Speaking in the Senedd, Shadow, Social Justice Minister and North Wales MS Mark Isherwood has called on Welsh Government Ministers to listen to the experts and act on their recommendations to tackle the cost-of-living crisis.
Responding to the Statement by the Minister for Social Justice and Chief Whip on the Cost of Living in yesterday’s meeting of the Welsh Parliament, Mr Isherwood referred to several of the recommendations put forward in the Report of the ‘Wales Expert Group on the Cost-of-Living Crisis’, which include an instalment-based disabled person cost-of-living payment, implementing the new Warm Homes programme with urgency, and to improve the level of take-up of grants, allowances and benefits support already available to households.
“The current UK Government has provided unprecedented Cost-of-Living support, worth an average of £3,300 per household between 2022 and 2024. Between 31st October and 19th November, millions of families on means-tested benefits will receive a second Cost-of-Living payment, totalling £900 across three payments. Eligible pensioner households will also receive a further £300 payment later this year as an addition to the Winter Fuel Payment, and those receiving Disability Benefits received a further £150 Cost-of-Living Payment between 20 June and 4 July. But things ain't easy.
“How do you respond to the recommendation in the Report of the ‘Wales Expert Group on the Cost-of-Living Crisis’, released today, that the Welsh Government introduces an instalment-based disabled person cost-of-living payment?
“The Expert Group recommends that Welsh Government implements the new Warm Homes Programme with urgency, ensuring that the replacement demand scheme is procured and operational this Winter. Earlier this month, I asked you for an update on when the Welsh Government intends to launch its new Warm Homes Programme, including the successor to the Nest fuel poverty scheme, highlighting National Energy Action Cymru's call for them to be operational ‘as soon as possible’ as we're now nearing the winter months. In your reply, you stated that you were 'on track to move to contract award and begin mobilisation this year.'
In practical terms, when will the scheme therefore become fully operational?
“The Expert Group also recommends that both the UK Government and Welsh Government take action to improve the level of take-up of grants, allowances and benefits support already available to households. Earlier this year, I highlighted the uptake of the Welsh Government's Fuel Support Scheme for 2022-23, which offered a payment to eligible low-income households to help them with the rising cost of energy. You confirmed in Written Answers to my office that the Welsh Government made up to £90 million available for this, and estimated that approximately 427,000 households would be eligible. However, you also confirmed to my office that, as of 28th February this year, less than £65 million had been spent on this, and that Local Authorities across Wales reported that, at that stage, just 316,000 households had applied to the Scheme, and that only 341,468 had received a payment, which meant that at that stage 78,000 fewer households than estimated by the Welsh Government accessed that programme, and £20 million to £25 million allocated for it wasn't utilised. So, how have you learned from this and what, if any, actions are being implemented accordingly to meet the recommendation referred to?”
Mr Isherwood also referred to the Expert Group’s recommendation that the Welsh Government takes the next steps towards a Welsh Benefits System, applying to all the benefits it is responsible for.
“Finally, and I have to say this, given the Statement by the World Economic Forum that ‘The soaring cost of food and energy is affecting people across the globe’, that inflation is currently higher in 16 European Countries, and that interest rates are currently higher in 12 European Countries and 10 other G20 Countries, than in the UK, wouldn’t only a very Silly Billy claim that the Cost-of-Living crisis was made in Westminster?”