Welfare reforms have come into force today that could reduce benefits and tax credits in Wales by more than half a billion pounds in a year. The Minister for communities and tackling poverty, Huw Lewis has described these changes as a "watershed moment."
Welfare reforms have come into force across Wales today that could reduce benefits and tax credits here by more than half a billion pounds in a year. Tens of thousands of people in Wales will be left out of pocket, with warnings that many are going to struggle to make ends meet.
The Minister for communities and tackling poverty, Huw Lewis, has described these changes as a "watershed moment." Megan Boot reports.
Protests have been held across Wales calling on the Government to rethink the so called 'bedroom tax.'
It comes into force next week meaning some people will see their housing benefit cut if they have a spare room in the house.
Campaigners say it's targeting some of the most vulnerable in society.
Our reporter Rob Osborne has been to meet one disabled woman affected in Mountain Ash.
The Department of Work and Pensions say it's 'vital' the better use is made of housing. It's in response to demonstrations in Wales and across the UK over the changes to housing benefit.
– Statement from the Department of Work and Pensions
With nearly 2 million households in Great Britain on waiting lists, and over a quarter of a million living in overcrowded accommodation, it is vital we ensure better use of our housing stock.
That said, we know there are people who have had certain modifications made to their homes to manage disabilities. That's why we are giving councils in Wales almost £6.2million to help vulnerable tenants with their housing needs.
Demonstrations will be held in three areas across Wales today over changes to housing benefits. The changes include plans to cut payments for renting houses with spare rooms, the so-called 'bedroom tax'.
Demonstrations will be held in Wrexham, Swansea and Cardiff. The rally in Cardiff will be held outside City Hall, and will be supported by representatives from Shelter Cymru, Women's Aid and the Fire Brigades Union.
It's over the Government's plans to cut down on under-occupancy in social housing, which comes into effect on Monday. The changes mean housing benefit will be cut for those who are deemed to have a spare room.
The new Welsh Housing Minister, Carl Sargeant can expect to find the impact of welfare changes at the top of his agenda, acccording to the Chartered Institute of Housing Cymru, which represent social housing managers and other housing professionals.
A survey of its members found 87% expect an increase in the number of homeless families over the next 12 months. 88% think the Welsh Government must to do more to respond to the changes brought in by the UK Government. The Welsh Government has made a commitment to end family homelessness by 2019.
– Keith Edwards, Director, Chartered Institute of Housing Cymru
It's important that we always challenge policy on the basis of evidence and we have serious concerns about the impact of the bedroom tax. This will have a major impact on tenants and their families across Wales and our members are in the frontline of dealing with the human consequences. In some ways the 'blame game' is redundant - what we need now is for Welsh Government and partners to pull together to protect the most vulnerable people in society.
The UK Government says the 'bedroom tax' is correctly described as an end to a spare room subsidy. It says it's wrong to pay tenants to stay in homes that are to big for them when other families are waiting for suitable accommodation. It also expects the change to help reduce the benefits bill.
- The survey of housing professionals in Wales was carried out by RMG Clarity for CIH Cymru 12-14 March
– Spokesperson for the Department of Work and Pensions
Housing benefit almost doubled over the last decade to over £23 billion a year, so it's absolutely necessary that we get that spending under control.
We are closely monitoring the reforms to ensure councils are informing people about the changes, and spending the extra £390m we have provided to support their residents.
The UK Government's plans for dealing with the impact of the so-called 'bedroom tax' are "not based on any rational assessment of need", according to a report out this morning. MPs on the Public Accounts Committee have been looking at what ministers say is the ending of a 'spare room subsidy'.
– Public Accounts Committee Chair Margaret Hodge MP
The Department of Work and Pensions says it can't accurately predict the effects of its housing benefit changes either on individuals or on the housing supply. Instead it will rely on a 'wait and see' approach and monitor changes in homelessness, rent levels and arrears.
But even small reductions in housing benefit can have a severe impact on the finances of the poorest people. It is not clear whether the additional £390 million set aside to fund Discretionary Housing Payments over four years will be enough. This figure was not based on any rational assessment of need.
The discretionary payments could help people who lose benefits as a result of the rule change if they cannot move to a smaller house, for example if their home is adapted to help cope with a disability. In Wales, the former Housing Minister, Huw Lewis, wanted control of the payments devolved.
– Former Housing Minister Huw Lewis AM
I believe that such a move would enable us to better protect vulnerable people and prevent homelessness. We do believe that being closer to the ground here in Wales and understanding our housing situation much more intimately than at Westminster we could do a better job of alleviating at least the worst aspects of welfare reform through an intelligent use of Discretionary Housing Payments.
I am not under any illusions of the scale of finance when it comes to Discretionary Housing Payments – they are nowhere near the amount that is required, but at least we could spend them more intelligently.
Mr Lewis also promised a fund of £750,000 to mitigate the impact of welfare reform in Wales. He was speaking on the day of the cabinet reshuffle, when Carl Sargeant became the new Housing Minister. The extra money was welcomed by Community Housing Cymru, which represents social landlords.
– Community Housing Cymru Chief Executive Nick Bennett.
It is important that this money is used sensibly. Affordable credit options and good timely advice will be key to helping tenants through these changes. In addition to providing affordable loans and opening saving accounts,
With more than £200m in capital funding available to the Welsh Government over the next two years, investment in new housing is key. Building new, affordable one and two bed homes will not only help with the problems caused by the ‘bedroom tax’, it will create jobs and play a vital role in regenerating communities across Wales.