Shadow Communities Secretary Mark Isherwood AM has made fresh calls for ‘Supporting People’ funding to be protected and urged the Welsh Government to protect other key preventive services “and therefore save money for public authorities”.
Mr Isherwood made the plea during this week’s Asembly Debate on the Draft Budget 2018-19.
“Those high-deficit countries which rejected austerity got it in full measure. Thanks to the hard work of people across the UK, however, the deficit here is down by over two thirds, falling to a level last seen before the financial crisis. But we still need to get our debt down—not for some ideological reason but because excessive debt undermines our economic security, leaving us vulnerable to shocks.
“Now, although £1.2 billion more is coming to the Welsh Government from the UK Treasury, significant Welsh Government funding into communities that are lagging behind has not borne fruit. As the Joseph Rowntree Foundation report released yesterday states: 'Across the four countries of the UK, Wales has consistently had the highest poverty'.
“In your draft budget deal with Plaid Cymru, you agreed to ring-fence Supporting People funding and increase it by £10 million annually for two years. But a subsequent letter to Local Authority Chief Executives revealed that Local Authorities would be given spending flexibility across Supporting People and four other non-housing related grants, meaning that the Supporting People funding is not guaranteed to be protected. If the Welsh Government now removes the funding ring fence and merges the Supporting People grant with other non-housing grants, we would no longer be able to understand how much is being spent on housing-related support services in Wales, or to hold Welsh Government Ministers to account over this.
“Representing Housing Associations and third sector providers, Hafan Cymru has therefore called for the reinstatement of the ring-fence and protection of Supporting People funding. Welsh Women's Aid state that ‘plans in this Budget to effectively remove the ring-fencing of Supporting People and Violence Against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence grants will very likely result in the dismantling of our national network of third sector specialist services that provide life-saving and life-changing support’. In the interests of access and inclusion, the Community Transport Association has called for an end to short-term funding cycles, which prevent charitable operators planning for the future, a review of the concessionary fares formula to prevent their financial loss, and budget support for cross-departmental working, which recognises that they are increasingly providing health and social care services, not just transport.
Mr Isherwood also referred to his warning against the £5.5 million Welsh Government cut to the charity Family Fund in the previous year’s Draft Budget Debate and the impact that this would have on the most vulnerable families with disabled children.
He said: “When the Family Fund presented at the last meeting of the Cross-Party Group on Disability, they told us that the number of grants awarded to families had fallen from 5,429 in 2015-16 to just 875 this year, and that the majority of families without grant support said that there was no other support available to them. This is both morally and financially irresponsible, and I urge the Welsh Government to reconsider.”