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Leanne Wood, Bae watch (December 2015)

(December 01, 2015)

Bae Watch; with Leanne Wood

Leanne Wood

There has been an unprecedented attack on people in receipt of social security payments from a variety of the UK media and some political parties.

False rumours about entitlements, exaggerations about fraud and a belief that those with the lowest incomes have only themselves to blame has created a toxic environment that has directly led to the deaths of thousands of people.

Consider the impact of the work capability assessment alone, which has been cited as a factor in numerous suicides and deaths. A recent report on austerity and suicide characterised the period following the recession as leading to ‘1,000 excess deaths’ across the UK.

Since the election of a majority Tory Government in Westminster, not even those in work are considered to be “deserving poor”, as the recent attempted assault on Working Tax Credits illustrates.

There have been over 100 changes to social security in the past decade. I doubt many have resulted in an increased income of those in receipt of it.

The impact hits both the individuals directly as well as children they may have. The changes also have a wider, fundamental impact on our communities.

The political culture in Westminster has ensured an element of consensus in this debate. There are some differences to the political culture in Wales. But the question we must ask is whether that difference is enough to sustain radically different policy choices on the question of social security.

I do not believe that a Labour run Welsh Government would make a decision like introducing the Work Capability Assessment. I don't believe the Welsh Liberal Democrats would have done so either. Even some of the Welsh Conservatives have privately expressed concerns.

People should ask – can Westminster be trusted with social protection? If the answer to that question is no, then should Wales seek the powers to create our own social safety net?

The devolution of welfare has begun. Council Tax benefit was devolved, albeit with a 10% budget cut. As a result of Plaid Cymru's pressure, the Welsh Government has met the £22m shortfall, preventing it being paid for by those on the lowest incomes.

The Social Risk Fund and Independent Living Fund have also been devolved, again with budget cuts.

Rather than wait for Westminster to devolve the benefits it doesn't want as a cheap way of cutting the bill – or rather passing the bill for the consequences of the cuts onto others – why isn't there more pro-action? We could start the building of a different system to show Westminster how it is done.

I am unlikely to persuade those in Westminster to devolve the entire system as well as the budget for it. But I would like to see a consensus on three parts of the system that we should be running.

The first would be to have Jobcentre Plus and all the welfare to work responsibilities in the hands of Cardiff Bay rather than the DWP.

We could create a genuine Welsh New Deal that focuses on upskilling and helping people into careers rather than just jobs. We could end the inappropriate and appalling use of sanctions, which have caused so much damage.

We would be able to gradually end the subsidisation of low wages and company profits that is workfare, and replace it with a genuine work experience programme that helped build careers.

The second step would be to devolve employment and support allowance and the assessment processes associated with it. Another immediate step would be to devolve housing benefit for the social housing sector. The Bedroom Tax did not save a penny – it just increased the cost for local authorities and housing associations.

In the long run, the housing benefit bill would be substantially lower if we had more social housing. So having housing benefit under the Assembly's control alongside housing generally would align the incentives in a more rational manner.

The contribution Wales has made to welfare in the past requires us to take the lead in bringing those principles into the 21st Century. Our politics need not be characterised by a lack of compassion.

Leanne Wood,
Leader of Plaid Cymru and South Wales Central AM, December 2015

Also from Leanne Wood:
     Bae Watch; September 2015

     Bae Watch; June 2015

     Bae Watch; March 2015

     Bae Watch; December 2014

     Bae Watch; September 2014

     Bae Watch; June 2014

     Bae Watch; March 2014

     Bae Watch; December 2013

     Bae Watch; September 2013

     Bae Watch; June 2013
     Bae Watch; March 2013
     Bae Watch; December 2012
     Bae Watch; September 2012
     Bae Watch; June 2012
     Bae Watch; March 2012
     Bae Watch; December 2011
     Bae Watch; September 2011
     Bae Watch; June 2011

Leanne Wood's contact details:

     Facebook: Leanne Wood
     Twitter: @LeanneWood


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