Blame placed at UK Government’s door for damning UN poverty report

(Title Image: Wales Online)

The Motion

The Senedd:

  • Notes the statement by the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights on his visit to the UK (pdf).
  • Regrets the report’s findings that changes to social security have disproportionately hit women, children, and the disabled; Wales has the highest relative poverty rate in the UK; the Welsh Government lacks a strategic focus on tackling poverty; the Welsh Government’s inability to introduce flexibilities in the administration of universal credit, unlike Scotland, will exacerbate the structural causes behind poverty, rough sleeping, and homelessness and that poverty is a political choice.
  • Calls on the Welsh Government to seek powers to introduce flexibilities in the administration of universal credit and publish a robust and meaningful plan to tackle poverty that contains clear performance targets.

In Denial

Leanne Wood AM (Plaid, Rhondda) accused the UK Government of being in denial about the findings of the report. However, the Welsh Government were also deflecting away from their own responsibilities. The SNP and DUP can protect their populations from the worst elements of universal credit – such as the “rape clause” – as administration of welfare is devolved, but the Welsh Government has flatly refused to follow suit.

“It should be seen as an appalling situation that a state as rich and wealthy as the UK is put on a list of nations that can’t look after its poorest. I’m afraid that the clear suggestion from the response that there has been to this statement is that the political culture of this state isn’t quite as civilised as we might like to think it was.”

– Rhun ap Iorwerth AM (Plaid, Ynys Môn)

Helen Mary Jones AM (Plaid, Mid & West Wales) described some aspects of universal credit as misogynistic and designed to enforce traditional family values as it discriminates against the second earner in a household – who is usually a woman.

All is well

Shadow Communities Minister, Mark Isherwood AM (Con, North Wales) disagreed with a number of the assessments in the UN report as it didn’t note actions already undertaken or announced with regard concerns over universal credit.

“Only last Friday, (UK Department for Work & Pensions Secretary) Amber Rudd said that she was going to specifically address the impact of universal credit on women and single mothers, ensure women in abusive relationships have access to payments, and review the five-week wait, payments for housing, access to cash and repayment of loans. DWP are working with employers through Disability Confident to ensure that disabled people and those with long-term health conditions have the work opportunities to fulfil their potential and realise their aspirations.”
– Shadow Communities Minister, Mark Isherwood

He noted that unemployment and low-paid jobs were “at record lows” and full-time weekly earnings have seen their biggest rise in a decade. Many of the levers to deal with poverty lie with the Welsh Government and after 20 years of Labour rule, Wales remains the least productive nation or region in the UK and poverty levels remain stubbornly high.

Austerity Agenda

John Griffiths AM (Lab, Newport East) said it was clear that it was UK Government austerity behind this, but deflected calls from Sian Gwenllian AM (Plaid, Arfon) for a specific anti-poverty strategy, saying it needed a cross-government approach.

“So, let’s be clear. This isn’t about getting people into work. This isn’t about, as the Tories used to say, ‘Get on your bike.’ Well, you try and tell that to the courier who can’t pay this month’s rent, despite getting on his bike or her bike, and despite working all the hours that God sends their way. You tell it also to the one in four people in this country who work for below minimum wage pay.”
– Joyce Watson AM (Lab, Mid & West Wales)

Jenny Rathbone AM (LabInd, Cardiff Central) raised a point that delays in universal credit risk leaving some households destitute in the run-up to Christmas, while Rhianon Passmore AM (Lab, Islwyn) described the devolution of welfare as a “hostage of fortune” if it doesn’t come with the accompanying budget.

Replying on behalf of the government, Housing & Regeneration Minister, Rebecca Evans (Lab, Gower), said that while she agreed with the trust of Plaid Cymru’s debate, the devolution of welfare administration was neither practical or desirable on cost grounds and the possible transfer of financial risk which cost Scotland £266million.

“Our approach to tackling poverty is that it should be inherent in the way that government and its partners work and deliver for the people of Wales. That’s why we’ve made tackling poverty fundamental to ‘Taking Wales Forward’ and ‘Prosperity for All’. ‘Prosperity for All’ recognises that reducing levels of poverty and growing our economy are interdependent.”
– Housing & Regeneration Minister, Rebecca Evans


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