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As we launch our latest report, ‘The Future of Attendance Allowance’, the Bevan Foundation’s Policy and Research Officer, Nisreen Mansour, explains why we need to start preparing now for the prospect of social security devolution.
Almost a year ago, the UK Government published a consultation document on the future of local government funding in England. While this may not sound too relevant, the devil was in the detail – it included the announcement that they were also considering the devolution of Attendance Allowance to Wales, as well as local authorities in England.
Attendance Allowance is claimed by people aged 65 and over with a disability who require additional care. Just over 100,000 people receive it in Wales, at a cost of approximately £400 million a year.Wales has the highest claimant rate amongst over 65s – around 17%.
The proposal to devolve responsibility for this benefit did not go unnoticed. Campaigners immediately suspected that it was a way of covertly abolishing Attendance Allowance, with the budget being absorbed into the social care pot. The Local Government Association in England objected on the grounds that local authorities do not want to be responsible for administering a demand-led benefit without adequate funding and the Welsh Government said it was “extremely cautious” about how it would be funded.
However opposition does not mean that it will not happen. And importantly for Wales, if responsibility for Attendance Allowance is to be devolved to local authorities in England, it is hard to imagine the DWP remaining responsible for administering a benefit solely to Welsh claimants. Therefore, even if we don’t like the prospect of it we should be doing everything we can to prepare for the devolution of Attendance Allowance in future.
So how should we prepare?
Scotland offers an example of what we can expect. When responsibility for various disability social security benefits was devolved, funding for this was determined as an addition to the block grant. A separate agreement was published, which stated that funding would be based on “the UK Government’s spending on these areas in Scotland in the year immediately prior to the devolution of powers,” and then ‘Barnettised’ for future years. The key point is that the initial baseline addition to the block grant was based on what was spent on the benefits in the previous year – the claimant rate.
Wales should take note. Attendance Allowance is suspected of being under-claimed, with people not receiving it who should be, and people receiving the lower rate who are eligible for the higher rate. If the problem with under-claiming is not resolved before the benefit is devolved, the Welsh Government could be subject to a funding agreement which is based on a worryingly inaccurate picture of all those who are eligible for the benefit.
This is why we’ve recommended that the Welsh Government should be preparing for benefit devolution now. If Attendance Allowance is devolved, the claimant rate needs to give as true a reflection as possible of those who are eligible for it in Wales. A take-up campaign to encourage people to find out if they’re entitled to it is an essential step to achieving this.
The message from our research is simple – if we’re not making sure that everyone who is eligible for Attendance Allowance is claiming it, then we may lose out in a future funding settlement.
Nisreen Mansour is the Policy and Research Officer at the Bevan Foundation.