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Reducing the impact of Coronavirus on Poverty in Wales

September 8th 2020

Steffan Evans sets out why the Bevan Foundation is calling on the Welsh Government to take action on poverty this winter

Volunteer at foodbank

2020 has been a difficult year for everyone in Wales, but recent months have been especially challenging for families trapped in poverty. On the one hand many families have seen their incomes fall as a result of job losses or being placed on furlough, whilst on the other, many living costs such as food, gas and electricity have remained the same or even increased as a result of families spending more time at home. Fears of a second wave this winter, a forecast rise in unemployment and a challenging economic landscape mean that the next 6 months could be even more difficult.

Many of the actions taken by UK and Welsh Governments since the start of lockdown have protected families in Wales from the worst effects of the pandemic and its economic impact. Temporary changes to the social security system, protections from eviction and the provision of support in lieu of Free School Meals have helped many keep their heads above water at a difficult time. With many of these measures due to come to an end over the coming months, however, there are concerns that support is being withdrawn at a time when it is most needed.

Even with these measures in place many have still struggled. The use of food banks in Wales has surged and people are still being threatened with illegal eviction or are being disconnected from their gas and electricity due to falling behind on their rent and bills. Removing the temporary measures introduced to protect people trapped in poverty ahead of what is set to be a difficult winter will see the number of people facing these challenges increase dramatically.

Now is the time for more, not less action

The scale of the crisis that may hit us this winter is such that the UK and Welsh Governments should not only retain temporary measures put in place at the beginning of lockdown but also take further action to protect families trapped in poverty. Whilst it is natural that many are starting to look at long term solutions as we recover from the pandemic, it is vital that we do not forget to put short term measures in place to protect people through the winter.

At a UK level, the UK Government should address some of the underlying problems with the social security system such as the benefit cap and the 5 week wait for Universal Credit. Action should also be taken to ensure that no one sees their gas, electricity, water, phone or internet supply turned off this winter because they have fallen behind on their bills. More needs to be done closer to home as well.

Whilst many of the key levers to solve poverty remain at Westminster the Welsh Government has already showed that it has significant tools at its disposal to ease the worst effects of the pandemic on people’s standard of living. That is why the Bevan Foundation are calling on the Welsh Government to commit to take action on work, to take action on social security and to take action on costs and services to reduce the impact as autumn and winter come.

Amongst the specific actions the Bevan Foundation are calling on the Welsh Government to take are:

  1. A large-scale benefits take up campaign to ensure people are accessing the benefits they are entitled to.
  2. Enable local authorities  to offer cash in lieu of Free School Meals to families who have to self-isolate or shield, or to children whose schools are forced to shut in response to a local or national lockdown.
  3. Work with local authorities to establish a single point of access for Free School Meals, the Pupil Development Grant Access and the Council Tax Reduction Scheme.
  4. Retain the minimum notice period for no fault evictions at six months until at least 31 March 2021.
  5. Remove any requirement for a tenant who receives support through the Tenant Saver Loan Scheme to repay their loan.
  6. Work with local authorities to ensure that all homeless people are provided with adequate accommodation
  7. Reinstate as a matter of urgency some of the services that were terminated or reduced as a result of Covid-19.
  8. Ensure all workspaces are safe for staff.

To read our ideas in full and to see our analysis of the challenges that may confront us this winter then our new report, Reducing the impact of Coronavirus on Poverty in Wales can be found here.

Dr Steffan Evans is a Policy and Research Officer at the Bevan Foundation 

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