We must take control of welfare to protect our people against a callous UK Government

Picture by Stu (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Sian Gwenllian, Assembly Member for Arfon

As an AM, I have seen first-hand the frightening effects that stripping people of more and more benefits can have.

Over the coming months, my office is getting ready for a surge in people coming to Hywel Williams MP and myself for support as Universal Credit is rolled out more widely by the UK Government.

To date, the rollout of Universal Credit has wreaked chaos on people’s lives. Debt, evictions and food bank usage have increased in the areas where Universal Credit has been trialled.

Rolling out the system more widely is likely to create more hardship for people already living in difficult situations. It is likely to lead to more homelessness and increased costs for health and social services.

The rate of withholding or denying payments is higher than with the current system. I have heard horrific accounts of people having their payments denied.

One claimant missed his signing-on appointment because his brother had died unexpectedly, whilst another missed his because his wife had a miscarriage.

These are horror stories created by a callous government in Westminster because they are intent on forcing through unnecessary changes and cuts instead of protecting the people that they are elected to serve. And the Tories are intent on pressing ahead regardless.

Here in Wales, we have already begun to see the devastation the Universal Credit system can cause. We know that Wales will be worse affected than other regions of the UK because more people here claim benefits.

We don’t know yet the scale of the impact but in Flintshire, which has been a part of Universal Credit rollout since April 2017, we have had an early indication after the Citizens Advice Bureau printed its findings.

In Flintshire, 341 people have contacted the CAB for support, and 61% of those are women. Their data shows that 46% of those people are disabled or have a long-term health condition. This gives us a valuable insight into the ruthless and cruel nature of this policy.

Humane

If we are to protect the people of Wales from the worst of these effects then we must devolve administrative control of some parts of the welfare system to Wales.

This would allow Welsh Government to alter the frequency of payments, end the culture of sanctions and long waits, and ensure that payments could go to individuals instead of to households.

This has already happened in Scotland, where the SNP government has changed the frequency of payments from monthly to fortnightly; the housing components are paid directly to landlords and ministers are required to give assistance to people entitled to help.

This means that actions can now be taken behind the scenes to tackle the culture of sanctions.

The money for administering elements of welfare previously dealt with by the UK was transferred directly to Scotland as part of the block grant, so there were no extra costs.

Plaid Cymru believes the Labour Welsh Government should be negotiating for such a settlement for Wales. That way we could protect Welsh citizens against the worst elements of cruel Tory reforms.

The only way we can protect people from this is to start creating a more humane system here in Wales, as they have begun to do in Scotland.

The Labour government in Cardiff Bay should be negotiating for such a settlement for Wales. They should be demanding devolution over payment flexibilities and the housing element of Universal Credit, and aiming to secure a fiscal framework that can accommodate the devolution of these elements of social security.

If the Labour government in Cardiff Bay is serious about delivering for the people of Wales then it can fight for these elements. Anything short of that is just letting the Tories do their worst.

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