'It's money we simply do not have' Mark Drakeford defends scrapping £200 winter fuel payments

First Minister Mark Drakeford has defended plans to scrap payments to help people in Wales keep warm during the colder months.

The Welsh Government confirmed the decision when it published its draft spending plans earlier this week - during freezing December temperatures.

The winter fuel support scheme, which sees £200 given to support those on benefits during the colder months, costs the government £90m every year.

"It's £90 million we simply do not have in next year's budget," the First Minister told ITV Wales' Sharp End programme.

"You could say to me well, that money could have been spent to pay people's wages this year. We chose to spend it on helping people with their fuel bills.

"Next year, there will be different arrangements at a UK level. We do not know what bills will be by the time we get to next Autumn and weighing up all the different things that we've had to make provision for - we could not find £90 million again next year."

The winter fuel support scheme sees £200 given to support those on benefits during the colder months. Credit: PA

The winter fuel support scheme was originally introduced as a payment of £100 - but was doubled as the cost of living crisis deepened.

At the time, Social Justice Minister Jane Hutt said: "We are determined to do all we can to support our people with the bills they are facing, and this will go a long way to do just that.

"We know some people are facing the incredibly difficult decision about whether they heat or eat. We’re in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis, which is getting worse."

Citizen's Advice said if the Welsh Government is serious about protecting the vulnerable in colder months, it will need a plan for crisis intervention.

Luke Young, Assistant Director of Citizens Advice Cymru said: "If you take the Wales Fuel Support Scheme out of the modelling for next winter, there’s a bigger gap in low income household budgets - and that should worry every member of the Senedd.

"The payments are providing extra support to people in Wales, on top of UK Government schemes. They have helped people in crisis and helped keep many others out of crisis. Ending the scheme does not end the need. The Welsh Government now has an even greater responsibility to explain how it will get people out of 'warm hubs', and into warm homes."

'There is a plan'

Mr Drakeford said: "This year, that £90million will be spent alongside a whole range of other things that we are doing to help people with the cost of living crisis.

"When people really cannot manage - and there will be families everywhere in Wales that cannot manage this winter - then we're working with our local authorities creating warm hubs, where people will be able to go and find somewhere where they can be properly warm this winter.

"We continue to work with food projects in every part of Wales for families who struggle to find the food they need to put on the table.

"There is a plan - it involves action by the Welsh Government, partnerships with the local authorities, work with the third sector, all of which is designed to make sure that when people are right up against it there are places they can turn to for help."

  • For more on this story, you can catch up on the latest episode of Sharp End here.