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Reducing the impact of Coronavirus on Poverty in Wales

September 8th 2020

Covid-19 and the economic shock that has accompanied it has hit people trapped in poverty hard.

Whilst it is natural that many are starting to look at long term ideas as we recover from the pandemic the next 6 months are set to be very challenging. This new report sets out the action that the Welsh Government should take to reduce the impact of Coronavirus on Poverty this winter.

A volunteer at a foodbank

Covid-19 and the measures put in place to control its spread has had an impact on everyone in Wales, but some people have been affected more than others. On the eve of the pandemic 700,000 people, nearly a quarter of the population, were already living in poverty. The pandemic has hit many of these families hard and swept others who were surviving just above the poverty threshold into poverty.

The Bevan Foundation has set out to provide a snapshot of the impact of Covid-19 on poverty up to the end of August and to set out what are likely to be the greatest challenges facing people in poverty or at risk of poverty over the next six months. Given the significant uncertainty about the months ahead, the report does not seek to predict what will happen in coming months, but rather we aim to highlight some of the risk factors around work, social security and living costs that urgently need addressing to reduce the tightening grip of poverty.

To this end we have identified actions that the Welsh Government and Welsh local authorities should take immediately take to help lift people out of poverty, rather than on longer term solutions that should shape wider efforts to rebuild the economy and society.

Amongst the actions we are calling for are:

Action on work

The Welsh Government should:

  • The Welsh Government should ensure workplaces are as safe as possible, by resourcing local authorities to carry out spot checks on premises and giving trade union representatives a right to engage with workers in at risk premises.
  • Work with employers to guarantee a job or learning opportunity for all adults of working age. The offer should be tailored to the circumstances of different people displaced from the labour market. Specific plans need to be drawn up for young people, women and people from BAME communities.
  • Extend and enhance its economic contract to include businesses that receive any financial support from Welsh public funds. It should include an enhanced commitment by employers to achieve fair work, including specific action to increase pay rates to the Real Living Wage, provide contractual sick pay, and offer flexible working on request. Employers’ commitments should be monitored and enforced.

Action on social security

Social security is not devolved but a number of complementary schemes that support low-income households are operated by the Welsh Government and local authorities. The Welsh Government should:

  • Undertake a large-scale benefits take up campaign to ensure people are accessing the benefits they are entitled to, including UK Social Security benefits as well as Council Tax Reduction Scheme, Free School Meals and the Discretionary Assistance Fund.
  •  Ensure that local authorities have sufficient funds to top up all discretionary forms of local support including Discretionary Housing Payments.
  • Extend support to local authorities to enable them 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.

In addition, we recommend that our proposals to reform devolved benefits be accelerated. The Welsh Government should encourage local authorities to:

  • Establish a single point of access for Free School Meals, the Pupil Development Grant Access and the Council Tax Reduction Scheme. This would make it easier for families in poverty to access them. Where possible this support should be provided on a ‘passported’ basis.

Action on costs

At the same time as seeing incomes fall, low income households have faced rising costs. The Welsh Government should:

  • Retain the minimum notice period for no fault evictions at six months until at least 31 March 2021 but ideally until the Renting Homes (Amendment) (Wales) Bill is enacted and put into force to ensure that all tenants are adequately protected and to protect sums paid out under the Tenant Saver Loan Scheme.
  • Remove any requirement for a tenant who receives support through the Tenant Saver Loan Scheme to repay their loan to avoid trapping families in poverty into the medium term.
  • Pause Council Tax debt enforcement action for twelve months.
  • Extend the support provided through its £3m fund to support digitally excluded learners so that more children have access to digital learning, with a particular focus on children from families who are seeking asylum.
  • Explore what can be done at a Welsh level to assist families at risk of being disconnected by their utility providers due to falling into arrears.

The Welsh Government should also take action to provide the essential services people need. The Welsh Government should:

  • Reinstate as a matter of urgency some of the services that were terminated or reduced as a result of Covid-19. In particular the Welsh Government should immediately ‘switch off’ the measures in the Coronavirus Act 2020 which relax social care and mental health duties, as called for by the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee.
  • Work with local authorities to ensure that all homeless people are provided with adequate accommodation. No one should be refused access to Temporary Accommodation in Wales and no one should be discharged from Temporary Accommodation back into homelessness.
  • Work with local authorities to ensure an assessment of a homeless person’s needs is made when allocating accommodation, and to ensure that arrangements are made for accessing food and other essential needs.
  • Notify schools that no child should be excluded over the next 6 months if they are wearing the wrong school uniform given that it is children from low income families which are most likely to find it difficult to comply with changes to uniform policy.
  • Ensure that support is available for people and communities all over Wales, to deal with the economic, health and mental health implications of the challenging six months ahead.

Report Format: PDF

Language: English

Page: 30

Cost: Free

Download

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