The Welsh Local Government Association has voiced concern over the economic cost of UK Government welfare reforms, while identifying a lack of clear guidance on how certain reforms should be implemented in Wales.
The call follows a research report published by Sheffield Hallam University that suggests the UK Government’s controversial welfare reform proposals will cut an estimated £1bn from the Welsh economy, while disproportionately affecting communities in the former industrial areas of the South Wales Valleys.
With Councils having been handed the unenviable task of not only administering the welfare reform programme, but of mitigating the effect of these reforms on some of Wales’ most vulnerable communities, local councils are also finding themselves hampered by significant gaps in UK Government guidance on how these benefit changes should be implemented.
Councillor David Phillips (Swansea), WLGA Spokesperson for Welfare Reform said:
“The latest report on the economic impacts of UK welfare reform confirms what we have long suspected. The most deprived communities in Wales will bare the brunt of the pain created by the UK Government’s attack on the ‘post-war settlement’, while £1bn will be lost from Wales’ economy.
“These changes are already putting significant pressure on Council services, and are set to have significant social as well as economic consequences. The introduction of Personal Independence Payments alone will affect around 35,000 people and take £100m away from claimants. This benefit cut, dressed up as reform, will likely drive people to their local social services which are already under extreme financial pressure due to demographic demands.
“Other changes such as the ‘bedroom tax’ will almost certainly lead to greater homelessness. This is a catastrophic social consequence of a reform to the welfare system that may also prove to be completely counterproductive. It is anticipated that many tenants will be forced to move to properties in the private sector and in doing so will create higher costs elsewhere in the system.
“While many of us disagree with these reforms, especially the way in which claimants are being stigmatised, local government has a responsibility to ensure that the people of Wales are made fully aware of what is coming, and we will continue to provide for the most vulnerable within our society.
“My own Council, like many in Wales, has already been overwhelmed with people seeking help and advice on the Bedroom Tax and even though this reform has been ‘live’ since the 1st April, significant gaps still remain in the guidance around critical issues such as exemptions and classifications of properties. This ill thought out calendar of reform has seen amendments being made right up until and well past the 11th hour, and there is now serious concern within local government over the capacity of Whitehall departments to deal with their urgent enquiries. If these reforms are to be delivered in an equitable and consistent way in Wales then the Department for Work and Pensions must seek significant and urgent improvement in its ability to respond to the detailed questions being asked by local government.”