Government pressed to reconsider scrapping independent living grant

(Title Image: BBC Wales)

Leader of the House and Minister for Equalities, Julie James (Lab, Swansea West), has trailed the publication of a new independent living plan for disabled people, which is due to be published next week.

The preparation work for the new plan (“Action on Disability”) has taken around two years and, following a proposed backbench law raised by Helen Mary Jones AM (Plaid, Mid & West Wales) last week, the Leader of the House confirmed that the plan “sets out how we (Welsh Government) are fulfilling our obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities”.

The main area the plan will focus on is employment (just 45% of working-age disabled people are in work compared to 80% of the non-disabled population), in particular, changing employer attitudes, job design and working practices.

“They want a job, they want their own front door, they want their independence”

Shadow Communities Minister, Mark Isherwood AM (Con, North Wales) wanted to ensure existing guidelines – such as those under the Social Services & Wellbeing Act – were strengthened and also that this wouldn’t replicate work already being undertaken by the UK Department of Work & Pensions.

He also made a specific policy call:

“Will you reconsider the Welsh Government’s approach to the scrapping of the Welsh independent living grant? There is still widespread concern amongst recipients or former recipients of that grant that the lack of ring fence, the requirement to agree with local authorities what’s good for them, or what their needs might be, is a removal of their independence.”
– Shadow Communities Minister, Mark Isherwood AM

“The statement itself doesn’t enlighten us a great deal”

Sian Gwenllian AM (Plaid, Arfon) believed the statement “didn’t enlighten us a great deal” and thought it would be better if the statement were issued after the strategy has been published. Again, she raised a specific issue:

“In the absence of anything for the opposition parties to scrutinise, I’m going to ask you about something that is important to disabled people but isn’t contained within the statement, namely the Welsh independent living grant.”
– Sian Gwenllian AM

The Leader of the House blamed scheduling for the timing of the statement. On the grant, the Leader of the House said discussions were ongoing based on the experiences of disabled people during the transition phase. There was no let-up, though:

“On the independent living grant, I belong to that large number of people, including in our party, who are disappointed that it ended….I don’t think it’s going to be coming back, so I’m not going to ask whether you’ll bring it back, because the answer is going to be ‘no’, but can I ask that the Cabinet Secretary, whichever one it happens to be, asks that local authorities report their spending in that area?”
– Mike Hedges AM (Lab, Swansea East)

Caroline Jones AM (Ind, South Wales West) raised the issue of poverty in disability, which has risen by up to 40% in recent years and was at risk of becoming “a national shame”. She welcomed news that the roll-out of universal credit will be halted and hoped the UK Government will re-think it. Caroline also echoed comments several AMs made about accessible public transport and bus subsidy cuts; the Leader of the House talking up the potential regulation of bus services in the future.

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