of Covid and paid half people’s fuel bills as a result of the increases brought about by the war in Ukraine.”
Mr Davies insisted it was “nonsensical” for opposition parties to claim that the UK economy had been crashed by former Prime Minister Liz Truss and the Budget of her shortlived Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng. He said: “She was only in office for a month. I don’t accept that at all.”
Asked about comments made by the Welsh Government’s Finance Minister Rebecca Evans, who said that if money allocated by the Treasury to Wales had risen in line with inflation since the Conservatives came to power in 2010, the Welsh budget would include £3bn per year more, Mr Davies said: “The austerity policies we followed wouldn’t have been necessary if the previous Labour government hadn’t spent money irresponsibly. And today, despite pleading poverty, they find no difficulty in spending millions on the introduction of the 20mph speed limit or on expanding the Senedd so it contains an extra 36 politicians.”.
Labour denies that it should be held responsible for the global recession that began in 2008 and asserts that the money spent on the 20mph speed limit will save millions by reducing accidents and that the cost of increasing the size of the Senedd would be very small in comparison with the size of the devolved budget.
Mr Davies denied that the Autumn Statement had been designed with an early general election in mind, saying: “The current term of office runs to the end of 2024 and I am assuming that the election will take place towards the end of next year.The decision is down to the PM, though. When they are deciding how to vote at the general election, I hope people take into account the huge sums we have spent during the Covid crisis.”
Mr Davies also said that the development of floating offshore wind turbines off the south Wales coast, together with the creation of Port Talbot and Milford Haven as freeports, held out the prospect of seeing thousands of jobs created which could offset steel job losses at Port Talbot.
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