Why we need a Welsh Benefits System more than ever

Poverty Mother on ipad with two children
Photo by Alexander Dummer on Unsplash
ViewsMarch 4th, 2022

The Bevan Foundation’s Head of Policy (Poverty), Steffan Evans argues that the cost-of-living crisis has increased the need to establish a Welsh Benefits System

The past two years have placed significant pressure on people all over Wales. Between the pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis more and more people have found it difficult to afford everyday essentials. 

The Welsh Government has responded to these challenges by providing unprecedented levels of financial support to low-income families. These efforts have been hampered, however, by the complicated way that these schemes are administered and accessed. Establishing a Welsh Benefits System could play an important role in addressing these challenges.  

The current approach – what is the problem?

Even before the pandemic the Welsh Government and Welsh local authorities provided significant levels of means-tested support to people on low incomes. From Free School Meals to the Council Tax Reduction Scheme to the Discretionary Assistance Fund, these grants and allowances acted as a vital additional lifeline to Welsh families.

In 2019 there were 12 different grants and allowances that provided support to low-income families. Each of these were administered separately. This meant that eligibility criteria could differ, or even where the eligibility criteria were identical, people were still having to submit multiple applications to access all the support they were entitled to.

Since the outset of the pandemic the Welsh Government has created three new major means tested grants:

  • The Self-isolation support scheme.
  • The Winter fuel support scheme.
  • The £150 Council Tax payment.

On top of this the Welsh Government have made or are planning to make significant alternations to another three schemes:

  • Free School Meals – cash provided in lieu of school meals during lockdown and over the holidays.
  • PDG – Access – expanded to all school years.
  • Healthy Start Scheme – to be extended to cover the gap between the end of Healthy Start Vouchers and the start of school.

As a result, a low-income family with two children aged 2 and 7 could potentially have to submit six different application forms to access all the support they are entitled to this winter. This could grow to eight or nine if they are required to self-isolate or need to access further discretionary support through the Discretionary Assistance Fund or Discretionary Housing Payments. 

With families having to submit so many application forms is it a surprise that fewer than half of eligible households had made an application for the Winter Fuel Scheme as of February 9th?

How could a Welsh Benefits System help?

Establishing a Welsh Benefits System would provide an opportunity to reform and improve the grants and allowances available to low-income families. Doing so would allow us to develop a coherent system, one of the major advantages of which would be to allow people to apply for all the support they are entitled to in one place. This could boost take-up, putting money into the pockets of families that need it the most.

Developing a Welsh Benefits system could also ease some of the pressures faced by local authorities. Administrating all the different grants and allowances takes significant resource. Developing a more coherent system could ease these pressures and could ensure that any new grants or allowances are better aligned with existing support. This could free up local authority staff to work to promote benefits, further boosting take-up.

The Welsh Government has been working with local authorities to explore how a single access point could be developed. The Welsh Government is looking to share best practice and has already published a best practice tool-kit on how to simplify the application process. The experiences of the recent months, however, show why now is the time to progress with this work more rapidly and to think more holistically about the way that grants, and allowances are delivered in Wales.


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