Y Pwyllgor Cydraddoldeb a Chyfiawnder Cymdeithasol
Equality and Social Justice Committee16/01/2023
Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol
Committee Members in Attendance
|Altaf Hussain AS|
|Jane Dodds AS|
|Jenny Rathbone AS||Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor|
|Ken Skates AS|
|Sarah Murphy AS|
|Sioned Williams AS|
Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol
Others in Attendance
|Claire Bennett||Cyfarwyddwr, Cymunedau a Threchu Tlodi, Llywodraeth Cymru|
|Director, Communities and Tackling Poverty, Welsh Government|
|Hannah Blythyn AS||Y Dirprwy Weinidog Partneriaeth Gymdeithasol|
|Deputy Minister for Social Partnership|
|Jane Hutt AS||Y Gweinidog Cyfiawnder Cymdeithasol|
|Minister for Social Justice|
|Maureen Howell||Dirprwy Gyfarwyddwr, Trechu Tlodi a Chefnogi Teuluoedd, Llywodraeth Cymru|
|Deputy Director, Tackling Poverty and Supporting Families, Welsh Government|
|Sian Gill||Pennaeth Adrodd Ariannol, Llywodraeth Cymru|
|Head of Financial Reporting, Welsh Government|
Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol
Senedd Officials in Attendance
|Angharad Roche||Dirprwy Glerc|
|Rachael Davies||Ail Glerc|
Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.
The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.
Cyfarfu’r pwyllgor yn y Senedd a thrwy gynhadledd fideo.
Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 14:30.
The committee met in the Senedd and by video-conference.
The meeting began at 14:30.
Prynhawn da. Welcome to Members and to members of the public attending the first meeting of 2023 of the Equality and Social Justice Committee. Our main item of business this afternoon is scrutinising next year's budget, but, for the time being, I want to just remind people that you can watch this session on Senedd.tv. We're a bilingual meeting and we're also a hybrid meeting, so some Members are in the room, and some Members are joining us online. We have no apologies for this meeting; all Members are present. Are there any declarations of interest that anybody might need to make? I take that as a 'no'.
And I wondered if Members could note the list of papers that are on the agenda for public scrutiny. Are there any points?
Thinking about it, Chair, I declare that I'm a member of the Bevan Foundation, as we have evidence from them today, and also, if we relate to Unison evidence, I'm also a member of Unison.
Okay, thank you. I was a member of the Bevan Foundation; not at the moment, because my budget's non-existent, but I'm also a member of Unite, but I'm not sure that there's anything relevant to today's agenda in relation to that matter.
bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o'r cyfarfod ar gyfer eitemau 4, 5, 6 ac 8, yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(vi) a (ix).
that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the meeting for items 4, 5, 6 and 8, in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(vi) and (ix).
Cynigiwyd y cynnig.
So, for now, I wondered if Members would be prepared to take a motion, under Standing Order 17.42, to exclude the public from items 4, 5, 6 and 8 of this meeting. For members of the public who are watching, we will be scrutinising the Minister for Social Justice and the Deputy Minister at 3.30 p.m., so, if you're interested in that, please ensure that you rejoin us at that time. Otherwise, are Members content to go into private session for the time being?
Derbyniwyd y cynnig.
Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 14:32.
The public part of the meeting ended at 14:32.
Ailymgynullodd y pwyllgor yn gyhoeddus am 15:30.
The committee reconvened in public at 15:30.
Welcome back to the Equality and Social Justice Committee and our ministerial scrutiny of the budget of the Minister and Deputy Minister in the social justice department. Welcome to Jane Hutt, the Minister for Social Justice, Hannah Blythyn, Deupty Minister for Social Partnership, and your officials, Claire Bennett, Maureen Howell and Sian Gill. Welcome, all of you. We've got lots of questions, so hopefully we can get through nearly all of them. I'm looking at your budget. I think, Minister, your budget is the only one that's actually suffered an absolute cut in its budget. With your overarching responsibility for tackling inequalities, how are you ensuring that the budget as a whole is directed towards this important subject of tackling inequalities?
Thank you very much, Chair, and I know you will have seen my written evidence, which deals with all the budget lines. But, can I just say from the outset that the social justice MEG has not received a budget reduction? The budget has increased from the indicative budget for 2023-24. Again, I think it's important for the record, really, that our indicative budget for 2023-24 and our baseline for this financial year was £122.685 million and this has increased by £19.372 million to £142.057 million. So, it's an increase of £15.7 million. In fact, that's due to allocations from the reserve, for £22 million. I'm very happy to share that. I've got it for myself. You have to work it out through the written evidence, but I very much want to share that with you.
I think what's happened in terms of the financial situation is I got this uplift during the year but it was non-recurrent. It was a significant amount of funding in terms of the cost-of-living crisis that was emerging during the year. In fact, it was £116.9 million, and it was provided during the year as a package of cost-of-living support. It was for one year only, on a non-recurrent basis, so that explains the difference. I think this is a really important point for me in terms of what I have been able to do with my budget with that uplift, which is an important uplift. I think the most important thing was to not just protect but uplift to recognise the importance of the discretionary assistance fund on a recurrent basis, and it's really good that it's now in the baseline—£38.8 million.
Crucially important, I'm Minister for Social Justice, but all our Ministers have had the responsibility to look at the cost-of-living crisis. We had that as a key criterion when we looked at the reprioritisation leading up to this budget that produced £100 million across the whole Government. Cost of living was crucial to get that funding support, but also, through the budget improvement programme, tackling poverty, every Minister having to look at that, across the Welsh Government. I have to say, it includes really important additional funding that is going into next year as a result of the co-operation agreement extension of free school meals to all primary school children. To me, that's absolutely critical in terms of tackling poverty, and that is coming through. Also in education is the uplift of £9 million to the pupil development grant, because, in terms of the attainment gap, we know that actually focusing on deprivation has been crucial. There's the uplift to Flying Start as well. Much of that Flying Start and the childcare offer, which was in our programme for government, uplifts the real living wage for social care workers, as well as an uplift in housing for £10 million.
I've looked at all my colleagues, and not just their evidence, but all their budgets, and we've discussed it at a Government level, to see that social justice has to influence every budget heading in the Welsh Government.
Okay. So, the figures that you show in the table in your written evidence, which were, with the supplementary budget, £276 million, are now £184 million. That's because of the one-off amount that was in your budget to do with the winter fuel support scheme—is that right?
Yes. It's non-recurrent funding. I won't repeat it, but it's £116.9 million in revenue terms. Obviously, if you're looking at the draft budget in terms of what it was anticipated in the indicative budget to the time of the spending review—that's for 2023-24—to what is actually emerging, it is that uplift of 15.7 per cent. It is a small budget for the Minister for Social Justice, so securing that £18.8 million additionally—. It was £20 million, the discretionary assistance fund, wasn't it? That is what it would have been indicatively. We've increased it by £18.8 million, based on what we've been paying out this year for the discretionary assistance fund. So, I'm baselining it. That explains, I think, the difference between the current and the non-recurrent for revenue.
Okay. Thank you very much for that. I'm going to now move on to, indeed, the area of cost-of-living support measures. Sioned.
Diolch, Gadeirydd. Mae Cyngor ar Bopeth Cymru wedi dweud os nad yw Llywodraeth Cymru yn parhau â chynllun cymorth tanwydd Cymru, yna mae angen iddi gael cynllun i wresogi—[Torri ar draws.] Ydy e'n gweithio?
Thank you very much, Chair. Citizens Advice Cymru has said that if the Welsh Government is not continuing the Wales fuel support scheme, then it needs to plan to heat—[Interruption.]
Is it not working?
No, it's breaking. Let me get—. Have I lost it? It's gone back. Diolch. Sorry.
Dim problem. Roedd Cyngor ar Bopeth Cymru yn dweud os nad yw Llywodraeth Cymru yn mynd i barhau â chynllun cymorth tanwydd Cymru, yna mae angen iddi gael cynllun i wresogi cartrefi aelodydd incwm isel na fydd yn cael cymorth mwyach. Felly, a ydy Llywodraeth Cymru yn bwriadu gwneud hyn ac, os felly, sut?
No problem. As I was saying, Citizens Advice Cymru has said that if the Welsh Government is not continuing the Wales fuel support scheme, then it needs to plan to heat the homes of low-income households who will no longer receive that support. So, does the Welsh Government intend to do this and, if so, how?
Well, I think the response to the cost-of-living crisis—we've taken a very strategic approach to this. When the First Minister made that statement back in September, setting up a cost-of-living Cabinet committee, which has been meeting regularly—weekly, in fact, before Christmas—and engaging with stakeholders, and it's a cross-Government committee, it was clearly recognising that we needed to respond to the cost-of-living crisis at all levels. I think this is where we come back to the fact that—.
The winter fuel support scheme was one really important—a one-off, albeit—initiative that we were able to take alongside, actually, the £150 cost-of-living payment, which came via the Minister for Finance and Local Government. That was £150 that came out last year as well. It's been really important, the winter fuel scheme this year. Just to, again, up the record from the last Tuesday, at my cost-of-living statement, I said 290,000 payments have been made as a result of the winter fuel support scheme. And I'm also very keen to acknowledge the role of the partnership with the Fuel Bank Foundation for people on prepayment meters. But we recognise that these were just two ways in which we were trying to address the cost-of-living crisis, because it isn't just about tackling fuel poverty, it's also tackling food poverty as well.
This goes back also to the summits that we held, supported by Maureen and her officials, meeting not just with energy advice charities, Citizens Advice, but also the Trussell Trust, the Child Poverty Action Group, to look at the whole picture of the terrible situation where we are, where it's a heating or eating dilemma for so many people. So, it's actually looking at what we've been planning—and it is a plan—through the last few months, through this last year, is how we have, from a cross-Government approach, with my portfolio, with my budget, been putting money into tackling food poverty—that's £2.5 million this year; again, in the draft budget, it's recognised next year—but also seeing that all of the other contributions that can be made by other Ministers are also factored in, and I won't go through all of that again.
But I just wanted to say as well, just in terms of fuel support, the UK Government really should be taking the key responsibility in terms of the fuel support scheme, and I think it's worth—. And I wanted to share perhaps with you, Chair, the identification we've got of what's coming from us, in terms of support—the fuel support scheme—and who's been eligible, and what the UK Government support is, because it is changing for next year. In fact, we extended eligibility, for example, to pension credit this year and to disability benefits. Next year, actually, from the UK Government, those who stand to gain the most additional support from the UK Government are in receipt of pension credit. It's worth looking at comparisons of what we've done, what the UK Government has done, and what they're projecting to do for next year.
My role, as cost-of-living key Minister, if you like—but the Cabinet committee is chaired by the First Minister—has been to look at every aspect of work, and that does include supporting the credit unions, putting more money into credit unions to support them, particularly up until Christmas, and you know that we've given them the support for more risky loans; supporting the 'Claim what's yours' campaign, the 'Here to help' single advice fund, to make sure people are claiming every entitlement; and, meeting with the energy providers, taking up the issues about prepayment meters, the unfair situation where people are being forced to be put on prepayment meters. I'm working at every level, and with colleagues, to address the cost-of-living crisis. I'm focusing, yes, on fuel and energy issues, but also on all these other aspects, which are very much linked to the tackling poverty agenda that we're driving forward together.
But, obviously, I would say, the UK Government has got the key powers in terms of tax and benefits. So, throughout the year, and you will be aware of how I've raised these issues with the UK Government—. We got a very poor settlement: we're £1 billion lower for the next year anyway, in terms of the impact of inflation, and also lower in real terms in terms of the settlement with the autumn statement. So, we've been in a really difficult time, since the finance Minister said, more than once, 'hard times for a really hard budget'. But, clearly, our plan—planning—has been absolutely robust in every way in which we can have an influence on supporting people through these difficult times.
Diolch, Weinidog. Wrth gwrs, rwy'n derbyn hynny i gyd, ond ŷn ni yn gwybod, ac mae yna rybuddion wedi bod dim ond yr wythnos yma, fod costau ynni yn mynd i barhau i fod yn uchel, a'r hyn glywon ni gan Cyngor ar Bopeth yw bod dyledion ynni yn un o'r prif bethau maen nhw yn gorfod delio â nhw ar hyn o bryd. Mi wnaethoch chi ddweud yn eich ateb blaenorol eich bod chi wedi buddsoddi mwy yn y gronfa cymorth dewisol, a'r hyn ddywedoch chi oedd bod y cynnydd yna yn seiliedig ar beth rydych chi wedi bod yn talu mas eleni. Wrth gwrs, dŷn ni yn disgwyl y bydd y galwadau yn fwy, yn enwedig yn sgil y ffaith y bydd cronfeydd eraill, fel cynllun cymorth tanwydd Cymru, yn dod i ben. Felly, ŷch chi'n credu bydd y dyraniad ychwanegol ar gyfer hyn—ar gyfer y gronfa cymorth dewisol—yn ddigonol, o ystyried y lefelau 'uchel iawn', fel gwnaethoch chi eu galw nhw yn eich papur, o alw presennol?
Thank you, Minister. Now, of course, I accept all of that, but we do know, and there have been warnings this week, that energy costs will remain high, and what we heard from Citizens Advice is that fuel debt is one of the main issues that they're having to deal with at the moment. You said in your previous response that you had invested more in the discretionary assistance fund, and what you said was that that increase was based on what you've been paying out this year. Now, of course, we do expect the demands will be greater, particularly given the fact that other funds, such as the Wales fuel support scheme, will come to and end. So, do you think that the additional allocation for the DAF will be sufficient, given the 'very high' levels, as you described them in your paper, in terms of existing demand?
Diolch, Sioned. Well, the discretionary assistance fund has proven itself; it's been absolutely crucial as a lifeline to people. And, again, I think I gave quite a bit of information last Tuesday, in terms of the cost-of-living statement I made. But I think it's worth, again, looking at how has that benefited people this year, and that's what we've based our budget bid on, if you like, which we secured. In this financial year, more than 200,000 people have been supported by the fund, with over £23 million in grants awarded to those in the most acute financial situation, and more than £14 million in emergency cash payments, and actually it increased over Christmas, not surprisingly, in terms of the demands on the discretionary assistance fund. So, that additional £18.8 million is what we anticipate will help meet the need—given it was £20 million indicatively over a year ago, it’s now £38.8 million.
But also, I do think we need to look at all of those other ways as I’ve just described—I won’t go over them—that we’ve got to meet people’s cash needs, and this is about the fact that we’re supporting foodbanks, and food partnerships, and also access to free school meals, free childcare through Flying Start, et cetera. So, yes, the discretionary assistance fund will be really important to people, but I will say again, we do need to put pressure on Ofgem and the UK Government to introduce a social tariff.
These are issues where the UK Government could make a difference, and I’m sure the committee would support me on that, and also make the representations that I have done about the unfair way in which people are treated on prepayment meters, and having to pay standing charges even if they aren’t able to feed their meters. Also, the UK Government’s support for energy bills could be improved substantially. But I would also say that, alongside that, why aren’t they increasing child benefit? Why have we got the two-child benefit limit? Why is it, as the First Minister said, that many people who have gone to the discretionary assistance fund are people who are waiting for their universal credit, the five-week wait? These all interact on how people are going to fare next year.
Diolch. Wrth gwrs, y peth arall sy’n mynd i gynyddu yw’r galw am gyngor, ac rŷch chi wedi dweud yn eich papur chi fod y sefyllfa economaidd bresennol yn golygu y bydd y galw, yn enwedig am gyngor ar ddyledion, yn cynyddu dros y flwyddyn nesaf. Mae hynny’n gyson â'r dystiolaeth rŷn ni wedi’i chlywed fel pwyllgor. Felly, ŷch chi’n teimlo bod y dyraniad i’r gronfa gynghori sengl yn ddigonol i ddiwallu’r angen cynyddol yma? A pha lefel o hyblygrwydd sydd yna i gynyddu’r cyllid os oes angen, gan wybod pa mor bwysig yw’r gwaith ataliol y mae’r gronfa yna yn gallu ei wneud?
Thank you. Of course, the other thing that will increase will be the demand for advice, and you’ve said in your paper that the current economic situation means that demand for advice, particularly debt advice, will increase over the next year. That’s consistent with evidence that we’ve heard as a committee. So, do you feel that the allocation to the single advice fund is sufficient to meet this greater demand? And what level of flexibility is there in increasing funding if required, knowing how very important that preventative work done by the fund is?
The fund, as you say, Sioned, is crucial, it’s preventative. It’s also about entitlements. I always feel that 'Claim what's yours' is the best way to describe the campaign that we’ve got. We’ve looked at it further and are saying, 'This is here to help you through the cost-of-living crisis.' So, yes, I do think it is sufficient in terms of what we’ve got in the budget for next year, based on the spend this year, but I think there are others who are also giving advice. What’s been interesting about the way we’ve worked as a cost-of-living Cabinet committee, we’re working very closely with local government, and they themselves provide a lot of advice. Some of them have actually had their own advice givers alongside Citizens Advice, for example. Registered social landlords are amazing—the housing associations—many of them have employed welfare teams to work with their tenants, and Shelter, so much of the third sector. So, this isn’t about instead of; this is about a partnership of advice giving.
Just to say quickly that, actually, we’ve been saying also that anybody who comes into contact with anybody, for example credit unions, who are seeking loans or advice could link into a benefits calculator. There are many schemes that you will be aware of as a committee where you can literally go through—I can’t think of the names of any of them, but you can probably remind me, Maureen, of one or two.
I can’t offhand, but just to say we are working on a Welsh language one as well, so we can actually put it on our website, and it will sit alongside the DAF front page.
Because basically anybody—even if you’ve got someone in public services, housing, health—they should be able to check out if people have got their benefit entitlements. So, I do think we’ve got the right budget level. But, let's face it, just looking at figures, this year—well, since January 2020—our single advice providers have helped people claim additional income of £83 million and had debts totalling £23 million written off. So, the importance of debt advice—and you've done that great inquiry on this—and 'Claim what's yours', you can't underestimate it. But, the budget is there.
Thank you, Minister.
Okay. 'Claim what's yours' is very important, but only half of local authorities are passporting through automatically things like the winter fuel payments from the Welsh Government to social tenants. What are about the other half? Why are they not doing that?
Yes. I was really glad that you asked that question—I think, perhaps, it was you Jenny, Chair—during my cost-of-living statement last week and, in fact, at our Cabinet committee last Monday, when I reported back that only 11 out of 22 authorities were actually automated. So, you know that we're working with not just local government but also the Bevan Foundation particularly to develop—. Well, we have a best practice toolkit already for local authorities, but we're working on this benefit charter. The benefit charter is about sets of principles about how we want to deliver benefits, but I've met with Councillor Anthony Hunt, who's the lead cabinet member for finance, and the Minister for Finance and Local Government is also looking at that. In fact, we were hoping to meet with leaders this week to raise it with them, but it is being raised by the Minister for Finance and Local Government. This is crucial that we can get this passporting and—. It is really getting that Welsh benefit system up and running in the most effective way, but I can assure you that it's right at the forefront of these wider plans that we have for tackling the cost-of-living crisis.
Okay. We look forward to all 22 doing what the good ones are doing. Sarah Murphy, you're going to start us off on tackling poverty.
Thank you very much, Chair. Thank you for being here today. This follows on quite nicely, I think, Minister, as you've just mentioned the Bevan Foundation. So, as well with the devolved Welsh benefits, the Bevan Foundation has called for the means-tested grants that make up to be increased with inflation as well from April 2023. So, what consideration did you give to this as a cross-portfolio approach to tackling poverty?
That is really important, and it goes back to the points that I've made in the whole draft budget setting, we've had meetings with all Ministers to look at what impact their draft budgets can have on tackling poverty. This is an ongoing engagement anyway in terms of the budget improvement programme and the strategic integrated impact assessment as well. Looking at poverty has been a key priority—tackling poverty. You can see that that is expressed in some of the budget lines that have been uplifted, for example, extension of policy like the free school meals and childcare welfare. But it has been, as you say, a really tough budget. So, I think the work that we're doing around the benefits charter, about 'Claim what's yours' and just to ensure that we raise these issues with the UK Government in terms of how we can improve benefit take-up is crucially important. It is very difficult to uplift at a time when the autumn statement gave us such a poor outcome, and also £1 billion lost in the budget.
Thank you, Minister. Following on, then, to another portfolio approach to tackling poverty, your paper mentions that you aim to publish a refreshed child poverty strategy in autumn 2023. So, will there be any additional resource allocated to this in the budget, or will it involve doing things differently, using existing funds?
I was pleased to be able to make a statement just before Christmas about the child poverty strategy. This is really important, and Maureen leads on this with colleagues. So, I've announced, and you will know the kind of timetable for this in terms of my child poverty progress report for 2022, just acknowledging the difficult times that we've had over the last three years, but giving that commitment to refresh the child poverty strategy.
It's really interesting, I went to a conference about human rights in Scotland—virtually—last year. And it was said there how impressed people were that we actually do have a Children and Families (Wales) Measure, back in 2010, which actually requires us to publish a strategy for contributing to the eradication of child poverty in Wales. So, that's in statute, and we have a responsibility to get this right. So, really, now, the timetabling—and we've been discussing this, haven't we, Maureen—is about engaging with stakeholders, and you maybe want to just say a few words about that. But before I ask Maureen to say that, can I just say, yes of course, we then have to look at how this is going to inform budgets, and, probably, a lot of it won't just be my budget—it will be budgets across the Government?
Yes. So, in terms of the child poverty strategy timetable, we're consulting Cabinet this month, to get the go-ahead to go forward with it. We've already been consulting some key stakeholders, like the Bevan Foundation and the children's commissioner, on this, but we plan broader engagement, in two phases. So, phase one will take place from February through to April, and that will be a really wide engagement with a lot of partners and stakeholders in the private, public and third sectors. Because what we want this strategy to do is not just say what Welsh Government can do, but how we can all work in partnership to deliver this as a joint effort. Because if we're going to tackle poverty in Wales, then it needs to be more than Welsh Government standing up and doing stuff. So that will then lead to the development of a more formal consultation document, which we propose to consult on between May and August of this year. And then, by the end of the year, we'll publish a joint strategy for the whole of Wales to work towards, to tackle child poverty in particular.
Perhaps I could just quickly also say that, when I came in last May, with this portfolio, I met with the children's commissioner, the Bevan Foundation, to ask them, 'Well, what are the key priorities for tackling child poverty?' looking towards getting this moving now, in terms of the strategy. And I recall the then children's commissioner saying the roll-out of free school meals—and we got that with the co-operation agreement—and then, raising other things, like raising this issue about the two-child limit on child benefit. But also, I remember the Bevan Foundation saying that the healthy start voucher was crucially important. Now, this is a UK Government voucher, it's really important; there's not a good take-up, and Jenny, probably, Chair, you will know this. So that's with Lynne Neagle. So, it is very much a cross-Government responsibility.
Okay. Thank you. And finally, you've already touched on this in terms of fuel poverty, and I do appreciate that this is not your specific brief, Minister, but given the energy-inefficient nature of Wales's housing stock, and the increasing number of Welsh households who are living in fuel poverty, could you give us any insight into why the overall budget for the fuel poverty programme has only increased by £5 million?
Well, the total budget—. Yes, it is the Minister for Climate Change, and I'm always very pleased that it's so cross-cutting, and being responsible for tackling fuel poverty in its wider policy aspects. How we can tackle energy efficiency and fuel poverty budgets is crucially important. But the total budget for the three-year spending is £100 million. So, again, every pound, every million pound, certainly, that has been secured for this draft budget has been hard to secure because of the pressures. So I don't—. It is an increase of £5 million on the £30 million, so it's £35 million. And I think we've got to recognise also that, over the last 12 years, we've invested £394 million in improving home energy efficiency. It's interesting, we've talked about advice, energy efficiency advice, very much coming through the Warm Homes programme as well—160,800 people; I think I've given you this information in my written evidence. So, it is increasing the Warm Homes programme budget, and it will have a difference next year. But also then, there's the optimised retrofit programme as well, and energy company obligations—they're all going to make a difference. So, it's not just that one line in terms of the budget expenditure line for the Minister for Climate Change.
Thank you very much, Minister. Thank you, Chair.
Okay. Can I just go back to school food? I just wondered what consideration the Government's given to raising the threshold for eligibility for free school meals—you know, setting aside the universal free school meals in primary school, which obviously takes time to achieve that. But, if we raise the eligibility for free school meals, that would include more families who are on the edge of eligibility.
I think I'm going to have to refer to the Minister for Education and Welsh Language to answer that question. Perhaps you'd like to—. We can do that and come back to you, because I'm sure there'll be questions. I mean, I think it's very interesting as well that we haven't mentioned free school breakfasts, which I've always felt—this goes back a long time to our first decade, when we brought those in—how important free school breakfasts are, and increasingly so. But also, at the moment, you'll be aware that the Minister for education is piloting a free school breakfast for year 7, which I think is really good in terms of that transition to secondary school. But we will get there, unless you can answer this question, Maureen.
I can't answer the question in full, but just to say that I know that they're really looking at it, because I've been asked to chair a cross-Government group looking at eligibility for the education food provision more broadly, and that group is meeting for the first time later this week. So, I'm not aware of the totality of it at the moment, but just to set up that group that is going to look at it.
Thank you. We'll write to the education Minister to find out. Had you finished your questions?
Yes, thank you, Chair.
Very good. So, if I could now bring in Jane Dodds, please.
Diolch yn fawr iawn, a phrynhawn da i chi i gyd hefyd. Dwi eisiau gofyn cwestiwn ynglŷn ag effaith y gyllideb ar bobl dlawd, os gwelwch yn dda, a'r penderfyniadau dŷch chi wedi'u gwneud ynglŷn â'r gyllideb. Mae gen i ddau gwestiwn, os ydy hynny'n iawn. Mae cwestiwn 1 ynglŷn â grwpiau fel menywod a phobl sy'n anabl a sut mae'ch penderfyniadau chi wedi cael eu gwneud, yn enwedig ynglŷn â'r dystiolaeth dŷch chi wedi'i chlywed. Dŷn ni wedi clywed o fudiadau fel Chwarae Teg, y Runnymede Trust a Leonard Cheshire am effaith yr argyfwng costau byw ar bobl fel menywod a phobl anabl. Ac felly, a gawn ni jest clywed tipyn bach mwy am sut dŷch chi wedi gwneud y penderfyniadau yn y gyllideb ynglŷn â'r dystiolaeth dŷch chi wedi'i chael, ac effaith yr argyfwng costau byw? Diolch yn fawr iawn.
Thank you very much, and a very good afternoon to you all. I want to ask some questions on the impact of the budget on poverty and the decisions that you've made on the budget. I have two questions. The first is on groups such as women and people with disabilities, and how your decisions have been made, particularly in relation to evidence. We've heard from organisations such as Chwarae Teg, the Runnymede Trust and Leonard Cheshire about the impact of the cost-of-living pressures on people such as women and people with disabilities. So, can we just hear a little bit more about how you've come to your decisions in the budget and the evidence that's informed your decision making on cost-of-living support?
Diolch yn fawr, Jane. They are really important questions that I've been asking over the last year, particularly in relation to the cost of living Cabinet sub-committee: what impact, particularly, is the cost of living having on women, disabled people and black, Asian and minority ethnic people? Fortunately, also, as you know, I chair ongoing forums—we've got the Wales Race Forum and the disability equality forum, and also the gender review road map group and Women's Equality Network Wales. So, I've been asking the question, but then evidence has come forward, as you say, from Runnymede Trust and Chwarae Teg as well.
So, this has linked us very much to some of the initiatives that we're taking, like the 'Anti-racist Wales Action Plan'. I mean, I've had special meetings with the Wales Race Forum about the impact of the cost-of-living crisis, which is very much feeding in, I have to say, not just to budget issues but to policy issues like the child poverty strategy. We've got the 'Locked Out: liberating disabled people's lives and rights in Wales' task force, which is meeting, but the disability equality forum has really drawn attention to issues around fuel and food poverty as well. And I think I mentioned particularly disabled people, because evidence that's has come out—. Because, of course, the issues about work and heating for disabled people has come out very strongly. And I think that's had to be addressed in our strategic integrated impact assessment as well, which has accompanied this and been very important. So, I think, at every level—. And, also, my colleagues in the Welsh Government have looked at this so that they can consider those impacts very much alongside the mainstreaming work of those action plans. I mean, for example, disabled people: we extended the eligibility of our winter fuel support scheme this year for disabled people in terms of receiving disability benefits and personal independent payments. They didn't get it in the previous winter fuel support scheme, so they were able to get it this year, which was really important. But also, recognising the impact on single parents. Often, I think, as far as women and carers are concerned, the real living wage for the social care workforce, which is very gendered, has been really important.
Diolch yn fawr iawn. Os mae'n iawn, dwi eisiau gofyn cwestiwn i ddilyn ar ôl hynny. Un o'r problemau rydyn ni wedi clywed amdani ydy sut mae pobl yn gwybod am beth maen nhw'n gallu cael ynglŷn â grantiau ac yn y blaen. Felly, sut ydych chi am sicrhau bod pobl fel menywod, ac yn enwedig pobl anabl, yn gwybod yn union beth maen nhw'n gallu cael ynglŷn â'r grantiau ac yn y blaen? Oes yna ran o'r gyllideb sy'n edrych ar fynd allan neu gysylltu efo pobl i wneud yn siŵr eu bod nhw'n cael y grantiau ac yn y blaen? Diolch yn fawr iawn.
Thank you very much. If it's okay, I'd like to follow up on that. One of the problems that we've heard about is how people are informed as to what they qualify for in terms of grants and payments and so on. So, how will you ensure that people like women and particularly people with disabilities know exactly what they're eligible for in terms of grants and payments? Is there a section of the budget that looks at engagement with people to ensure that they are in receipt of these moneys?
Thank you very much. Well, that sort of follows up very much the responses to Sioned Williams earlier on about our 'Claim what's yours' campaigns, the role of those who are giving advice, the single advice fund, Citizens Advice, local authorities, and all those engaging. I mean, obviously we fund a lot of third-sector groups—Disability Wales is just one example—and I think, in my written evidence, I've talked quite a lot about the social model of disability and the fact that this is about entitlement. For example, in that written statement, we're already investing in remuneration for community mentors. That's under development for next year. And, looking at all issues relating to access to services, independent living, travel, affordable and accessible housing, which has budget implications for other Ministers. So, it is crucial that we link those. In terms of those with protected characteristics, that's interesting in terms of the single advice fund because they have to show us, as we monitor them, how they're reaching out to people with protected characteristics particularly. So, I would say that the discretionary assistance fund is going to, again, be a vital source of support for those in the coming year. Let's face it as well: we're trying to counteract debt, stop loan sharks, support our credit unions. They have all got to be mindful of what we have exposed in terms of our anti-racist action plan and work with disabled people and Women's Equality Network Wales and the fact that they have got to focus and target those underserved groups and people with the funding that we give them.
Diolch yn fawr iawn. Ac wedyn un cwestiwn arall, ar fy mhwnc ffafr, hynny yw'r peilot incwm sylfaenol i bobl ifanc efo profiad o'r system gofal. Does dim angen i mi ddweud mwy heblaw gofyn a ydy o'n iawn os ydych chi jest yn dweud yn union beth yw eich rheswm chi i gario ymlaen efo'r peilot yna, yn enwedig pan mae yna bwyslais ar y gyllideb. Diolch yn fawr iawn.
Thank you very much. And then just one further question on a favourite subject of mine, the basic income pilot for young people who are care experienced. I don't need to say much more other than to ask you to tell us exactly why you're continuing with that pilot, particularly when there are so many pressures on your budget. Thank you.
Thank you very much, Jane. I think, in my written evidence—I was looking at it again—I included this very much under preventative spend. I mean, there's all sorts of reasons why, as you know, we're backing the basic income pilot, but if you want to be clear why it should be a priority, it is a preventative spend. It's empowering our young care leavers, and I don't need to convince you of that, because I know of your support for it. And it's an extremely vulnerable group of young people. It goes back to the Chair's first question to me about, 'How are you actually reaching out? How are you, in your draft budget submission, reaching out to vulnerable people?' I just want to say one thing about the basic income pilot, which is that we weren't sure what the take-up would be, so that gave us a margin in terms of budgets. Actually, the take-up has been running around 97 per cent, which is excellent, but obviously we need to make sure that we can fund that. So, that's reflected in the budget.
Diolch yn fawr iawn. Diolch yn fawr iawn, Cadeirydd. Yn ôl i chi.
Thank you very much. Thank you, Chair. Back to you.
Just one question from me before we move on to the next subject. The capital budget for Gypsy and Traveller sites, there is a reduction in that amount of money, and I just wondered whether that's going to produce a shortfall in demand. As we're now in quarter 4, how much of that capital that was allocated for this year has actually been drawn down?
I think as far as the capital is concerned for the Gypsy, Traveller and Roma allocation, it's exactly the same. I don't know whether Claire or Maureen can help me with that. Claire.
I'm not sure of the exact figures, but spend this year has been not the full budget on the capital budget. For lots of different reasons that the committee will be aware of, it's quite a complex area to progress projects in partnership with both residents on sites and also with local authorities. So, it's one of the areas that's a priority for us for this coming financial year, to try and step up our engagement and support, working with people to bring forward projects, though it remains quite a challenging area to bring projects through successfully, and a source of significant frustration to communities where that's not happening in a timely manner.
Given the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, which criminalises people on unofficial sites, can you write to us with exactly what's been spent to date so that we can see whether the reduced capital budget is sufficient?
Yes, no problem.
I've just found a note to myself about Gypsy, Roma and Traveller—£3.19 million capital. We'll say what the take-up is. But can I also refer you to—? Well, you'll be aware of the Local Government and Housing Committee review on this. I don't think we've had a debate about it yet, but their report is really powerful in steering us. It's reflected in the anti-racist Wales action plan, because that is helping us identify ways in which we can develop our support to have transit accommodation, working more regionally, and also recognising—this is very cross-Government—that the education and Welsh language MEG includes £11 million for education for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller. So, again, we have to make sure that, across the Government, there is commitment to this.
Thank you for that. But we'd like to see the figures.
Moving on, Sarah Murphy has got the next question.
Thank you very much, Chair. I'm going to ask some questions now about strengthening equalities and promoting human rights. To begin with, has the Welsh Government undertaken any costings on what level of funding is needed to incorporate the United Nations convention on the rights of disabled people into Welsh law, and whether this is reflected anywhere in the draft budget?
Thank you very much for that question, Sarah. This is, I would say, ongoing work in terms of how we get to that point—that point, which we really want to succeed on, where we could incorporate the UN conventions across the board. We've got the commitments in the programme for government in terms of the rights of disabled people, but we'd like to go beyond that. This is very much a policy answer, I have to say, at this stage, because it is about the fact that we've set up a human rights advisory group as a result of the research we did on strengthening and advancing equality and human rights, which was published in 2021. We've got the human rights advisory group, we've got a working group, a sub-group of that, including external legal support, to actually look at what the legislative options are. Until we can see how we can do this legislatively, we're not going to be in the position of costing. So, I suppose, at the moment, in terms of my teams—and working very closely with the Counsel General on this, Mick Antoniw, the Minister for constitutional affairs—we are working in the Welsh Government to progress this to the point where, certainly in years to come, not necessarily next year, we will need, then, to bring the costings into the budget.
I think we need to move on, because we need to focus on the budget.
Thank you, Minister. During last year's budget scrutiny session, you told the committee that £20 million had been allocated to deliver the Wales anti-racist plans. Have any changes been made to this budget in light of the reprioritisation exercise undertaken by the Welsh Government, and, if so, what impact will this have on meeting the goal of an anti-racist Wales by 2030?
I have already mentioned the influence of the anti-racist Wales action plan on the budget across the board in relation to some of the questions that have already been asked. It's very much a cross-Government implementation, because every Minister has actions in relation to the anti-racist Wales action plan. So, that includes references—. And, again, just taking account of all my colleagues, and the evidence they've been giving to committees, it's reflected in the way in which the Minister for Climate Change secured an extra £10 million in terms of homelessness prevention. And, in her evidence, she's actually identified the needs of vulnerable people—young people, but also ethnic minorities—and the way we've been addressing the needs of refugees and our Ukrainian guests.
So, housing—I'd say, also, you will be aware that there's been a spend already, last year, in terms of the work of Gaynor Legall and Charlotte Williams. We're talking about heritage, we're talking about education now in terms of the curriculum. This is all—. And all of these actions, like just what we've been discussing, the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller—.
Health—it's interesting that, in health, there's an action and a budget impact. The health Minister is looking at health inequalities, addressing barriers to accessing services, and one of the six areas of focus is the anti-racist Wales action plan. This all means funding and action.
I suppose the £4.5 million for culture, heritage and sport, perhaps, is—. The Deputy Minister has already made a statement about that, which is important. And the local government Minister—she's got actions with local government, and she, in her evidence, also identified funding coming out of her transformation and legislative BEL. So, I think it's actually a good question to test me on—is this £20 million reflected across the whole of the Welsh Government, including my commitments to it?
Thank you very much. And, finally, I'd like to ask whether this budget includes funding for the delivery of the LGBTQ+ action plan, which is expected imminently in February 2023.
I thank Sarah for her question. From the outset, we are working to plan that the LGBTQ+ action plan will be published next month as part of LGBT History Month. Funding to work on the action plan itself in 2022-23, and the ongoing related actions on the diverse social justice portfolio, are contained within the equality and inclusion budget expenditure line from the MEG.
The plan is a cross-Government plan. So, whilst this is the portfolio that leads on the work from an equality perspective, and from the LGBTQ+ rights perspective, a lot of those actions have been agreed cross-Government by other Ministers. So, they've been agreed with the view that the funding is there to support us achieving those objectives as outlined in the action plan.
But, it might be helpful, perhaps, just to touch on the sort of areas that are being funded through this MEG. So, through that equality and inclusion budget, we have provided £456,000 as part of work to complete the actions outlined in the plan under this portfolio. That covers things such as that we were really pleased to be able to support Pride Cymru last year, and also be able to support those smaller grass-roots Prides, which I think makes a big impact to communities right across Wales. We're pleased that we are able to continue to fund not just Pride Cymru in the future, but actually launch a new fund that will be able to actually support further grass-roots Pride activity right across Wales for the coming year as well.
Brilliant. Excellent. Thank you very much, and thank you, Chair.
Okay, fine. If we could now move on to a brief question about the Ukraine humanitarian response. Sioned Williams.
Diolch, Gadeirydd. Jest cwestiwn cyflym ynglŷn â'r Wcráin a'r gefnogaeth mae Llywodraeth Cymru wedi bod yn ei rhoi i'r rhai sydd wedi gorfod ffoi rhag y gwrthdaro. Allwch chi roi mwy o fanylion i ni ar sut bydd Llywodraeth Cymru yn bwriadu parhau â'i chefnogaeth i ffoaduriaid, os oes angen llenwi bylchau yng nghyllid Llywodraeth y Deyrnas Gyfunol? A fydd y gyllideb ddrafft yn cael ei hadolygu i roi cyfrif am hyn, neu ydy Llywodraeth Cymru yn mynd i neu yn ystyried yr hyn gallwch chi ei alw'n strategaeth ymadael?
Thank you, Chair. Just a brief question on Ukraine and the support that the Welsh Government has been providing to those people who've had to flee the conflict. Can you give us some more details as to how the Welsh Government is planning to continue with its support for refugees, if there's a need to supplement gaps in UK Government funding? Will the draft budget be revised to account for this, or is the Welsh Government considering what you might describe as an exit strategy?
Well, clearly, support for Ukrainian refugees, Ukrainian guests, the people fleeing the conflict in Ukraine, is absolutely a strong commitment as part of our nation of sanctuary, and it's ongoing, and it takes us forward into the next two years. But, as you say, we're very worried about where the UK Government is on this. You can imagine, my small budget—. This time last year, we hadn't any idea that we would be having to find the funding that we have to support our welcome centres, and for the next two years we've allocated £40 million in the budget for next year and £20 million for the following year, anticipating that this, working very much with local authorities, will meet what we've committed ourselves to in terms of supporting all those who've got visas through our supersponsor scheme, but also just helping our hosts as well, as we do a lot with Housing Justice Cymru, and working with local authorities in terms of rehousing, which is obviously crucially important—through my statements, you will know our commitment to take this forward—but also making strong representations to the UK Government, which I do with my colleague, the Scottish Government Minister, because they've cut the tariff for next year to local authorities; there's no indication of anything for year 3. I mean, sadly, this war is going on, we see no resolution, and we are determined to help Ukrainians who are fleeing that conflict to Wales. It's obviously something that we will monitor, and you will monitor, I know, through scrutiny, and evidence that I can give, but I'm looking forward to a meeting with the UK Government Minister in the next couple of weeks to again press the need for this. This budget has been drafted on the basis of what we feel we need to actually underline our commitment ongoing as a nation of sanctuary.
There is a considerable number of people who've been granted visas who have yet to arrive. Are you expecting a large number of people to arrive? I mean, it's difficult to know how the war's going to go, but would you be able to fund it? I think we should focus on the money. Would you be able to fund it if all the people who've been granted a visa turn up?
Well, we are actually—. I think there are 2,400 visas, but it's still very unclear where people are in the system. We're very much dependent on the Home Office giving us the data, working with them at official level, to see whether they will actually come to Wales. Actually, they're quite slow numbers, I think, Claire, from looking at our latest figures, aren't they, coming through over Christmas.
Yes, and I know that colleagues—. I don't lead on the Ukraine work any more, but, colleagues who do, I was speaking with them last week. We've been able to do a bit of data cleansing in terms of the numbers of visas that haven't been processed, so Home Office have been able to indicate some of the ones that definitely won't progress. And the modelling—. Basically, because we've got more experience now of what's actually happening in the real world, we can kind of see when the last numbers of individuals are likely to travel, barring any very significant event in the region, which obviously could change things. So, the budget that has been requested was based on our understanding of the numbers of people we would be likely to be supporting in Wales and the sort of support that they'll need for the duration of time that they're in Wales.
Okay. So, the budget you've allocated you think will be sufficient, as far as you're aware.
Yes, subject to any major event.
Subject to—. We can't look into the—.
And perhaps just, very quickly, to say that, of course, this is very much linked to homelessness prevention as well and the grant, the Minister for Climate Change's work, for everyone in housing need, to develop transitionary accommodation, and there is funding for that as well.
Fine. Thank you. Could I now bring in Ken Skates, who has got some questions about the voluntary sector?
Thanks, Chair. It's good to see you, Ministers. Just on the voluntary sector, how do budget allocations support core funding for the third sector, given the cost-of-living pressures and the sky-high demand for services?
Well, just again for the record—and thank you very much, Ken, for the question—I have allocated £6.98 million core funding to Third Sector Support Wales, and that of course includes the WCVA, the Wales Council for Voluntary Action and the 19 county voluntary councils. And it is core funding, and it's particularly important that we recognise the pressures on the voluntary sector in terms of the cost-of-living crisis. They've got a lot of demands on them in terms of need for services as well as energy costs. I was pleased, actually, that there was a question, I think, to the First Minister last week about what's going to happen with the lowering of the support for charities as well as businesses from April, from the UK Government. But I think the £6.98 million core funding is crucial to help. And that's from me; I have to say, of course, that other Ministers, as you will know, Ken, also fund the third sector quite substantially, like, for example, the Minister for Climate Change funding Keep Wales Tidy, and health and social care a great many third sector organisations.
Yes, absolutely. And there's the national milestone of increasing the proportion of people who volunteer by 10 per cent by 2050. Are there allocations that you're able to point to that support volunteering and the work being done in trying to meet that national milestone?
That's a really important milestone. We had a great upsurge in volunteering during the pandemic, didn't we, and actually it's been quite difficult for volunteering to recover when people came off furlough and went back to work. And I think there are the pressures from the cost of living as well. So, we're developing support for volunteering. We've got a volunteering cross-sectoral leadership group at the moment. So, they've got a key role to develop that milestone. Just thinking about budget heads for this, you will remember that we give a grant to Tempo Time Credits. We've managed to keep that going, but also we've got the strategic element of Volunteering Wales, which is focusing on that milestone.
Lovely. Thanks. I think Jane—yes, Jane's got a supplementary.
Yes, thank you so much. It's just a very quick supplementary. One of the things we heard a lot about from voluntary organisations is about sustainability of funding over a period of years, to be honest, in order for them to plan their services. And I just wondered if you could comment quickly on this. Diolch yn fawr iawn.
Diolch yn fawr, Jane. Well, the third sector partnership council is really important. It's the forum—it's in statute, really. I chair it. And for many years, there has been a third sector partnership funding and compliance and good governance stream of work. So, that is looking at this, in terms of the sustainability of funding and moving towards three-year funding, where possible. This also has to be reflected in all our other public bodies that fund the third sector—local government, the health service, et cetera—so, sustainability of funding, particularly moving to three-year funding. But we're very much in the hands of the UK Government in terms of spending reviews et cetera. But that's a crucial part of the third sector partnership council work.
Thank you so much. Diolch yn fawr iawn.
When do you think that might be resolved, this desire, into something concrete?
I think, in a sense, it's ongoing. I'd be very happy to give the committee a bit of an update on that, if you like, in my correspondence, in terms of timescales. I'm not sure whether Claire might want to add something at this point.
[Inaudible.] So, there is an existing code of practice, and it's being revised by the sub-group of the partnership council. There's one on volunteering, and one sort of focusing on funding. And it's not just about the revision of the contents of the code of practice, it's about the actual practice in practice, if that's the right way of putting it.
Yes. Well, we're talking about the money at the moment.
And obviously, the voluntary sector's got hard times ahead, so clarity about when they might be able to get three-year funding would be useful.
And they do get it. I think that's the important thing. There are a number of areas and budgets, including ones in the Minister's portfolio, where organisations have been given three-year funding awards. It's almost, or should be now, the exception where there's not a three-year award. It might be because there's a review of the activity being undertaken required that means it's a shorter term one while that's undertaken. But, in most cases, we look to make longer term awards where that's feasible.
Okay, thank you. Moving on to health inequalities, can I call Altaf Hussain in, please? Sorry, I beg your pardon; I think Ken's going to go first. Sorry. Ken. Ken Skates.
Thanks, Chair. Regarding health inequalities, we know how much impact good-quality affordable housing can have in terms of health and life chances, so can you tell us a little about how work takes place across Government departments to ensure that spend on good-quality affordable housing is prioritised?
[Inaudible.]—Ken, and, again, this is very cross-Government, and my colleague Julie James, obviously, in relation to housing. I think it's really important that you can see in the draft budget record levels of investment in social housing grant funding, which is critically important in terms of that preventative approach, in terms of tackling health inequalities, because it is about health equalities and quality health and life chances. We're very fortunate that we've got Professor Sir Michael Marmot working with us quite a lot in the Welsh Government. He's certainly supporting our basic income pilot. He's an absolute expert on tackling health inequalities and socioeconomic inequalities, but of course we do also have other guidance.
But I think Julie James, I'm sure, if she was here, would be wanting to talk about the fact that she's got this extra funding for tackling and preventing homelessness, which, of course, leads to absolute destitution in terms of health inequalities, and she, at the last Cabinet sub-committee, was telling us how local authorities, using the funding that she's provided, can actually prevent homelessness. Because homelessness can lead to much greater cost. It's a preventative measure, if the local authority, for example, can prevent eviction. And no-one left out, the commitment to providing temporary accommodation, and also being able to help through the discretionary housing payments that were used way back on the dreadful bedroom tax—which is still with us; we forget, don't we, it's still with us—but it's a main homelessness prevention grant, and that's been increased into and been protected for the next year's budget.
Thank you. Last year you accepted our recommendation to commission and publish independent research to improve how the effectiveness and impact of preventative spend is measured. Are you able to give an update on the research, whether it was commissioned and completed, and whether its findings have been used in any way to shape spending decisions relating to preventative spend in this draft budget?
Thank you for that question, Ken. This is very much working in partnership with the Minister for finance, with her responsibilities in terms of the budget improvement programme. And also something that I haven't mentioned this afternoon, which has been very important in terms of getting extra and important expert advice, has been the implementation and establishment of our equality evidence units, our race disparity unit, our disability disparity unit. You will be aware, of course, of our equality evidence units, and they've come on board since we looked at that recommendation to see how we could take that forward. So, this is very much also linked to our budget improvement impact advisory group, which has, of course, got independent experts as well, key stakeholders. Therefore, this is very much a joint thing with the finance Minister, considering this case for, 'Do we need more expert advice?' We need to look at this in terms of international experts, which very much guided us with the tackling poverty agenda, and also looking at this in terms of ways in which the new areas of preventative spend that have come through the draft budget can be tested and measured. So, it's very much work in progress.
Thank you, Minister. Altaf.
Thank you very much. Thank you, Minister, and good afternoon. Given the Welsh Government's evidence to the Senedd's Health and Social Care Committee states that
'action on health inequalities is mainstreamed across the breadth of Welsh Government activity and budget allocations',
can you tell the committee what specific outcomes have been achieved and what specific measures will you deliver as the Minister responsible for equality to start tackling this challenge?
Thank you very much, Altaf. It does pick up on some of my answers to earlier questions as well in terms of tackling health inequalities and also looking at some of the mechanisms that we've got, and, with the Minister for finance, some of the tools. So, I'm interested in the fact that we have got the distributional analysis, which was developed by the Minister for finance. I think it's worth looking at the response to the cost-of-living crisis, in the analysis was done on household incomes, because we want to, as you say—. We need to look at the impact of what we're doing—what are the outcomes of this funding and our strategies and our policies? I think it is worth—it's still regarded as current to now—looking at that distributional analysis, which actually looked at the cost-of-living support payment, the winter fuel support payment and the discretionary assistance fund and seeing what impact they had. The strategic equality impact assessment has to play that role to see what the outcomes are. That's the real test, isn't it, of our draft budget?
Thank you very much. Chair, can I ask a general question?
Yes, go ahead.
Thank you very much.
Minister, earlier you said that there has not been a great reduction or a cut in your budget. The real-terms reduction in your supporting communities budget line is 59 per cent down, by £86 million, compared to the last financial year. Can the Minister explain how this decision was reached, what impact it will have and which schemes supported last year will not be supported this year?
I think—[Interruption.] Sorry?
It's the winter fuel support scheme.
Yes. Sorry, Altaf—Maureen was just coming in to advise me there. But this does go back to the earlier questions we had about clarifying why we had this £116.9 million of funding, which was one-off and non-recurrent, which came into this financial year—£90 million of that was the winter fuel support scheme, and so this was one-off funding that we had. We also got a bit of money for—it's probably worth just sharing this with committee; you will have seen it through my written evidence—. Well, actually, that also includes £15 million for the discretionary assistance fund, which we, of course, reinstated into the draft budget for next year. It included some money for the WLGA to tackle food poverty—£1 million. We have got a food poverty BEL taking us forward into the next financial year. It included £1 million for Gypsy, Roma, Traveller digital services, which is ongoing now, and that enabled Gypsy, Roma, Travellers to use Wi-Fi on sites, et cetera, and it also included £1.5 million for migrant integration.
When you're in a budget position as a Minister during the financial year, things emerge. We didn't anticipate not only the Ukrainian crisis but also the depth of the cost-of-living crisis, although it was clearly with us with austerity for 13 years. You have to ensure that you can secure funding—some of it's very small, and some of it will actually do what is needed on a one-off basis—and also reflect what is the priority. Our priority that came through that we could manage to secure was the discretionary assistance fund.
Thank you, Minister.
Okay, thank you. I just wanted to look at one specific aspect of the Government's intervention in the justice system, in particular the decision to increase the amount of money for PCSOs this year. Given that this is not our responsibility and this is a very, very difficult budget challenge, can you just explain to us what's the rationale for that?
Clearly, when we were looking at our draft budget preparations, we looked at it from the perspective and the clarity of our programme for government commitments. A very clear programme for government commitment for me, alongside the basic income pilot, was the uplift for police and community support officers. We would be increasing their number from 500 by a further 100. This is something that we have been very committed to as a Welsh Government. Yes, it's not devolved. We would like policing to be devolved. In fact, the Senedd, the Welsh Parliament, has voted that policing should be devolved. We think that PCSOs are crucial in terms of the front-line role that they play in communities. They had an amazing role to play during the pandemic, as you know. We have, as a Welsh Government, over many, many years now, agreed that this is a priority we want to support. Indeed, in terms of the cost-of-living crisis and the way in which we work in community partnership across many of the areas of policy that we are developing, particularly in crime and justice, to pull out from the PCSOs commitment would have been absolutely the wrong thing to do. We have protected it. I have protected it to move forward as a draft budget. If we want to progress on the devolution of policing, the devolution of justice, we have to actually stick to our commitment to support our PCSOs.
What evidence can you point to that we're simply not helping other budgets be cut, as devised by the Home Office, I think it would be, wouldn't it?
Where our position is with the PCSOs is the programme for government. It's very much based on the values of community, equality and social justice. They are so engaged with all of the services that are devolved in terms of mental health services, community support, anti-racism. With all of the values of community, equality and social justice, the PCSOs are very much on the front line. That's why we believe that policing should be devolved anyway. I think that it is an investment that we felt—and I think the whole Government felt—was something that we should continue to secure.
Okay. Thank you. Sioned Williams.
Diolch, Gadeirydd. Cwestiwn gen i sy'n berthnasol i'r gwasanaethau ymateb brys. Yn y papur, rŷn ni'n gweld bod yna ostyngiad yn y gyllideb ar gyfer y gwasanaeth tân ac achub ac, yn benodol, y bydd hyn yn effeithio ar y cyfraniad sy'n cael ei wneud tuag at y system gyfathrebu Firelink. Felly, yn sgil y galw cynyddol ar gydweithio, yn sgil yr amgylchiadau economaidd o ran y gwasanaethau argyfwng, does dim dewis amgen, medd y gwasanaeth tân ac achub, i gymryd lle system Airwave, ac felly mae Gwasanaeth Tân ac Achub Canolbarth a Gorllewin Cymru, er enghraifft, wedi dweud wrth yr awdurdodau lleol yn rhanbarth yna y bydd y bwrn ariannol yn anorfod yn cwympo i'r awdurdodau lleol, ac rŷn ni'n gwybod eu bod nhw mewn dyfroedd dyfnion o ran y bwlch yn eu cyllidebau nhw. Felly, hoffwn i gael eich sylwadau ar hynny. Beth oedd y rhesymeg y tu ôl i'r penderfyniad yma? Beth ŷch chi'n meddwl fydd yr effaith ar wasanaethau? Ac ydych chi erioed wedi ystyried, efallai, y syniad o greu asiantaeth ar gyfer gwasanaethau brys er mwyn rhannu costau cefn swyddfa, er enghraifft, neu gydlynu?
Thank you, Chair. I have a question that relates to the emergency services. In the paper, we see that there's a reduction in the budget for the fire and rescue service and that this will particularly impact the contribution made towards the Firelink communication system. So, in light of the increasing demand for collaboration, given the economic circumstances in terms of the emergency services, there is no alternative, according to the fire and rescue service, to replace the Airwave system. So, the Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service, for example, have told the local authorities in that region that the financial burden will inevitably fall on local authorities, and we know that they are in deep water as regards gaps in their own budgets. So, I'd like your comments on that in terms of the rationale behind this decision, and what you think the impact will be on services. And have you ever considered the idea of creating an emergency services agency so that, for example, back-office functions could be shared, or co-ordination functions could be shared?
Diolch am eich cwestiwn.
Thank you for your question.
Just to clarify, it refers to the grant that's been fixed—the £1.640 million since 2011-12—and it's a contribution to the three fire and rescue authorities' service fees for the Firelink operational communication system. The intention was that this grant would cease when the Firelink was shut down at the point it would transfer to a new emergency services network system, but that has taken longer than anticipated. I fully take on board the points the Member raised in terms of the challenges—any cut from one place adds to elsewhere—but, as my colleague Jane Hutt has said previously, there are some really tough decisions we've had to make in the current climate.
I'd just outline, really, that one of the challenges for us in terms of the fire and rescue services is that the way we fund them in Wales is different than elsewhere as well, and we wouldn't ordinarily directly fund front-line fire and rescue services or equipment. So, based on those tough decisions we've had to make, what we've done is prioritise making sure we are still supporting the revenue for our community fire safety programmes, whether that's working with young people, like the Phoenix Project, or the general thing of going into people's houses and making sure that they are safe and well, which I think is going to be all the more important if people seek to make changes as a consequence of the cost-of-living crisis as well. We can make sure that support is there for them.
One of the things I would say is that we're more than happy to continue—. We regularly meet with the fire and rescue authorities in terms of the challenges that they face across the piece, particularly looking at the retained services as well. Just for clarification, too, broadly I understand that the contribution that they make is less than 1 per cent of the fire and rescue authority's total budget, and I should, as a result of the—. I've not seen the letter that mid and west Wales has written to their constituent local authorities, but they have an option to pass on that cost. I understand it would mean an increase to the levies of 0.95 per cent. Like I said, there have been really difficult decisions to make and we've prioritised where we can support those community safety services, but also things around national resilience and additional capital funding for that to actually support things—the rising challenges of climate change in communities across Wales. But I do meet regularly with the fire and rescue authorities, and also the representative bodies, and I'm due to meet with them again at the end of this month.
Diolch. Am wn i, mae e'n rhywbeth roedden nhw wedi dweud yn eu llythyr a oedd yn annisgwyl, ac felly, efallai, pan fydd rhywbeth yn annisgwyl, byddai cael rhywbeth fyddai'n rhyw fath o daper dros dro, neu rywbeth wedi cael ei 'phase-o' i mewn, wedi bod yn haws iddyn nhw ei reoli. Dyna eu hawgrym nhw.
Gadeirydd, ydw i'n gallu gofyn rhai cwestiynau am VAWDASV? Jest cwpwl o gwestiynau ynglŷn â thrais yn erbyn menywod, cam-drin domestig a thrais rhywiol, felly. Weinidog, rŷch chi'n nodi yn eich papur fod y cyllid wedi cael ei ddiogelu i fynd i'r afael â VAWDASV, ond rŷn ni'n gwybod, wrth gwrs, fod codiad chwyddiant o 1.6 y cant yn cyfateb i ostyngiad mewn termau real mewn cyllid. Felly, jest eisiau gofyn i chi ydw i sut ŷch chi wedi ystyried goblygiadau ymarferol pwysau cyllidebol ar gyflawni ymrwymiadau'r rhaglen lywodraethu mewn perthynas i fynd i'r afael â thrais yn erbyn menywod? Ydych chi'n teimlo y bydd rhai gwasanaethau yn gorfod cael eu cwtogi, rhai cynlluniau yn gorfod dod i ben neu gael eu gohirio? A beth fydd hyn, wrth gwrs, yn meddwl i oroeswyr?
Thank you. That's something that they said in their letter that was unexpected, so, perhaps, when something is unexpected, having some sort of temporary taper, or having something phased in, might have been easier for them to manage. That was their suggestion.
Chair, can I ask a few questions on VAWDASV? I have some questions on violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence. Minister, you note in your paper that funding has been protected to tackle VAWDASV, but we know, of course, that an inflationary uplift of 1.6 equates to a real-terms decrease in funding. So, I'd like to ask you how you've considered the practical implications of budgetary pressures for the delivery of the programme for government in relation to tackling violence against women? Do you feel that some services may have to be scaled back, some programmes may have to be delayed or even stopped? And what will this mean for survivors?
Diolch yn fawr, Sioned. I'm very mindful of the fact that the cost-of-living crisis is having an impact on the VAWDASV specialist sector. It follows on from the questions about the impact of cost of living on the voluntary sector; it is the third sector. It is an uplift of 1.65 per cent, and, in terms of looking at some of the other tough decisions I've had to make, in terms of the draft budget, it's an increase of £130,000 from this year's budget. I think what's important is learning from all the strategic groups in this specialist sector on the best ways of allocating that money, and I've prioritised funding for the regions and the specialist services that we directly fund. We've increased their allocations by 5 per cent and 4 per cent respectively. So, this is, I think, an example—and Altaf's question earlier on about impacts—of actually learning where we should target that funding, and, in fact, we have actually had some very positive responses about the way that we've targeted that funding in difficult times. So, I've got a lot of confidence in the way forward with our new national strategy, which we published in May of last year, and the partnership board, which I co-chair with police and crime commissioner Dafydd Llywelyn, in terms of how we allocate that funding. It does go back to the preventative spend as well, which I've mentioned, of course, in my written statement. The underlying principles of our work streams—. We're widening the perspective in terms of working to tackle violence not just in the home, but in the street and in the workplace as well. It's a key area of my portfolio, and we do recognise that this is something where we've had to make decisions, but we've consulted, and that's why this kind of move towards regional funding, I think, commissioning specialist services, has been welcomed.
Diolch. O ran, wedyn, cynlluniau newydd—. Yn eich ymateb chi i'n hadroddiad ni ar drais ar sail rhywedd ac anghenion menywod mudol, fe wnaethoch dderbyn yr argymhelliad, wrth gwrs, i sefydlu cronfa argyfwng fyddai'n darparu cymorth ariannol i fenywod heb hawl i gyllid cyhoeddus. Felly, o ble mae'r arian yna ar gyfer cronfa argyfwng yn mynd i ddod? Sut y bydd yn cael ei hariannu, o ystyried bod yna £0.89 miliwn yn llai yn y llinell wariant yn y gyllideb VAWDASV ar gyfer 2023-24?
Thank you. In terms of new plans—. In your response to our report on gender-based violence and the needs of migrant women, you accepted the recommendation to set up a crisis fund to provide financial support to women with no recourse to public funds. So, where will that money for a crisis fund come from? How will it be funded, given that there is £0.89 million less in the VAWDASV budget for 2023-24?
Well, I have allocated £130,000 to the VAWDASV revenue budget for 2023-24, which, from an indicative budget, which we've just commented on, the £7.875 million to £8.005 million, it's going to be—. We are scoping the fund. I think that was part of my response to the recommendation from your really important inquiry. So, we were committed to the fund; it will be paid out of our VAWDASV BEL for 2023-24. We'll make sure that that allocation is there to deliver. I think it's really important, and there's been some recent publicity about the plight of women in this situation in England particularly, so an absolute commitment to you that that fund will be funded by us through the revenue budget.
Diolch yn fawr. Diolch, Cadeirydd.
Thank you. Thank you, Chair.
Okay, thank you very much. Obviously, the budget overall of the Welsh Government is a much reduced sum of money compared with what we'd expected to see, even in last November's autumn statement, and I just wondered if you could point to anything that is being done that's just completely different. So, for example, has any consideration been given to amalgamating the emergency services into one organisation, so that the fire service works with the ambulance service and other emergency services, so that all their back-office expenses are pooled? That's one example, but there are many other examples that I could give.
I think that's a question for the whole Welsh Government, and particularly for the finance Minister. But I think work has been done on this front, and probably Hannah's the best one to answer it.
So, there are examples where they are working more closely together, and jointly, whether that's shared emergency communication, for example—. The phrase eludes me, but in north Wales, St Asaph, there's a shared communication control headquarters there, between the police and the fire and rescue services as well. And you can see how that actually not only—. From your perspective in a budget scrutiny session, you'd expect that could have financial savings, but actually, operationally it has an impact too, in terms of building those relationships, and when they come, perhaps, to the scene of an incident, there's already that relationship between the various different blue-light services. One of the things we are trying to do across Government—and it's probably not for this scrutiny committee now—is work on broadening the role of firefighters, to better work closely and use the skills that they have to support the health services in Wales as well. But, clearly, any change also costs money as well, so we need to take that into consideration on the whole. But I completely take your comments on board, Chair, in terms of the potential for this, perhaps, as we move forward.
Okay. Another holy grail is the sharing of back-office costs of all the different commissioners who will come under your portfolio, Minister. So, what influence does Welsh Government have in encouraging the various commissioners to think of sharing the back-office costs of their roles, so that they have more money for front-line delivery?
You'll have seen how I'm supporting the commissioners in the draft budget to ensure that they're resourced appropriately. I'm very pleased to have that question, and it's the sort of work that we can take forward in terms of the challenging times. It's been most important in this draft budget to make sure that they are properly resourced. We've got new commissioners on board, and coming on board, and, again, following your previous question, we need to look at every way and opportunity and option to ensure that we're using our resources most effectively, and back office is obviously one of the ways. We have a huge shared services outfit, as you know, in the health service. Local government has some shared services now, which is of course very cost-effective, but it's useful to have that feedback from you in terms of a question on the commissioners and their offices as well.
Okay, thank you. And lastly from me is really how you set out your budget so that it can be scrutinised in terms of impact, and also alignment with the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) 2015 Act. Can you provide us an example where a funding decision was changed in relation to the draft budget after completing the strategic integrated impact assessment?
It's crucially important, the strategic integrated assessment arrangements. I remember, going back when I was finance Minister, what a challenge and an opportunity it is, because it is about assessing impacts, and now we've got the well-being of future generations Act's five ways of working to drive continuous improvement, and a focus on prevention, which has really been driven by the outgoing future generations commissioner. It's got the sustainable development domains at the heart of it.
So, obviously in terms of analysing impacts, I've mentioned distributional analysis already, and we can see the impacts through the strategic integrated impact assessment, but I will again look forward to embedding the well-being of future generations Act. We've got a new commissioner coming on board, but also new roles for the commissioner's office. I think that's really going to be a challenge, but also an opportunity, which I know this committee will be engaged in. We've got to improve transparency for the budget, we've got to reform how we assess impact, and we've got to maintain equality at the heart of our budget process.
Thank you very much. Thank you very much, Ministers and your officials, for your presence today. Obviously, we'll send you a transcript to ensure that we've captured your remarks accurately, and also there are one or two follow-up issues we'll pick up with you in correspondence. Thank you very much.
So, the committee will now move back into private session.
Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 17:00.
The public part of the meeting ended at 17:00.