Y Pwyllgor Cydraddoldeb a Chyfiawnder Cymdeithasol
Equality and Social Justice Committee27/02/2023
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
|Jane Hutt AS||Y Gweinidog Cyfiawnder Cymdeithasol|
|Minister for Social Justice|
|Paul Neave||Pennaeth Cyngor Lles Cymdeithasol a Pholisi'r Adran Gwaith a Phensiynau, Llywodraeth Cymru|
|Head of Social Welfare Advice and Department for Work and Pensions Policy, Welsh Government|
|Susan Lloyd-Selby||Arweinydd Rhwydwaith Cymru, Ymddiriedolaeth Trussell|
|Network Lead Wales, Trussell Trust|
Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol
Senedd Officials in Attendance
|Angharad Roche||Dirprwy Glerc|
|Rachael Davies||Ail Glerc|
|Sam Mason||Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol|
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 11:30.
The committee met in the Senedd and by video-conference.
The meeting began at 11:30.
Bore da, bawb. Welcome to the Equality and Social Justice Committee. We are continuing our inquiry into the impact of debt post the pandemic. We have had no apologies for today. All Members are present. Are there any declarations of interest? Sarah.
I am a member of the Bevan Foundation and Bridgend Lifesavers Credit Union.
I'm also a member of the Bevan Foundation and a member of the credit union in Neath.
I'm also a member of the Bevan Foundation—recently reinstated—and I'm also a member of the Cardiff and Vale Credit Union. Are there any other declarations? I don't see any. Moving on, this is a bilingual meeting and simultaneous translation is available from Welsh to English. All the proceedings are available on Senedd.tv.
I'd now like to welcome Susan Lloyd-Selby, who's the lead for Wales of the Trussell Trust network. Thank you very much indeed, Susan, for joining us. I just wondered if I could ask you the first question. I'm just going to get my notes. Could you just tell us which groups of the population have been most affected by food poverty over the recent months and whether you expect this to get worse or better in the next few months?
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to come and address the inquiry this morning, and thank you for the question. You'll have seen from our written evidence submission that, sadly, foodbank use in Wales increased significantly in the first six months of this year. Wales saw a 38 per cent increase, which was the highest increase of all the UK nations. Our research and our stats show that there are people within the population that are disproportionately impacted by poverty, and particularly at the moment by cost-of-living increases. Our foodbanks would be seeing significant numbers of people with a disability, families with children, not surprisingly, but also here in Wales we do see a significant number of people who are working and whose income and circumstances are simply not sufficient for them to meet their essentials, and so they're having to turn to foodbanks for support.
Some of our other witnesses, two weeks ago, talked about the 'new poor' joining the people who'd always been poor and this cost-of-living crisis is the latest challenge being thrown at them—that there was a new set of people who were feeling almost like a rabbit in the headlights and that they'd never been in this situation before. I wondered if you have noticed that amongst the people who use foodbanks.
Yes, we have. I was looking at some of the messages that have come in to some of our local foodbanks over the last week. These are just some examples. Somebody contacted us to say, 'I'm sorry to ask for help, but please can you help my sister? She's waiting for money to go into her account but it won't be there for five or six days. I'm struggling myself, and I can't help her. She hasn't got any food and she's got no money for a train to get to you. Is there anything you can do to help her get food?' And another message: 'Can I ask how I can get help, please, if possible? Me and the family are on our knees trying to find help. I don't know what to do. Thanks in advance and God bless you.' Those messages are indications of people who've never used a foodbank before, and don't know how to go about getting help with their financial crisis. Our stats—that huge 38 per cent increase—are an indication that there's a whole group of people who've never found themselves in this situation before and simply don't know where to turn. Often, they'll turn to a foodbank as the first port of call because the desperate need is to get food on the table. The way that we work in our network is we respond to that immediate need for food, but what we're also doing, which we think is absolutely critical, is having the conversations with those people to make sure they're accessing advice and support for their financial crisis to make sure that they're claiming everything that they're entitled to claim, because often people aren't, to make sure they're getting help with managing their debt, if people are struggling with that and have never had anybody to help them. It's a whole package of support to help them get through the crisis that they're facing. But yes, we are seeing people turning to us for the first time.
Obviously, there's been a significant increase in the demand for your services. Could you tell us whether the contributions from the community and from the large food suppliers who donate food that's surplus to their requirements have managed to keep up with demand?
It's a mixed picture. Across the network as a whole, foodbanks in the last three months of last year were purchasing about 9 per cent of all the food that they received in order to cope with demand. But I was looking at the stats over the weekend, and, for example, in January, Anglesey foodbank had to purchase 28 per cent of all their food, because donations weren't keeping pace with the demand that they were experiencing. It's patchy. In Cardiff in January, they didn't have to purchase any food, because they had sufficient stock and people had responded to the messaging around increased demand. Blaenau Gwent, I think, had to purchase 15 per cent of the stock last month.
Sometimes, it may be that a foodbank is sitting on a lot of stock, but it's not the right stock. They might be sat on lots of tins of beans, and they need milk to give to people. So, it is patchy. Communities across Wales are astonishingly generous despite the pressures that they're experiencing. But the reality is, as demand continues to increase, as all families are experiencing pressure as a result of cost-of-living increases, it is difficult for donations to keep pace in some areas. We're aware that for some foodbanks, that may make long-term sustainability a challenge.
But to date you've not had to turn anybody away.
No. We talk to our foodbanks all the time about the pressures that they're facing. For example, through the winter, we offered every foodbank in Wales a £5,000 emergency grant payment to enable them to buy food if they needed to to keep pace with the demand. That grant stream is open again for all the foodbanks. We have those very close connections, and we know if any of our foodbanks are in danger of falling over. None of them are at the minute, but, obviously, if a foodbank is having to rely on purchasing 30 per cent of its food, that will be something we will be keeping a very close eye on to make sure that the foodbank wasn't in the position where it had to turn anybody away. Thankfully, we're not doing that yet.
Thank you, Susan. I'd like to bring in Jane Dodds first of all.
Diolch yn fawr iawn, Susan. Dwi'n gobeithio eich bod chi'n clywed yr iaith Saesneg wedi ei chyfieithu ichi. Diolch yn fawr iawn am ddod i roi tystiolaeth inni heddiw. Dwi'n ddiolchgar iawn am y gwaith rydych chi'n ei wneud, ond ddylem ni ddim fod yn ddiolchgar iawn achos dylech chi ddim fod yna, i ddweud y gwir. Rydyn ni wedi clywed bod y rhifau wedi bod yn cynyddu dros flynyddoedd ac yn ddiweddar dros fisoedd, sy'n siomedig iawn, yn fy marn i. Ond dwi ishio jest ei roi o ar y record yma yn y pwyllgor: beth yn eich barn chi a'ch profiad chi fydd yr un peth fydd yn effeithiol i wneud yn siŵr bod llai o bobl yn mynd i fanciau bwyd?
Thank you, Susan. I hope that you can hear the English through the translation. Thank you for giving us evidence today. I'm grateful for the work that you do, but we shouldn't be grateful, because you shouldn't be doing it, in all honesty. We've heard that the numbers have been increasing over a number of years and in recent months as well, which is very disappointing, in my view. But I just want to put on record in this committee: what in your opinion and in your experience would be the one thing that would have an impact in terms of ensuring that fewer people were going to foodbanks?
Thank you for the question. It’s difficult to say there’s one thing. Our research shows that it’s often an unexpected crisis in life that can result in somebody needing to turn to a foodbank. That might be somebody losing their job; it might be a relationship breakdown; it might equally be that, for example, the DWP has made a mistake in somebody’s benefit payments and they’re then having to make a repayment, and that can plunge them into crisis; it can be an unexpected bill. So, it’s very difficult to say that there’s one factor. We know that there are several factors that can plunge somebody into a financial crisis that means they need to turn to us. And often it is those unexpected events that people don’t have the opportunity to plan for and take steps to respond to that mean they’re in immediate crisis and need an emergency food parcel.
Gaf i ofyn jest un cwestiwn byr ychwanegol? Felly, yn eich barn chi, dydy o ddim ynglŷn â'r budd-daliadau mae pobol yn eu cael, er enghraifft. Roedden ni'n clywed ar y radio ac yn y wasg heddiw a ddoe bod y Trussell Trust wedi bod yn dweud bod yna rywbeth ynglŷn â budd-daliadau; yn eich barn chi, dydy'r prif reswm ddim ynglŷn â budd-daliadau.
Could I just ask one more brief question? So, in your opinion, it’s not about benefits that people receive, for example. We heard on the radio and in the press today and yesterday that the Trussell Trust had said that this is about benefits; but in your opinion, the main reason is not to do with benefits.
Absolutely not. No, absolutely not. The main reason why people are having to rely on emergency food aid and foodbanks is because their income is insufficient for food, and we know that it’s inadequacies in the social security system that are the primary driver of foodbank use.
For example, today with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, we’ve launched a new ‘essentials guarantee’ campaign, and we’re calling on the UK Government to introduce new legislation to make sure that nobody’s income falls below that minimal level. With JRF, we’ve estimated that that’s £120 a week for a single person. From April, it will be £85. So, that £35 gap in basic income is what’s driving thousands and thousands of people through the door of our foodbanks and through the door of other emergency food aid providers across Wales. That is the key issue, that people simply don’t have enough money in their pockets for the essentials.
It’s a crisis on top of that which is often a reason why people have to turn to us for the first time, but we are seeing people who've had their income maximised, who’ve done everything they can to ensure that the income they get goes as far as possible, and the reality is, it simply isn’t enough. They’re in a deficit budget position, and therefore they have no choice but to rely on emergency food aid to get by.
We've got five more areas of questions to get through, so could you keep your questions brief and your answers brief as well? You don’t need to repeat what’s in your excellent paper, as we already have all that evidence. Sioned, did you have a—
No, Jenny. You asked the question I was going to ask about turning people away.
Thank you. Moving on, then, to Sarah Murphy.
Thank you very much, Chair. I’m going to ask some questions just to dig in a bit more about tackling food poverty in the current climate. We have heard evidence that people are saying at the moment it is 100 per cent worse than it’s been, even when we had that £66—it’s like, ‘Yeah, it’s great, we appreciate it, but it just doesn’t go far enough.’ That’s what people are telling us. They’re also telling us that their mortgage payments are doubling, and so something like an MOT coming out of nowhere and not knowing how much that’s going to cost, and it’s more than you expected, as happens—. These things are just knocking people. One person said that they had to ask their 19-year-old son for £45 as a result. So, how effectively is the Welsh Government helping to tackle food poverty in its response to cost-of-living pressures, and what impact does the support it provides have?
Thank you for the questions. I've already said that, unfortunately, Wales experienced the biggest increase of all the nations in the first six months of last year. We would say that the mitigations that Welsh Government has put in place through things like the winter fuel support scheme, the fuel voucher scheme, those mitigations, are very welcome. We know from our network that people are benefiting from them. What I'm not able to say is whether or not that has had an impact this year in terms of reducing foodbank use. So, we'll see that picture more clearly when we get to the end of the year and we produce our end-of-year stats. In the short term, those short-term mitigations clearly help people. In the long term, the evidence indicates that they're not sufficient to sustain people and lift them out of poverty and needing charitable food aid.
Thank you very much. And my second question, then, is: you have described in your written evidence and today that foodbanks are at breaking point. So, what more could the Welsh Government do to support foodbanks and potential alternatives through this period?
Yes, we're very clear that food is not the answer and providing food is a solution that risks embedding charitable food aid as a primary response to food insecurity. So, the single most important thing is to make sure that people are able to access advice and support with their financial crisis. And, in terms of the solutions that Welsh Government has put in place, wherever funding has been channelled through local authorities to ensure that emergency food aid is also orientated towards supporting people to access financial advice and support, that's the most effective way to address the current pressures.
Thank you very much. That's very interesting. Thank you, Chair.
Thank you. Altaf Hussain.
Thank you. Thank you, Chair. Susan, you have said that foodbanks are not the answer to tackling food poverty. What would you prefer to see, and what role can the Welsh Government play in delivering that over the longer term?
Yes, thank you for the question. I want to be clear that I've sat across the table from thousands of people who don't have food to put on the table for their children for tea, so in the immediate term, if somebody doesn't have any money for food, they need that food parcel, and we'll continue to provide that for as long as people need it. But, in the longer term, what we'd like to see is a plan to reduce and prevent the need for emergency food aid in Wales.
We recognise that—. I've already said that the key driver of food poverty and foodbank use here is the social security system, and those decisions sit largely with Westminster. So, we recognise that. Nevertheless, we think there's more that Welsh Government can do, and we would welcome Welsh Government considering introducing a national plan to prevent and reduce emergency food aid, because we think that will, importantly, help us to understand the scale of the issue here in Wales—Trussell Trust stats are only the tip of the iceberg. It will also bring key people around the table—critically, people with lived experience of poverty and charitable food aid—to identify the solutions that will reduce and prevent people finding themselves in that situation. We'd like that plan to include consideration of how Welsh benefits might be aligned more effectively to make it easier for people to access support, because we know that, at the moment, that can be a barrier to people claiming the things that they're entitled to.
Thank you very much. And what would you want to see in this plan, and how much impact is this plan likely to have without the UK Government making changes to social security?
Yes, as I said, we do recognise that—. We would not say to Welsh Government, 'We want you to introduce a plan to end the need for foodbanks in Wales', because that would be unrealistic. We definitely think there are things that Welsh Government could do. We'd like that plan to set out a road map for increasing the income people have to buy food and essentials. Some of that work has already begun here. The 'Claim what's yours' campaign is a very welcome approach to raising people's awareness of what they're entitled to. We'd like to see a plan set out, a way of improving access to cash, an advance in a crisis, particularly encouraging local authorities to take a cash-first approach to responses to crisis wherever possible. The steps that Welsh Government has taken to enable local authorities to make cash-first payments around free school meals are very welcome.
So, we think that there are already initiatives in Wales that could be built on and pulled together within a national plan that would make a difference. We absolutely want to see a plan focusing on prevention to avoid an immediate crisis becoming long-term hardship. And we also think that a plan should include a way of improving data sharing between Government at all levels, to ensure that there is a holistic approach and a holistic understanding of need, but also a more holistic approach to bringing local authorities and others together to address that need.
Thank you very much, Chair.
Very good. Ken Skates.
Thank you, Chair. You said that the cost-of-living support that's been provided so far has been temporary respite for households, but it hasn't helped them for an extended period of time. In that case, what approaches could support households over a longer period of time?
Thank you. As I say, those mitigations have been very welcome, but our stats show very clearly—and forgive me, I've already put this into the written evidence—that, for example, the cost-of-living payment resulted in a reduction in foodbank use in July, but then a significant increase again in August and September. So, we need to move towards longer term solutions.
One of the things that we've suggested, I think, along with the Bevan Foundation and others, is that it would be helpful to review the discretionary assistance fund and move that towards a rights-based emergency fund that's providing longer term support to people in crisis. And as I say, we think a national plan to reduce and prevent need will identify those longer term solutions that people need to lift them out of poverty. We hope that we can have a conversation with Welsh Government about our essential guarantees campaign, and the role that Welsh benefits may be able to play in that. We certainly feel that there is more work that could be done to make it easier for people to access the benefits that are available to them in Wales, and that that would be one of the steps that would make a difference to people in the longer term.
Lovely, thanks, Chair.
Okay, very good. Sioned Williams.
Diolch, Gadeirydd. Hoffwn i ofyn i chi am ychydig mwy o fanylion. Fe wnaethoch chi sôn yn y fanna eich bod chi eisiau gweld adolygu ar y gronfa cymorth dewisol. Gwnaethoch chi sôn yn eich tystiolaeth ysgrifenedig y byddech chi'n hoffi gweld rhyw fath o gronfa argyfwng Cymru yn cael ei sefydlu. Rydych chi wedi sôn ychydig yn y fanna eich bod chi eisiau ei weld e'n symud mwy tuag at rywbeth sydd wedi'i seilio ar hawliau. Felly, a allwch chi sôn yn benodol i ni sut rŷch chi'n rhagweld bydd hyn yn gweithredu? Beth yn union byddai'r newidiadau yn y gronfa cymorth dewisol fel y mae hi ar hyn o bryd rŷch chi moyn gweld, o ran efallai cymhwysedd, gwerth y taliadau, ac yn y blaen?
Thanks, Chair. I'd like to ask you for a bit more detail. You mentioned there about reviewing the discretionary assistance fund. You mentioned in your written evidence that you'd like to see a kind of Wales emergency fund being established. You mentioned there that you'd like to see it move towards being something that is rights based. So, could you mention how this will actually work in practice? What would be the changes to the discretionary assistance fund as it currently stands that you would like to see, in terms of eligibility and the value of the payments, et cetera?
Thank you for the question. I think the critical change—. I can't talk about the detail in terms of value of payments, but I would point you to the essentials campaign that we've launched today. And I think it would be really helpful to consider how the DAF, and, indeed, other means-tested Welsh benefits, might sit alongside universal credit to ensure that nobody's income falls below that level that we've identified as being critical to ensure that people don't fall into destitution. So, I think it's a more complex picture than me simply saying that we think that the DAF payment should be increased by x.
And I don't know whether the committee is aware that a number of organisations—the Bevan Foundation, ourselves, and others—have commissioned some research from Policy in Practice that is looking at this issue: how can Welsh benefits, including the discretionary assistance fund, be widened to reach more people in poverty? What changes might be needed, both in terms of level of funding, alignment, and access, to ensure that Welsh benefits are being maximised in terms of their impact for people who are experiencing long-term poverty and short-term crisis? And that research is being reported to the cross-party group on poverty this week, actually, so, forgive me if I'm not cutting into the detail. But I think we very much recognise that this is a complex issue, so, we're working together to commission that research to help us understand better the detail of exactly what might be needed and what that might mean if the discretionary fund, for example, was going to be reformed into a rights-based emergency provision.
Diolch yn fawr iawn. Dŷn ni'n deall bod yna newidiadau am fod ynglŷn â'r gronfa cymorth dewisol. Dwi ddim yn siŵr os ydych chi wedi clywed yn union o'r Gweinidog beth yw'r rheini, ond yn eich barn chi, beth fydd yn gweithio'n well ynglŷn â'r gronfa cymorth dewisol? Oes gennych chi syniadau, ac os ydych chi wedi clywed y manylion ynglŷn â beth dŷn ni'n deall ydy rhywbeth sydd am newid, oes gyda chi farn am hynny hefyd, os gwelwch chi'n dda?
Thank you very much. We understand that there will be some changes in terms of the discretionary assistance fund. I'm not sure if you've heard from the Minister what those changes will be, but in your opinion, what would work better in terms of the DAF? Do you have any ideas, and if you've heard any of the details in terms of what we understand will be changing, do you have a view on that?
So, my understanding is that a review is happening, but I haven't seen the detail on that, so I can only refer to my previous response, which is that we would welcome a move towards a rights-based approach. But we are ourselves waiting for the findings of the research, to help us understand what changes might be helpful. I will say that, anecdotally, the feedback that we receive from the network is that it can be complex to access the DAF, that it's not always clear why some applications fail. And perhaps that's to do with the fact that it's a discretionary rather than a rights-based approach, but it would be wrong of me to try and speculate on the detail, because I don't have that in front of me.
A gaf i jest gofyn un cwestiwn bychan ychwanegol? Ynglŷn â beth bynnag sy'n dod yn ei le, beth fydd yn ffordd dda i wneud yn siŵr bod pawb sydd angen rhywbeth ynglŷn â'r gronfa cymorth dewisol neu rywbeth—beth fydd yn ffordd dda i wneud yn siŵr bod pawb sydd angen hynny yn ei gael o? Ydy e trwy fudiadau fel eich un chi neu rywbeth arall? Dŷn ni'n poeni bod yna grwpiau o bobl efallai sydd ddim yn cael pethau fel yna. Felly, oes gennych chi syniadau beth fydd yn gweithio'n well?
Could I just ask one further question? In terms of whatever replaces it, what would be a good way to ensure that everyone with that need, whether it's the DAF or anything else, what would be the best way to ensure that everyone who needs that receives it? Is it through organisations such as yourselves or another way? We're concerned that there are groups of people who don't receive these resources. So, do you have an idea of what would work best?
We definitely need to simplify the approach to helping people understand what they're entitled to claim and how they go about claiming it. Two years ago, we asked a few foodbank managers in our network if they understood what the DAF does, and none of them had heard of it. I'm happy to say that they've all heard of it now, and a number of them are registered, so they can support people to make applications, and the DAF team have been fantastic at working with the network to raise awareness and help us to shift in that direction. But the system is complex, and for people who are in crisis—and bear in mind that we said at the beginning of this discussion that we're seeing a significant increase in people who've never used a foodbank before, so once they come through our door, or once they come through the door of an advice agency, then all of that information is available to them. But the challenge is: what about those people who haven't yet got to a foodbank or haven't yet got to Citizens Advice? We need to make it easier for people to know what they're entitled to. And the situation at the moment is patchy. So, for example, if you look at some local authority websites, they'll have information about financial support for people, including the DAF, right on the front page of their website. So, if people are looking to their council for support, front and centre, they're signposted to the DAF and other means of support; that isn't the case everywhere. And so, that kind of consistent approach to make it as easy as possible for people to understand what they're entitled to claim, those things are the things that can make a huge difference between people accessing support early enough and falling into debt, falling into crisis.
Thank you. Altaf Hussain.
Just a quick question: are there examples of work done by organisations in Wales or beyond that you think the Welsh Government should learn from to help households with food poverty?
Yes. I've got a very small list and I'm going to run through it really quickly, because I'm conscious that time has nearly gone. So, one of the things that we're doing as Trussell Trust is, over the next three years, we'll provide up to £1.7 million-worth of funding to foodbanks in the network to enable them to increase financial inclusion. And we'd very much welcome the opportunity to provide information back to the committee about the impact of that investment. We're doing that because we recognise that advice services are themselves overwhelmed at the minute, and so what we want to do is increase capacity in that area.
Many of those foodbanks are what we're calling 'pathfinder foodbanks', so we're working with them to do things in a different way, to try different approaches to establish more effective referral pathways for people to make it as easy as possible for them to access advice and support to lift them out of financial crisis. We've got 11 foodbanks in Wales that are receiving that funding, and we'd be really pleased to come back to you when the evidence around that begins to emerge.
In the Vale of Clwyd, we're in partnership with Mind and Citizens Advice to look at new approaches to support people with complex mental health issues who find themselves in financial crisis, because, again, we know that people with complex mental health issues are often people who find themselves having to rely on foodbank use over the long term. So, that partnership will look at new service design, new ways of supporting people in that situation to see if we can address some of those long-term complex issues.
And then we recently partnered with Leeds City Council and foodbanks in the city to pilot a scheme of cash grants in place of emergency food parcels. Again, we'd be very happy to share the findings of that piece of work with the committee, if that would be helpful. And we're also doing some work in Scotland, which again is looking at different approaches to providing cash to people, as opposed to food. And, again, if that would be of interest or help to the committee, we'd be very happy to share the detail of those pieces of work with you.
Yes, we'd definitely be interested in the results of those initiatives. Finally from me, I just want to ask you about the Well-Fed partnership in Flintshire, who gave evidence to us two weeks ago when you were unable to be with us. And their argument is that foodbanks often aren't able to provide people with products to make a meal—that they're individual pieces of food, but it doesn't make a balanced meal. They're moving towards providing whole meals rather than items that people choose—whole meals they have to cook at home, but whole meals that are subsidised because proper food is no longer affordable for about 30 per cent of the population is what they're arguing. And I just wondered if the Trussell Trust had considered that sort of approach to ensure that people are properly fed and, therefore, better able to deal with all the other challenges going on in their lives.
Yes. It's an important issue and it's one that we take really seriously. So, we work with nutritionists to ensure that all our food parcels are designed to enable people to produce meals for a period of time, whether that's three days, five days, seven days, however long the foodbank is issuing the food for. So, the items in the food parcel are specifically selected and designed to ensure that people can make meals from them. But the vast majority of our foodbanks are also working with organisations like FareShare—I know that Sarah Germain gave evidence to committee as well—so that they're receiving that surplus fresh produce to supplement the food parcels, because we're very aware that they're designed for short-term emergency support. And because of the situation that many people find themselves in, they're having to live on them for longer and longer periods of time. So, almost all the foodbanks in Wales have fresh produce that they offer alongside the standard foodbank parcel to make sure people are able to produce meals.
I should say that 95 per cent of the people who walk through our doors are facing destitution. So, those models of food provision that almost provide a step-up for people and enable them to buy food at a cheaper rate, are very, very helpful in the current climate, but, for the people that our foodbanks are supporting, the vast majority of them are facing destitution and don't have the money for those solutions. They are entirely reliant upon free food.
Okay, but have you looked at that model? Because, clearly, what it's trying to address is the fact that at least 60 per cent of the population never cook from scratch—they don't know how to cook from scratch and wouldn't know how to approach it. So, clearly there are bigger issues going on, just as you referred to with the relationship you've now got with Mind up in the Vale of Clwyd. Is this something that the Trussell Trust might be interested in thinking about delivering?
We have looked at it previously. We used to offer something called the Eat Well, Spend Less course to the network, which did just that. It brought people in and it enabled them to learn how to cook and how to put menus together, and it costed those menus. We definitely think there's value in that approach, but we also recognise that there are other providers and organisations around our foodbanks that are already doing that, and doing that very well. So, our focus is on those 95 per cent of people who are facing destitution, and our focus is on making sure that people get cash in their pockets to make those choices themselves.
Having said that, you will see foodbanks across our network that are very much doing the things that you're describing. In the Vale of Glamorgan they're working with probationary services who are providing hot meals for people. There are other foodbanks that are offering those cookery and budgeting courses, but it isn't an approach that we will embrace as a charity because, as I say, we think that others have got the expertise to do it better than us, and our focus is very much on the solution as cash in pockets.
Thank you very much indeed.
There's a declaration of interest that I should have made at the beginning. Whilst we're in public—I do apologise—I'm a newly registered volunteer with the Hay and Brecon foodbank. My apologies for not declaring that.
That's all right. Thank you.
Thank you very much indeed for all your very interesting evidence. We'd definitely be interested in anything further as a result of your new initiatives that you can give us in due course, because this subject isn't going to go away. In the meantime, we'll send you a transcript of what you have said, and please do take the opportunity to check that we've captured what you wanted to say accurately. Thank you very much indeed for your time.
Thank you very much.
We'll now take a short break until we return for our final session on this subject, which is with the Minister for Social Justice, and that commences at 12:45.
Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 12:08 ac 12:45.
The meeting adjourned between 12:08 and 12:45.
Prynhawn da. Welcome back to the Equality and Social Justice Committee, where we are now going to have our final session in our inquiry into debt and the cost of living. I'm very pleased to welcome the Minister for Social Justice, Jane Hutt, and Paul Neave, your head of social welfare advice and Department for Work and Pensions policy. Welcome, both of you. Jane Dodds is going to start the questions.
Diolch yn fawr iawn. Felly, mae'r cwestiwn cyntaf ynglŷn â'r rhaglen Cartrefi Clyd, os gwelwch chi'n dda. Rŷn ni wedi clywed gan y mudiadau rŷn ni wedi cael tystiolaeth oddi wrthynt, a hefyd rŷn ni wedi gweld ymchwil o wledydd eraill, ei fod o mor bwysig i gael rhyw fath o raglen sy'n helpu pobl efo ynni. Felly, gaf i ofyn beth ydy'r amserlen a beth ydy'r sefyllfa efo'r rhaglen, os gwelwch chi'n dda?
Thank you very much. So, the first question is with regard to the Warm Homes programme. We've heard from the organisations we've had evidence from and we've also seen research from other countries that it's so important to have some kind of programme to help people with energy costs. So, may I ask what's the timetable and what's the situation with regard to this programme, please?
Diolch yn fawr. As you say, the Warm Homes programme is vital. Indeed, the new iteration of the Warm Homes programme builds on the previous programme and it has already helped tens of thousands of households to reduce bills and energy consumption. The new Warm Homes programme, which you know is led by the Minister for Climate Change, is going to be a new demand-led scheme that will tackle fuel poverty but also climate change, as well. There won't be any gap between the provision of the new and the existing programme. I think that's the crucial thing; it has taken on board the experience, learning from the current programme and lessons learned, and it is still an existing programme. And then, of course, the consultation was crucial throughout 2022. I'd also say that the new scheme's going to reflect recommendations from this committee, because, obviously, there were recommendations from your inquiry, but also from the Climate Change, Environment and Infrastructure Committee, as well as all the audits that have taken place.
Diolch yn fawr iawn. Rŷn ni wedi clywed gan bobl sydd mewn sefyllfa dlawd nad yw cwmnïau ynni yn eu helpu nhw, ac mae hyn yng Nghymru. Trwy'r pwyllgor, rŷn ni wedi clywed wrth bobl nad yw'r cwmnïau ynni yn eu helpu, a dwi'n siŵr bod hyn yn rhywbeth nad ŷn ni ishio'i dderbyn. Felly, ro'n i ishio jest tsieco allan beth rŷch chi'n meddwl am hynny neu beth allwch chi ei wneud yma yng Nghymru i sicrhau bod cwmnïau ynni yn helpu pobl sy'n dlawd, os gwelwch chi'n dda.
Thank you very much. We've heard from those who are in very difficult situation with poverty that energy companies aren't helping them, and this is evidence from Wales. We've heard in the committee from people that the energy companies aren't helping, and I'm sure this is not something we're willing to accept. So, I just wanted to ask what your opinion was of that and what we could do here in Wales in terms of ensuring that energy companies do help people who are in poverty, please.
Diolch yn fawr. I've met with the energy companies in Wales on several occasions. The last time I met with them was in January. I met with them in order to ask them what they were doing to support their customers, many of whom are vulnerable. I've also questioned them on issues that are absolutely current and relevant now—for example, their use of prepayment metres. I've questioned them about whether they would not make the standing charge, because the standing charge also so disadvantages customers. In terms of the standing charge, it's really high for people on PPMs. I've pressed them to support a social tariff move, but I've also asked them what they are doing in terms of support and engagement for their vulnerable customers, linking to Citizens Advice, Advicelink and the single advice fund.
I've had more than one meeting with them. They have professed to want to support their most vulnerable customers, but I think the recent examples of the forced installation of PPMs has just shown that that hasn't stood the test in terms of the assurances I was getting from those who I met in terms of energy providers. I've met Ofgem more than once; I was hoping to meet them today, but my officials had to meet them, just about the price cap rise, but I've met the Ofgem board, who came to Cardiff, and expressed my concern about the fact that their powers do not seem to be having an impact, and should those powers be strengthened, and, indeed, how are they going to investigate the particular most recent examples of forced installation and the warrants that have gone out in terms of installing PPMs in vulnerable people's houses. The energy companies have got to be answerable.
Diolch, Cadeirydd. Allaf i jest ddod yn ôl yn gyflym iawn i'r rhaglen Cartrefi Clyd? Rydych chi wedi dweud, o ran yr iteriad nesaf, fydd yn cael ei arwain gan alw, fydd yna ddim bwlch rhwng y rhaglen bresennol a’r rhaglen nesaf, felly pryd yn union fydd y rhaglen nesaf yn dod i rym, sydd wedi'i harwain gan alw?
Thank you, Chair. Could I just come back to the Warm Homes programme? You've said that, in terms of the next iteration, which will be led by demand, there will be no gap between the current programme and the next programme, so when exactly will the next iteration come into force, which is going to be demand led?
Well, this is about going out to procure the new demand-led scheme. The Minister for Climate Change expects to procure this new demand-led scheme before the end of the year. So, there will not be a gap, but I think, in terms of procuring it before the end of the year, and the reassurance I've had that there would be no gap in provision between the new and existing programmes, perhaps it would be a good idea, Chair, if I could ask the Minister to clarify that point—end of the year procurement—because obviously it's in her portfolio. I've been assured it's going out, there's no gap, but procurement before the end of the year.
And we are talking the end of the financial year, is that right?
No, the calendar year.
I'm not sure if we are and I don't think, Paul, you'd be able to answer this, because it's not in my—
It's not in your area.
It's not in my area. But, clearly, my understanding is that it's the end of the—. I don't think it is the end of the financial year, but, apologies, I can't give you that.
I understand; it's not in your portfolio.
But I will—
We will write—
Will you write?
—to the Minister for Climate Change and find out, because we were understanding that the current programme ends at the end of March.
Well, 'before the end of the year' may be the end of March, but I'm afraid I can't confirm that today.
Okay. Well, there are other ways in which we can pursue this matter.
I think that the fact that there should be no gap has to be—. That's clear.
Fine, thank you for that. Before we move on to the next subject area for discussion, I just wanted to clarify that the scandal of the enforced prepayment meters, particularly by the very large British Gas—. They talk a good talk, but their actions say something different, and I just wondered whether you've had much contact with the Enforcement Conduct Board, because, clearly, British Gas have been employing people as debt collectors who do not comply with the regulations.
Well, yes, I think the Enforcement Conduct Board is very important to this, and, in fact, you launched them in the Pierhead building, I recall, last year, and I followed this up with the chair, Catherine Brown, if you recall. I met with her only a couple of weeks ago to say, 'What could you do as the Enforcement Conduct Board to ensure vulnerable households are safeguarded?' Because, obviously, this is a big issue in terms of debt anyway, that we're looking at their enforcement of other debt recovery services.
So, they discussed with me the fact that they want to raise with the UK Government that energy suppliers should only use debt recovery services that have been accredited to them. This is very early days for the Enforcement Conduct Board, and I think it would be really helpful if the committee also could either engage with the ECB again or, indeed, back that viewpoint that came very clearly over to me. They haven't had talks yet with the UK Government on this, and the accreditation of debt recovery services is still developing, but I have to say that the chair said to me that maybe this should be something for Ofgem in terms of whether they should get their licences if they haven't actually got debt recovery services that are accredited.
So, that's something that I think is a really important source of enforcement that we're certainly pursuing. I've said I would back the ECB's calls to the UK Government on this front, and to Ofgem, because, as I said earlier, at the moment it is clear that regulations, licensing, are not having the impact in terms of regulating a sector that is now causing a great deal of harm to people who need that energy supply. Obviously, I've also made the point about the fact that—you know, why is it that people can't have their water cut off, but energy can be cut off? We need to start looking at that as well.
Thank you. A brief intervention from Jane Dodds and then we'll move on to Sarah Murphy.
Jest cwestiwn ychwanegol ar prepayment meters hefyd, os yw hynny'n iawn. Roedd gennych chi'r fuel voucher scheme, fel rydyn ni'n deall, ac roedd yna arian ar gael ar gyfer bron 50,000 o'r vouchers. Fel rydyn ni'n deall, mae jest 5,000 ohonyn nhw wedi mynd allan. Beth sydd wedi digwydd ynglŷn â'r bwlch yna rhwng y rhif roeddech chi'n gobeithio ei gael a wedyn y rhif sy'n llai na hynny, a beth allwch chi ei wneud i sicrhau bod aelwydydd yn cael y vouchers, os gwelwch chi'n dda?
Just one additional question on prepayment meters, if that's okay. You had the fuel voucher scheme, as I understood it, and there was money available for almost 50,000 vouchers. As we understand it, only 5,000 of them have been sent out. What has happened with that gap between the number you were hoping to send out and the number that were sent out, and what can you do to ensure that households do get this voucher, please?
Diolch yn fawr. There are two voucher schemes that are really important at the moment. There's the UK Government voucher scheme for people on PPMs, and in fact I was just asking for an update. These are, if I could just mention it, the energy bill support scheme vouchers, which are for people—. Everyone else got the £400, but people on PPMs didn't get this, and there has been a public information campaign about this, which we have been backing and Citizens Advice have been backing, to say that—. Energy providers have had the responsibility to get these vouchers out to their customers, and I think the latest we've got from Ofgem is that the take-up of vouchers for traditional PPMs at the start of this month was 71 per cent. Energy suppliers can reissue the vouchers. This is something I raised with them when I met them, if people haven't taken up their vouchers—they claimed they'd sent them out, and they claimed all sorts of methods of reaching people, but they're now saying they can reissue vouchers. So, that's the UK energy voucher scheme.
As far as our Fuel Bank Foundation scheme, we actually took—. The scheme is on track. Just in terms of, again, the latest figures for the fuel voucher scheme, £4 million was made available to the Fuel Bank Foundation, and it's for the introduction of a fuel voucher and heat fund scheme. So, it's also people who are off-grid; people who are struggling to prepay for their fuel and could be at risk of disconnection. So, up to the end of January, the Fuel Bank Foundation had issued 11,022 vouchers to support those who weren't able to top up their prepayment meters, supporting over 29,290 people. A further 115 households have received help to purchase off-grid fuel—very important for rural areas.
So, key to this is actually having partners. So, they've got 90 partners now on board who can refer households for support. Those partners include national partners—Citizens Advice, Macmillan Cancer Support, Scope, Kidney Care UK—and then all 22 local authorities. There are local partners—foodbanks, housing associations, et cetera, community partnerships. So, it is on track now. We agreed the funding in, I think it was, June, but, actually, it is at this time of the year that, inevitably, we would have the call on the Fuel Bank Foundation vouchers. So, I do believe that it is now more on track.
The other good thing—the Fuel Bank Foundation has said that they're going to provide a repeat voucher for some households at risk of self-disconnection, so that's going to take some pressure off households, and also those third sector referral partners. So, you could have a repeat voucher issued where there's a real challenge for a household. These are the people who we know are absolutely in desperate situations, and particularly around the coldest times of the year, which we've had in the last few weeks.
Can I come in?
Okay, very briefly, because—
Mae'n dal i ddweud bod yna fwlch, onid oes, rhwng, fel dwi'n ei deall, yr 11,000 a'r 50,000. Mae yna'n dal i fod bwlch, ac rŷn ni wedi mynd trwy'r gaeaf, felly dwi jest eisiau sicrhau fy mod i'n deall yn hollol beth dŷch chi'n ei wneud i sicrhau bod aelwydydd yn cael mantais o'r scheme yna, os gwelwch chi'n dda.
But there's still a gap, isn't there, between, as I understand it, the 11,000 and 50,000. There's still a gap, and we've been through the winter, so I just wanted to ensure that I completely understand what you're doing to ensure that households do take advantage of this scheme, please.
Yes. Well, that goes back to the importance of our income maximisation 'Here to help' and 'Claim what's yours' promotion to get help with the cost of living, which really we've been doing since September. You can have it on websites, we know. We've had media campaigns. It has really extensively been shared. But I don't know if you would like to say, Paul, really, from working with partners here, whether you feel the message is getting out. It's not too late at all, obviously. We want to get every voucher out. We're paying for it to get out, and the Fuel Bank Foundation, who've only—. They were in Wales. They had a few partners—. Before we went into formal Welsh Government partnership with them, they had a few foodbank partners who were already giving out the vouchers, but I know it's really taken the last few months to get them really entrenched into the system. Is there anything you can do to reassure the committee about the Fuel Bank Foundation vouchers?
Yes, obviously, I think the main point here is, when a person is in need of a voucher, they do obviously get access to the voucher, but, because they're working with a partner, they also get the wraparound support. They also get that income maximisation to work out are they missing out on their welfare benefits. Obviously, there is always more we can do with partnership working to reach those who are more vulnerable, and I think it is improving week by week, that partnership working, but I think it's important to stress that, when a person accesses a fuel voucher, it's not just a fuel voucher they get, which, hopefully, means they won't have to come back for a repeat voucher, on the basis that they've had some underlying cause, which is driving their need to apply for a voucher in the first place, resolved.
I think, obviously, committee members want to know that we are reaching them in the first place, which is crucial, I think, to the message—the message of the availability of the Fuel Bank Foundation—so that's a very strong message to us. But I think the fact that nearly 30,000 people are benefiting from the vouchers is an improved position, really, from before Christmas.
Okay. I think we'll move on. We may need to correspond with you on this. I think we need to, obviously, cover the other areas we're interested in. So, Sarah Murphy.
Thank you very much, Chair. Thank you, Minister. So, I'm going to ask some questions about the discretionary assistance fund. You've said that the discretionary assistance fund has been prioritised as a mechanism for helping with cost-of-living pressures in the 2023-24 draft budget. So, what are you doing to maximise awareness and take-up of the DAF, and are you planning to make any changes to your approach to reflect the greater prominence of the DAF this year?
Thank you very much. You will be very aware from the Chamber of the fact that I have consistently, and indeed with a lot of calls of support from across the Chamber, supported the discretionary assistance fund, and I pressed hard in budget negotiations to have that increased uplift of the discretionary assistance fund to £38.5 million for 2023-24. It is demand led, demand driven, and that funding allocation accords with what we thought and we predicted we would need as a result of the spend over the last year. I mean, the pressures of the pandemic, the cost-of-living crisis, unprecedented demand on the fund, and actually, interestingly, coming from organisations like the Bevan Foundation, saying this is an absolute lifeline, and all the partners—the partners that Paul of course liaises with in terms of the single advice fund, or seeing the discretionary assistance fund, has been vital.
So, the discretionary assistance fund is very much part of our Welsh Government's 'Here to help' 'Claim what's yours' campaign. We've got adverts being run now, as I said, on television, social media, increased awareness—Advicelink Cymru and Citizens Advice are crucially important to that. But also, just recognising that all the partners at the front line, which of course include all our other partners—Trussell Trust, who you were seeing earlier on—local authorities, all of those who are engaging at the front line with people in desperate situations, know about the discretionary assistance fund. So, now, not only are we promoting it, but actually we are moving, as I think I was able to share with Members, Chair, we are now moving to very quickly announce the ways in which we're going to streamline the discretionary assistance fund from 1 April, to make it simpler, fairer and to increase the value of the fund. So, that's the next step for the fund.
Excellent. Thank you very much, Minister. Your draft budget evidence paper noted that you were reviewing the DAF flexibilities that are currently in place to ensure equity of access in responding to the cost-of-living pressures. When do you expect the review to conclude, and what are the emerging findings to date? For example, we have seen the data that shows that it does appear that different local authorities seem to award different amounts. So, in Rhondda Cynon Taf, it's 10 per cent; in Bridgend, my local authority, it's 5 per cent. So, we were discussing why you think that is and what can be done to address that, so that there isn't what some would call a postcode lottery.
Absolutely, and this is what I was referring to now, that we have been reviewing the situation, the way it's being managed, and we've had representations about it, not just from the Bevan Foundation, Wales TUC, other social partners involved in our response to the cost-of-living crisis. So, what we've decided to do is make sure that we can now offer one set of rules for everybody who could be eligible for DAF, and if I can just perhaps confirm again for the record—and it's going to be in a written statement very shortly today or tomorrow—that, from 1 April, all applicants to the DAF will be entitled to three payments in a 12-month rolling period, with a gap of seven days between each award. And what's most important is that those payments are going to be uplifted in line with inflation. So, they'll be uplifted by 11 per cent, meaning that the average DAF payment will increase from £70 to £75, to £77 to £82, so families would receive a maximum payment of £111 up to three times. And it provides higher value payments to individuals over a shorter period of time to support them during a time of crisis. So, those are the new arrangements. Clearly, again, we've got to make sure that this is understood and publicised. The Bevan Foundation is holding a workshop with stakeholders. You know, it is the partners who refer and who engage with DAF who will be absolutely ready for this and will receive this news, as of today in fact, at this committee and through my written statement. But also, we'll be putting it on the DAF webpages; it'll be clearly set out.
I think the important point you also make, Sarah, is this issue about transparent management information, so we know who is getting the DAF out, are there differences between local authorities. We have to address this in terms of monitoring it. This is a hugely important commitment by the Welsh Government to a social security underpinning of people's circumstances when they're in really difficult situations. So, from 1 April, we're going to publish the information quarterly on the DAF website. Partners can view and identify any gaps, and it will show us from local authority population deprivation statistics—. It'll enable us all to monitor what is happening. If we can give you some more information before 1 April, we'd be very happy to do that.
Just interestingly—and I've given further information in my update to the committee, I know—but in the last three months, November to the end of January, there have been 151,544 applications to the fund. It resulted in more than 104,000 awards totalling over £10.7 million in grants. And in January, the fund received in excess of 60,000 applications for the first time ever, with the monthly spend reaching a record £4 million.
And just to confirm, of course, for the current and future arrangements, you do have these two types of grant, the DAF, non-repayable grant support. One is the emergency assistance payment for those in essential living circumstances and costs—this is what I've just said—which will be the three payments. And then, secondly, you've got the individual assistance payment for an urgent identified need, and that's for white goods, furniture, et cetera. But an application for an individual assistance payment has to be supported by a DAF-registered partner, and you have to be entitled to income-related welfare benefits. So, it's for vulnerable citizens in Wales, and—.
I will lay this all out in the statement, because I think we need to remind people, actually, of what DAF is, we need to remind them of the nature of it, the circumstances. It shouldn't be too technical, and now we're getting rid of—. We had flexibilities we'd brought in, and many of you welcomed them, during the pandemic, when we lost the £20 universal credit uplift. But it's ended up that we've got two sets of rules, so that's why we've got to simplify and increase the value, but I think the importance is that we'll lay it all out in the written statement.
Yes. I think we're very happy—. We know that the written statement is coming with the detail, and we've also got your very detailed written evidence that we'll be using as part of our inquiry.
But I think we should move on to things where we want clarification. Sioned Williams.
Diolch, Cadeirydd. Rydych chi wedi bod yn gwneud rhywfaint o waith ynglŷn â datblygu siarter sy'n datblygu egwyddorion ar gyfer grantiau prawf modd sy'n rhan o system fudd-daliadau Cymru. Ac rydych chi'n archwilio'r modd y gallai un pwynt mynediad ar gyfer system integredig weithio. A allwch chi roi diweddariad i ni ar y gwaith yma ac amlinellu'r modd y bydd y mentrau hyn yn datblygu yn arfer mwy cyson ar draws awdurdodau lleol, achos mae hynny wedi bod yn ofid rydym ni wedi gweld gyda sawl un o'r taliadau sydd wedi dod gan Lywodraeth Cymru, fod hyn yn ffactor?
Thank you, Chair. You've done some work on developing a charter that develops principles for the means-tested grants that make up the Welsh benefits system. And you've been exploring how a single point of access to an integrated system could work. Could you update us on that work and outline how these initiatives will develop into more consistent practice across local authorities, because that has been a concern for us with several of these payments that have come from the Welsh Government, that that's a factor?
Thank you very much. This is crucial, a charter for the design and delivery of what is a Welsh benefits system. So, we've developed with partners a draft charter. It's got a set of principles to underpin the delivery of a coherent and compassionate Welsh benefits system. This is about how we do deliver our benefits, not just technically, but in the spirit of social security. It's going to be a more joined-up approach, a simplified system, and also, crucially, as we've just been discussing, supporting people so that they can find out about entitlements and access them as well. So, I think the charter is—. Also, what's really important about it is this single point of contact, where somebody doesn’t have to keep telling their story. So, I think also this draft charter will show a vision of a much fairer and more equitable Welsh benefits system.
We’ve actually been working also on co-producing with partners from the income maximisation working group, haven’t we, who know what it’s like on the front line. But we have to involve local authorities on this, clearly, because they’ve got to help us deliver that. What’s interesting is that, as part of the co-operation agreement, we’ve been looking at devolving the administration of benefits. So, I had a meeting with the designated member, for example, with the Scottish Cabinet Secretary about their benefits system, and we talked a lot about changes in the culture of delivering benefits. So, it’s on its way.
Diolch, Weinidog. Wrth gwrs, sut ŷch chi’n mynd i sicrhau bod y siarter yn gweithio? Hynny yw, oes angen sail statudol iddo fe er mwyn sicrhau bod yr awdurdodau lleol yn cydymffurfio â’r hyn ŷch chi’n ei disgrifio fel eich gweledigaeth chi?
Thank you, Minister. Of course, how are you going to ensure that the charter works? That is, does it need a statutory basis in order to ensure that the local authorities do comply with what you describe as your vision?
Well, clearly we need to make this work. That’s where there’s always this question about do we need a statutory base, and in fact you’ve put forward a motion for debate on this. I shall bring Paul in, because I’m sure that he’ll want to make a point about this, having been a welfare rights officer once in his past himself. But I think what’s important is that we, in the preparations for this, have already developed the best practice toolkit with local authorities. Local authorities want to engage with this delivery because they are going to be part of the system. They’ve been very much part of the system in the past couple of years, particularly with the delivery of the Welsh Government winter fuel support scheme and the cost-of-living payment. We’ve depended a lot on local authorities as being the route out, and again, working with local authorities about everything in terms of access to free school meals and all of the other benefits. So, the best practice toolkit, I think, is going to be very important to guide the charter, but I think the other thing, the other organisation, is the Centre for Digital Public Services, which has been another very important forum for discussion as well on this. But do you want to just say anything about this? How convinced are we that guidance will deliver on this, if we get this charter and this resource toolkit?
Thanks, Minister. Yes, it’s true, I was a welfare rights officer and I worked inside local authorities for a quarter of a century, so I do understand how they work. I believe that we have worked closely with some local authorities when we were developing the charter. We had a mixture of people who were putting their thoughts in the mixing bowl. We didn’t just want it to be a charter that was driven by one sector, so I think we have a charter that is workable. I think also we have principles that are owned by the local authorities. They do want to be able to get the entitlement to their local residents, because what we’ve done with the charter is quite simplistic. It really does start from the point of view of the local resident who has an entitlement to the payment, and the actual delivery of that payment is built around the needs of that person, not around the needs of the administration system, which sadly we've seen very often in the UK Government’s benefits system. It’s administered in accordance with what the system needs as opposed to what the people need, even though it does talk about it being person centred. Our charter is looking at a very clear person-centred delivery, so I would hope that 22 local authorities are going to embrace this work, and that they will work with us when we come forward to implement it. We’re currently having conversations with colleagues in Scotland who also have a benefits charter and they are introducing an evaluation framework, which obviously answers the question you posed—how do we know it’s making a difference? So, we will be, alongside the charter, hopefully, bringing in a similar framework to evaluate its outcome.
Diolch. Gwnaeth y Gweinidog sôn am gynllun cymorth tanwydd Cymru, ac rŷn ni'n gwybod, wrth gwrs, roedd 11 o'r awdurdodau lleol yn gwneud yn siŵr bod y cymorth ariannol yna yn mynd yn syth i bocedi'r rhai oedd yn gymwys ar ei gyfer, ac wedyn doedd y gweddill ddim yn gweithredu felly. Felly, pa wersi ydyn ni wedi eu dysgu o hynny, ac, efallai yng nghyd-destun datblygu'r siartr yma, pa waith ŷch chi'n ei gynnal gydag awdurdodau lleol i rannu arfer da yn y lle cyntaf a hefyd gymhwyso'r dull yma i grantiau eraill sy'n ddibynnol ar brawf modd?
Thank you. The Minister mentioned the Welsh fuel support scheme, and we heard that 11 local authorities in Wales were ensuring that that financial support was going straight to the pockets of those who were eligible for it, but that the other authorities didn't work in that way. So, what lessons have been learned from that, and, perhaps in the context of developing this charter, what work are you doing with local authorities to share good practice in the first instance and also apply this method to other grants that are means tested?
Well, it has been a learning curve, hasn't it, for local authorities. I was just getting the updated figures on the winter fuel support scheme, and I can say, as of this morning, I think the percentage of the total now of the winter fuel scheme is 76 per cent take-up, which was higher than last year. But, actually, and I can share this with you, Chair, if you look from authority to authority, it goes from 88 per cent take-up in Flintshire—I have to say where you came from—down to 61 per cent in north Wales in Ynys Môn. There must be a way in which we can get 88 per cent of take-up of an entitlement together.
So, it's really been helping to inform the best practice. I met, for example, with the cabinet lead for the Welsh Local Government Association, Councillor Anthony Hunt, who's the lead on finance, to talk again to this crucial issue about the ones who've got it out, who are automated. Not all of them are automated in that way, and we're working with them through this.
The other point is there's some useful work that the Bevan Foundation is doing on this, because they've been very involved in looking at ways we can have an integrated, passported system. For many years they've been working with us on this. They've also got Policy in Practice doing some work, and I think you're waiting to hear from that probably, as we are. So, this is where we are now—it's living practice delivering on these benefit schemes.
Diolch. Ac un cwestiwn—. Thema gyson rŷn ni wedi ei gweld yn ein grwpiau ffocws ni fel pwyllgor yw'r heriau sydd gan aelwydydd sydd wedi eu hallgáu yn ddigidol a sut maen nhw'n cael mynediad at gynlluniau cymorth. Sut ŷch chi'n gwneud yn siŵr bod anghenion yr aelwydydd hyn yn cael eu cynnwys mewn unrhyw newidiadau posibl i wneud cais am gynlluniau cymorth? Roeddwn i mewn grŵp cymunedol ryw wythnos yn ôl ac yn sôn am yr holl bethau sydd ar gael, yn amlwg, i'w cynorthwyo nhw, a nifer ohonyn nhw, gan gynnwys y rhai sy'n rhedeg y grwpiau cymunedol yma, ddim wedi clywed amdanynt. Fe ddywedwyd wrthyf i, 'Pam na allwn ni gael posteri mewn meddygfeydd, ar fysiau ac yn y blaen?' Dyw'r rhain ddim yn bobl sy'n dilyn cyfrifion cyfryngau cymdeithasol a hyd yn oed ddim â modd i wneud hynny. Felly, sut ydych chi'n gwneud yn siŵr eich bod chi'n clywed y lleisiau yna?
Thank you. And one final question—. A constant theme in our focus groups as a committee has been the challenges faced by households that are digitally excluded, and how they get access to support schemes. How can you ensure that those households' needs are included in any potential changes to applying for support schemes? I was in a community group around a week ago and mentioning all these things that were available to support people, and a number of these people, including the people who run these groups, hadn't heard of them. They asked me, 'Why can't we have posters in GP surgeries, on buses, et cetera?' These aren't people who follow social media accounts, and they don't have a way to do so either, so how do you ensure that you hear those voices?
It goes back to what Paul says about the fact the Welsh benefits system has got to be person centred, and I absolutely agree with you. We have, actually, got posters and leaflets for the 'Here to help' scheme and the winter fuel support scheme. Getting them out in all of the community venues is crucial.
I'll bring you in here, Paul, but I think, also, we have been talking, really, since last September, with the cost-of-living crisis about how every contact should count, so that all of the people who are actually engaging with people who may be vulnerable, who aren't online, should be able to at least point them in the right direction in terms of access to benefits or do a benefit calculation. There are benefit calculators now. For example, we met all the credit unions last autumn, and whenever they make a loan, we said, 'Do you do a benefit calculation?' A lot of them have taken this on now as a result of us engaging with them. But, also, whether you're a health visitor, whether you're in Flying Start, not all of them will want to get involved in understanding the benefits system, but you could at least signpost them, get them onto the benefit calculator. There are some training courses; Dangos is training people on the front line who aren't welfare rights officers. I think the call-back service is helping people make applications if they're not online. I mean, obviously, we're also working on digital inclusion as well, and that's where the Centre for Digital Public Services is involved. I think Paul's anxious to get a word in here.
Yes. The 'Claim what's yours' 'Here to help' campaign, we made sure it was accessible not just via social media, via digital. There were signs at various bus stops—I can't say every single bus stop in Wales—and we had messages put on pharmacy bags, so when a person collects their medicines from chemists, there's a straightforward message to phone and find out what you're entitled to. We did hard mailshots to areas in Wales where we thought the evidence showed there were higher levels of deprivation. I'm pleased to say that the week that those mailshots started to land on doormats, there was a spike in the number of calls coming through to the Advicelink Cymru helpline.
On the question you posed about access when a person wants to claim a benefit, absolutely you can't have a person-centred benefits system that only gives you one option to make a claim. That is not person centred.
Okay, thank you. There's a lot more we could go on with on that, but we'll move on to food poverty.
Thank you very much, Chair. Minister, how do you try to ensure that the initiatives the Welsh Government funds to combat food poverty balance the need for emergency provision with longer term solutions?
Thank you very much, Altaf. This is something where we have to learn from the people who are delivering at the front line in terms of tackling food poverty, and, last year, you know I had—and it was called for—a number of summits about the cost-of-living crisis. At one of the summits where we were discussing everything from fuel poverty to food poverty, I was requested to organise just one on food poverty, which I did organise. So, we learned from them how we needed to recognise that there was this ongoing and deepening—well, you'll have heard it from Trussell Trust—requirement for emergency food through foodbanks, but also a very strong call for more sustainable solutions for tackling food poverty, and helping local networks to develop and respond to local needs.
You know that, in this financial year, nearly £5 million was allocated to tackling food poverty. But, actually, we split it into two parts: the emergency support, which local authorities have been giving out to foodbanks, but then to the local food partnership initiatives that have developed, which are doing much more about provision of sustainable funding and local sourcing of funding as well. One very dynamic development in my constituency has been Big Bocs Bwyd, which has been led from a school by a headteacher from a primary school, and it's now spread throughout the whole of Wales where schools engage, where there is access to affordable food, but also it's linked into the curriculum, with parents, into cooking, into growing, and Big Bocs Bwyd has become much more sustainable as well. But I think we have to recognise that FareShare is really important in terms of accessing more—FareShare Cymru accessing fresher food and not just the sort of dried foods and the provision you get in foodbanks. So, I think FareShare Cymru, which has really got a presence now throughout the whole of Wales, working with community groups, has been really important.
Thank you, Minister. How would you respond to comments from Flintshire council that it would be useful to have broader grants rather than ones focused on food poverty, as they allow organisations to use funding in a way that fits the specific needs of their community?
I suppose, when we looked at how we delivered the food poverty funding this year, we did see the need to look at emergency and then longer term, more sustainable food partnerships and initiatives. I just don't think we can deny, especially in terms of inflation and the cost of food—inflation in food costs, and also we know that inflation for poorer people is much higher than for everyone else—we have to address food poverty as a specific issue. But I think there are real opportunities to make sure that tackling food poverty is part of a wider tackling poverty, community engagement and food security development at a local level. And I think Flintshire is a very good authority, which has engaged with some really great initiatives, not just FareShare Cymru, but also Flintshire has developed important links with this organisation called Well-Fed, and some of you might have been there, I think. It was really impressive.
They gave evidence to us two weeks ago.
They've given evidence. We've helped with Well-Fed, and they're just an amazing social enterprise. So, we can learn a great deal from this, but I don't think that we can avoid the fact that we, as a Government, are going to help local authorities, who do get a lot of freedom in the grants that we give them, address food poverty, especially given, as I'm sure you will have heard today, the statistics about the take-up of our foodbanks.
Yes. Jane Dodds and Sioned want to come in before I come back to you, Altaf.
Sioned yn gyntaf.
Diolch, Cadeirydd. Fe glywon ni, yn sicr, fod arfer dda yn digwydd mewn rhai pocedi, ac fe wnaethon ni glywed gan Well-Fed a Chyngor Sir y Fflint ynglŷn â hynny. Ond, fe alwodd Trussell Trust y bore yma, yn eu tystiolaeth i ni, am gynllun cenedlaethol i fynd i'r afael â—wel, i leihau—cymorth brys o ran bwyd, wedi ei alinio gyda rhyw fath o system fudd-daliadau Cymreig, â'r pwyslais ar atal—atal y ffaith bod argyfwng yn arwain at galedi tymor hir. Felly, hoffwn i gael eich meddyliau chi ar gynllun o'r fath.
Thank you, Chair. Yes, we heard that there is certainly good practice happening in some pockets, and we heard from Well-Fed and from Flintshire County Council about that. But, Trussell Trust, in their evidence this morning, called for a national plan to tackle, or rather to reduce emergency support, emergency food aid, which would have been aligned with some kind of Welsh benefits system and with the emphasis on prevention—preventing the fact that emergencies lead to long-term hardship. So, I'd like to get your thoughts on that kind of scheme or plan.
Well, I think this goes back to all the work that we're doing on tackling child poverty and all of the factors that actually enable people, particularly children and young people in terms of tackling child poverty, to be able to grow up and have access to all of the essentials of life—food, fuel, energy, water, education, and every other aspect of their lives. I think, to a certain extent, a national plan is something we are planning for all of these areas of work. I think the charter should enable us, in terms of the benefits charter, to link everything together. I think that would be really important, because at a local authority level I know they're looking at everything in terms of tackling food poverty, community regeneration—it all ties up. It's about cross-Government working. The Warm Homes programme is very cross-Government as far as we're concerned. But, also, I think the discretionary assistance fund is very important in terms of underpinning the heart of what need and deprivation can be, where we need to move in.
I went to speak at a cost-of-living crisis event organised by Citizens Advice in south-east Wales, and someone with lived experience came to that meeting. I apologise if I've given you this example before. This was someone who was a single parent with three daughters. She was actually working, and she said that when she went to Citizens Advice for advice, what was most important was that they could tell her everything that she was entitled to. So, she was entitled to the discretionary assistance fund when her fridge broke. She was entitled to free period products because she had three daughters. She felt that she was getting—. She had access to a foodbank, even though she didn't even think she would ever be in that position. It was the place where everything was pointed to. I think the single point of contact is as important as talking about planning, but it should be part of it.
Altaf, back to you.
Thank you very much, Chair. On tackling food poverty and addressing the availability of good food, are you adopting the approach of Well-Fed, as you mentioned, and have you had any discussions with the Minister for rural affairs about the availability of all these good things to the people who need it?
Yes. I think we've got some really great examples like Well-Fed, and I've mentioned Big Bocs Bwyd. I don't know if you've taken any evidence about that initiative, which is very much school and education led, because I think in this again, in terms of planning, you can encompass virtually every aspect. You've mentioned the Minister for rural affairs, and that's about access to sustainable food and agriculture plays such a key role in that. Actually bringing all of these initiative together is where we can learn about the best way forward. I mean, I think the great thing about Well-Fed was that they were—. We gave them some funding, I think as part of the circular economy. They were also, interestingly, procured by Flintshire—I know that's your old authority, sorry, Paul—which shows what a local authority can do. One of the things—. We can have plans and national plans and Welsh Government plans, but we have to have local authorities that are actually going to also be innovative and creative, and then they need to learn from each other. But certainly, I'm discussing this with the community food strategy; thank you for raising that with the Minister for rural affairs.
Before I bring in Ken Skates, we're due to finish at quarter to. Would you be able to stay on for an extra five minutes, Minister?
Fine, thank you. Ken Skates.
Thank you, Chair. Can you just summarise where you think the greatest progress has been made so far in implementing recommendations from this committee's report on debt, and also which areas you think might require the greatest attention to deliver progress?
Thank you very much, Ken. Well, in the follow-up evidence that I gave, the follow-up work on debt and the impact of the cost of living, I did do a bit of an analysis of impact, which I think—. Just looking at that now, it shows that Welsh Government support is—. We do target those who need it the most when they need it most, and actually, the impact of the analysis that we've done shows that around 75 per cent—it's in the briefing you had—of households are expected to be supported in some way, but nearly twice as much goes to households in the bottom half of the income distribution compared to those in the top half, and three times as much of those in the bottom fifth compared to those in the top fifth. So, I think that is important information, but also I think—.
We've got this cost-of-living Cabinet sub-committee now, where we've actually got a technical advisory group, chaired by Professor Rachel Ashworth, looking at the impact of our work, because obviously, we've invested a lot in cross-Government work, and it is very much cross-Government, but I do think the impact analysis of the investment in the single advice fund is vitally important. We need to know that this is reaching out to people who are being hardest hit, and we need to show that, actually, that investment, the £11 million into the single advice fund, is delivering that. And we also need to show where we're reaching people, such as disabled people, black, ethnic minority people and single parents as well.
If you look again at the analysis of my follow-up work, I don't want to repeat it all, but it does actually show that local Citizens Advice services report a 15 per cent decrease in people seeking advice on energy debt and a 12 per cent decrease in people seeking foodbank vouchers. So, I think that shows that the cost-of-living support packages have been very important, particularly, actually, when we lost that universal credit uplift. It was a very busy time for Citizens Advice in December, as my report shows, but I think we are making an impact on the poorest, as a result of our initiatives.
Thank you, Minister. In our previous work on debt, we've heard of cases where bailiffs were using pretty aggressive and heavy-handed approaches. What progress has been made in addressing bad practice? And also, are you able to provide an update on any progress that's been made regarding the review of the council tax protocol?
That's something—. We just sort of touched on the protocol earlier on, and also the fact that we've got the Enforcement Conduct Board, which is crucially important. But, in fact, we also have to look—. Although the enforcement industry isn't a devolved matter, we do have powers and responsibilities, through local government, for example, for the collection of council tax arrears, and this is where the protocol, as you say, the council tax protocol, has to demonstrate a different way of doing things. We have to ensure, in that council tax protocol, that council tax arrears are going to be managed in a just and sensitive way, and it's about the change of culture that we want in terms of enforcement when you have arrears. So, I think the fact that we have got now the Enforcement Conduct Board—we're working very closely; local authorities came to that meeting. In fact, the chair actually is following this up with the Welsh Local Government Association, and I think the protocol will be the way in which we'll get change to the ways in which arrears are collected.
Thank you. And, do you have any plans to review the allocation for Citizens Advice with regard to keeping the single advice fund budget flat? Is there any review of that, given the concerns that Citizens Advice have raised about the implications?
Well, we did—I did refer to this in my follow-up work report—provide another £11 million grant funding for single advice services. I mean, it is about funding generalist and very specialist advice services to people who are most vulnerable, and I think it's proving itself to be very valuable. Again, this is something I don't know whether, Paul, you want to comment on it, but what I have done, to check this out in terms of the pressures, is commission some independent and comprehensive advice, I would say, on what is needed in terms of social welfare advice. So, it is going to be research that's now been commissioned. You might want to say a word about it, Paul, so that we can look at its findings and then consider the impact. But the single advice fund, I think the most important thing for the providers is that they know they're getting the money, they know where they are on it, and that it's going to continue.
Thanks, Minister. I appreciate that the time's chasing away, so I will be as succinct as I can be talking about advice services. Yes, the single advice fund, I think it's an excellent model. It's not core funding advice services; it was a specific project that we set up to target those in our society who are most in need and often don't seek advice until they hit the crisis. So, it is a preventative service.
When I joined the Welsh Government on secondment in 2017, £6 million a year was being funded to advice. I think since then, Minister, you've increased the budget, so £11 million this year. So, I think there's a strong commitment from the Welsh Government to fund advice services, and I think the Minister has often said as well that it's not just for the Welsh Government to fund advice services; we do need to look at the UK Government as well. Lots of the problems that the single advice fund resolves are linked to welfare benefits delivered by the UK Government, and yet, it's the Welsh Government funding, which is obviously critical to helping households, but the UK Government don't tend to fund the advice that people need to navigate their benefit system.
Thank you. You've actually answered what was going to be my final question. If I may, though, can I ask whether it might be possible to provide us with any data regarding the proportion of people in Wales who are running a deficit in their rent costs or running rent arrears, and also people who are on mortgage payment plans, compared to the rest of the UK? If you do have that data, that would be very helpful indeed. Thank you.
We can certainly look and see what we can provide for that.
Thank you. I think that would be very useful because I think that the picture we're getting is one of a deteriorating situation.
It would be extremely useful if you could provide the written information about the uptake of the winter fuel payments by local authority, because by publishing that, we will be able to encourage the laggards to rise to the achievements of the leaders. I think in terms of the deteriorating situation, we heard from Purple Shoots a fortnight ago who spoke about the no-interest loan scheme pilot, but they did flag up that a lot of the people applying to be considered for a no-interest loan scheme were having to be turned down because they simply had no means of repaying it. Clearly, it's a pilot and it's a work in progress, but I think it indicates the fragility of the current situation, and I don't know whether you've got any solutions for people who are in that situation, given that we are talking about a worsening situation.
Yes. Thank you for that feedback about the work that Purple Shoots is doing on the no-interest loan scheme. That is a pilot. But also, we've been funding credit unions on risky loans, and we've increased that funding, and I'm not sure whether quite—I mean, it's a different scheme, it's not in Paul's remit, but can I perhaps give you some feedback on the risky loans uptake through credit unions, because I think they have loaned, particularly before Christmas, quite a lot through that route?
Could I also just say, in terms of your assessment of the situation that things are getting worse and the financial challenges, that there is an issue here, as Paul has said, about what the UK Government is doing through the Department for Work and Pensions, because they should be taking the lead here? I'm sure that you're aware that, in Wales, an estimated 90,000 households are having an average of £60 per month deducted from their universal credit awards, and around 50 per cent of people receiving debt advice who have deficit budgets get universal credit. I can give you these figures. Deductions from universal credit are mostly to repay debts owed to the UK Government itself, including the advance payment that people have to claim to get through the five weeks' wait for their first universal credit payment. This is why people end up going to the discretionary assistance fund because of that, and we continuously call for an abolition of the benefit cap and two-child limit, because we believe that these are key drivers of poverty amongst larger families in Wales, in particular.
And, of course, we've now got the Ofgem news about the £3,000 cap, up from £2,500, so we know that there's going to be more demand then again in terms of fuel poverty as well. But hopefully those issues will be—. You recognise that this is something where we are developing our benefits system, our culture, our delivery, our single point of access, but we're fighting a machine that is pushing in the other direction as well, in terms of inflation and the DWP approach.
Clearly, imaginative solutions have to be found that don't involve more money. One of the things we heard from Flintshire Council, Jen Griffiths, was the use of sheltered housing to target warm and welcoming spaces for older people—not just people living in the sheltered housing, but people living nearby in towns and villages. I wondered if you were aware of any other local authorities doing that, because it seemed a really good use of the element of public housing that was always retained and never sold off.
We gave that £1 million for warm spaces, and we've got an extraordinary range of venues being offered. Also, as well as sheltered housing, which we'll certainly take back and look at, there's the use of libraries, of course, as well, which are obviously public places and warm places, let alone all the community centres that local authorities often own and are managed by local communities, and faith groups as well. I think the warm spaces initiative has been very important, because also they provide venues where you can access Wi-Fi, and indeed advice and guidance. I think probably all of us have got them in our constituencies, and we've been visiting. Some local authorities have used the £1 million that we've provided but they've added in creative ways. But sheltered housing sounds a very good initiative. And also, it enables people to go into places where perhaps they don't normally go, and engage with them. I think some shops and businesses are also providing warm spaces.
And ensuring they are getting hot food as well.
Thank you very much, Minister. We could obviously have another hour, but we haven't. Thank you very much for your detailed paper, with lots of references to other organisations that are collating the deteriorating picture.
I'll get to you the information as quickly as possible on the Warm Homes contract. Thanks very much.
There are two papers to note. Are Members content to note them?
bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod, a'r cyfarfod ar 6 Mawrth, yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(vi) a (ix).
that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting, and the meeting on 6 March, in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(vi) and (ix).
Cynigiwyd y cynnig.
Under Standing Order 17.42, are Members agreeable to excluding the public from the remainder of this meeting and for the duration of the committee meeting on 6 March? Thank you very much.
Derbyniwyd y cynnig.
Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 13:53.
The public part of the meeting ended at 13:53.