Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru

Yn ôl i Chwilio

Y Pwyllgor Cydraddoldeb, Llywodraeth Leol a Chymunedau

Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee

14/05/2020

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Caroline Jones AS
Dawn Bowden AS
Delyth Jewell AS
Huw Irranca-Davies AS
John Griffiths AS Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Mark Isherwood AS

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Alyson Francis Dirprwy Gyfarwyddwr yr Is-adran Gymunedau, Llywodraeth Cymru
Deputy Director of Communities Division, Welsh Government
Jane Hutt AS Y Dirprwy Weinidog a’r Prif Chwip
Deputy Minister and Chief Whip

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Bethan Davies Clerc
Clerk
Catherine Hunt Ail Glerc
Second Clerk

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 drwy gynhadledd fideo.

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 14:01.

The committee met by video-conference.

The meeting began at 14:01.

1. Cyflwyniadau, ymddiheuriadau, dirprwyon a datgan buddiannau
1. Introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest

Okay. May I welcome everyone to this virtual meeting of the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee? In accordance with Standing Order 34.19, I have determined that the public are excluded from the committee's meeting, in order to protect public health. In accordance with Standing Order 34.21, notice of this decision was included in the agenda for this meeting, published last Friday. This meeting is, however, being broadcast live on senedd.tv, with all participants joining via video conference. A record of proceedings will be published, as usual. Aside from the procedural adaptation relating to conducting proceedings remotely, all other Standing Order requirements for committees remain in place.

The meeting is bilingual, and simultaneous translation from Welsh to English is available. I remind all participants that the microphones will be controlled centrally, so as not to turn them on or off individually. We've received apologies from Huw Irranca-Davies and there are no substitutions. Are there any declarations of interest? No. Okay.

Well, one other thing from me before we move into our evidence taking, is that if, for any reason, I drop out of the meeting due to the technology involved, we have agreed, as a committee, that Dawn Bowden will temporarily chair while I try to rejoin.

2. COVID-19 a'i effaith ar faterion sy'n ymwneud â chylch gwaith y Pwyllgor - sesiwn i graffu ar waith y Gweinidog
2. COVID-19 and its impact on matters relating to the Committee’s remit - ministerial scrutiny session

Okay, then, we'll move on to item 2, which is COVID-19 and its impact on matters relating to our committee remit, and I'm very pleased to welcome for our ministerial scrutiny session, Jane Hutt; Deputy Minister and Chief Whip and also Jane's official, Alyson Francis, who is deputy director of the communities division within Welsh Government. So, welcome to you both, and if it's okay with you, we'll move straight into questions.

Okay. Let me begin, then, by asking the first question, which is to do with equality. We know that the Welsh population is more vulnerable to coronavirus because of its older age profile and indeed the prevalence of some health conditions. And, as we move through the pandemic, we see that black, Asian and ethnic minority people seem to be more susceptible to the virus, and we also know, of course, that people in the more impoverished circumstances in Wales are something like twice as likely to suffer during the pandemic than the population of Wales, generally. Men, also, are more susceptible and, of course, people in particular front-line jobs are more at risk, and, very often, those people are women. So, I think it's clear that there are lots of equality issues involved in COVID-19, Minister, and there are others beyond what I've mentioned. So, I wonder if you could tell the committee how you are assessing the impact of the pandemic on equality, and how you are mitigating the specific and equal effects on certain groups of people.

Well, thank you very much indeed, Chair. I'm very pleased to be here in front of this committee, because I have put equalities and the impact of COVID-19 at the forefront, as Minister in the Welsh Government, at the forefront of all my engagement with groups affected and, obviously, with my officials, to ensure that all policies, not just policies relating to my portfolio, but across the Welsh Government, are rigorously scrutinised in terms of equality impacts.

And, of course, as we know, COVID-19 affects everyone in the population potentially, but we very quickly got the evidence that it was also affecting particular groups, particularly vulnerable groups and those affected socioeconomically. Of course, this has been backed by a number of papers that have been produced, not just analysis by the Office for National Statistics, I have to say, not just in relation to black and minority ethnic people groups, but also disabled people. The ONS did a report on disabled people as well. And then we have, of course, most recently, the reports about the impact in terms of socioeconomic circumstances—poverty, as you've described, Chair. 

So, we clearly have a responsibility, anyway, in terms of equality impact assessments, and you know our strategic integrated impact assessment tool. But we've actually strengthened that in terms of a particular focus for all our officials across the Welsh Government, a revised aide-mémoire, as it were, in terms of guidance to officials, in terms of focusing on impacts of equality. But also, this has to be considered against every policy document and ministerial advice.

Of course, also, I would say that the influence of this has been very clear. On 24 April, the framework for recovery, and I think many of you on the committee—. I remember Delyth asking Jeremy Miles, the Counsel General, about that—that one of the clear tests is impact on equality and, also, importantly, the well-being of future generations legislation, which, of course, I'm responsible for, and that has to be a test, which, of course, includes focusing on issues relating to equality.

I'm sure we will go on to this, but I responded very quickly to both issues relating to disabled people and black and minority ethnic people, particularly in the NHS workforce and in social care, as did the First Minister and the health Minister. We have set up a BAME advisory group; it's chaired by Judge Ray Singh, who's the chair of Race Council Cymru, and there are sub-groups looking at impact on workforce. Because, obviously, this is about risk assessment for people working in the NHS and social care, but it's also about socioeconomic impacts on communities in relation to the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on the black and minority ethnic communities.

It's a complex area, but the statistics, the reality on our television screens, right from those first 10 deaths of BAME doctors was so stark. And, of course, many of us have been meeting—and I know, John, I have been meeting your constituents in Newport—but across the whole of Wales, north Wales. Mark will be interested that I met with a Race Council Cymru, north Wales ethnic BAME forum. And I've been meeting with forums across Wales—Race Council Cymru and Ethnic Minorities and Youth Support Team, but also, Wales Race Forum—to hear their experiences and also to feed this back. We are close, now, to getting some outcomes from this work in Wales, which is very much led by clinicians. Professor Keshav Singhal, who's a clinician in Cwm Taf, an orthopaedic surgeon, he's been leading the Welsh risk assessment tool. But, of course, there are many other things that are emerging from this work.

I think we have to also look not just at the disproportionate impact on the poorest people in Wales in terms of not just health conditions, but also, 81,000 people have now applied for universal credit since this has come about. So, we do need to respect that as well.

14:05

Jane, in terms of the advisory group on black, Asian and ethnic minority communities, is there a date for that group to report its findings?

14:10

Well, the BAME advisory group, it's actually had three meetings and it's been working very hard. They've got to the point now where they've presented a draft Welsh risk assessment. It's a self-assessment tool, actually. I went to the meeting yesterday, and I think the First Minister told you yesterday, John, in fact, Chair, that he'd gone to the meeting the week before. So, they're working apace on this, because this will have to be cascaded to managers in the health service, and we feel that also it could be very clearly useful not just in social care, but for other key workers. So, we anticipate that this will come out within days, because the work has been done, and, therefore, we want it to be publicly shared.

Okay, thanks for that. Delyth, did you want to come in at this stage?

Thank you. Just two supplementaries, if I can, to what the Deputy Minister has just said. Firstly, I wondered, with regard to the increased risk that people from BAME communities face with COVID-19, whether you know whether the NHS is putting risk assessments in place for BAME front-line staff, whether that is something that's going to be considered in the immediate future. And also, whether the Welsh Government intends to conduct an inquiry into the increased risk that BAME front-line staff and also members of the public have.

And just very quickly, another supplementary regarding something else that you've mentioned. One of the hidden inequalities that is emerging is the number of people who are not presenting for medical assistance relating to other conditions that have nothing to do with COVID-19. I know the Women's Equality Network are really concerned about women not presenting for other issues to the NHS. Do you know whether the Welsh Government would consider conducting a public awareness campaign to remind people that they very much—that the NHS is still there to support them?

Thank you very much, Delyth. I was just interested that, although the task of the BAME advisory group—in a sense, this is our inquiry. They are conducting an inquiry into the impacts, but they wanted to get on with producing this self-assessment risk tool as well. So, their work's only just started. It is an inquiry. In fact, at some point, you may wish to invite them to your committee, some of these key members involved in it. But until this particular tool that they've developed is formally published, clearly, we have mandated the use of a risk-assessment tool in the NHS for staff at greatest risk, including staff from BAME backgrounds. So, we have required that to happen now; we're not waiting for a new self-assessment tool to come forward, because this is critically important.

I would say that the feedback that I've also had—I mean, obviously, we've seen that this has affected from consultants through to the front line. The nurses in intensive care are extraordinarily committed, and they are at risk, obviously, in terms of all of them—anyone involved in hospital care is at risk. So, we're very clear that this is the whole of the health workforce, at every level, but also recognising that this is an issue in social care in care homes as well, so the Chief Nursing Officer for Wales is involved as well as the Chief Medical Officer for Wales, clearly leading this in terms of public health, as well. But also, we've brought in colleagues, officials and partners from the Wales Trades Union Congress, so it's a workforce issue. And the unions are very keen on what we've been doing, because, obviously, they're getting the feedback from the workforce, and it is on the front line. So, we want to build that confidence and recognition that we are supporting the workforce.

But, clearly, as this advisory group continues its work, it's looking not just at the health side, but also at the socioeconomic side. But there are other clinical issues as well. For example, vitamin D is an area where there's been—. There's been some advice going on about vitamin D, because there's public health guidance—you may be aware that this has been picked up as a factor—and that's available. It's crucial that it's also available in lots of different forms and languages.

I think the issue about women presenting—I've had several meetings with the Women's Equality Network, and they also are engaging with lots of women's organisations to get the feedback, and it is vitally important that women are encouraged to present themselves. I'm sure we'll go on to violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence and the importance in terms of trying to get victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence, enabling them, to find a way of coming forward and speaking out and approaching for support and help. But I think that—well, it's very helpful to have that suggestion and guidance about more public awareness, because this is an indirect harm of COVID-19, isn't it? There's the direct harm—illness and, sadly, death—but the indirect harm of people not presenting across the whole population, but women in particular.

I would say also, having had meetings with the Wales TUC equality committee and with Women's Equality Network, there have been issues about pregnant women, for example, at work, who are concerned about their risk, and that's another factor where the Equality and Human Rights Commission has taken this up very strongly to give further guidance. But also, obviously, just in terms of women presenting themselves, as with the rest of the population, to primary care, and forward, if necessary, to secondary care, certainly, we can look at how we can make that more of a feature in terms of my equality message.

14:15

Okay, Jane, thanks very much for that. I wonder if I could just ask, in terms of data, mortality data, when will that be published by sex, ethnicity and occupation, and how would that breakdown of information affect Welsh Government's decisions?

Well, this is really important in terms of all equality issues and use of access to disaggregated data. I think it might be helpful if I could share with the committee links. The Office for National Statistics have published mortality figures by sex, by ethnicity and by occupation, and I can give the links to the committee. The difficulty, as it's often been, and you will be aware, is it's not disaggregated sufficiently to in Wales, due to smaller numbers. This mortality data often—it informs decisions, contributing to a body of evidence, but we don't necessarily have the full data that we need. So, what we're doing at the moment, and that's through our knowledge and analytical services, is we're collating, logging and analysing our understanding, through the data that we've got, of the equality impacts. In fact, ONS is the most complete dataset in relation to COVID-19 mortality.

We're also looking at how we can improve equality data collection ourselves at a local and national level. There is a—. I don't know if you're aware—Swansea has a databank at Swansea University called SAIL, and that's got quite a few research projects about how we can look at the impact of COVID-19 on multiple protected characteristics, and, hopefully, you may look into their work.

Public Health Wales, of course, is the other source of information. They provide information to local health boards. They've got an enhanced reporting form as part of their rapid mortality surveillance system. Yesterday, at the BAME advisory group, an official from Public Health Wales told us of what they'd found already in terms of analysing the data, and they were looking, for example, in terms of ethnicity. It's difficult, because we don't have all the data that we need in terms of ethnicity. But they were looking at, for example, test results, admissions to hospital, admissions into intensive therapy units and deaths in relation to ethnicity. So, I think there are various sources that we can—well, obviously, I've given them today as evidence, but we can give you those links.

We are, actually, also—. We've been asked to be involved in work that I think will be useful on a UK basis. Because I think some of this is—particularly in relation to the BAME issues, it is important that we look at it with England, Scotland and Northern Ireland as well. Scotland's doing work on it, UK Government, and Public Health England, as well as Public Health Wales. So, we'll share with you as much as we can in terms of that data. 

14:20

Thank you, Chair. Deputy Minister, can you tell us how the Government is learning from the pandemic to increase equality? Sorry, did you miss me at the beginning there? I didn't check whether my microphone was switched on. I was just asking whether you're learning from the pandemic to increase equality—and I'm thinking about encouraging and incentivising the use of things like flexible working, improving equality data collection, targeting services to those who need it most, et cetera. So, is that something that you're working on?

Yes. Well, that's a really helpful question, Dawn, because I've had more contact with people with protected characteristics and with some of the groups, the most vulnerable groups who have been identified as being disproportionately or adversely affected by COVID. I would have to say that this isn't just about the impact of COVID-19 in terms of infection and the disease, it's also about the impact of lockdown as well. Because, actually, one of the first groups that I met with was the disability equality forum. We have a disability equality forum, and I chair a meeting and meet with them regularly. I've already met with them twice and I'm meeting with them next week. So, we've met intensively because of the impact of COVID-19 on the lives of disabled people. The ONS has done a report about it. And when we actually met with the disability equality forum, they were speaking from lived experience of being disabled and being through the lockdown, which, of course, for some disabled people was absolutely the only option, because of underlying health conditions and vulnerability. But the fact that they wanted to participate fully in any discussions or any decisions about policy—. I remember one of the meetings I had with the disability equality forum, one of the participants, who has a paid job in the sector, said she didn't know when she'd be able to come out of her home, but she was going to remain there, engaged, through virtual working. So, that's just one example.

We've had so much engagement with many groups. On Monday, I joined an engagement that the Race Council Cymru organised. There were 98 people on that call. This is a way—. We'd never have meetings, would we, we just wouldn't have meetings like that done in the—well, it would take a long time to organise one meeting in the Senedd of 98 people from all over Wales living the experience of being black and from a minority ethnic background wanting to have their say. So, I think it's changed the way Government is working, because we can't go back on this engagement. 

But also, just in terms of policy development, this issue, as we're starting to ask all these groups to consider the lockdown and easing the lockdown, but staying safe, obviously, but also the framework for recovery—. And everyone is saying, 'We want a framework for recovery that leads to a fairer, more equal Wales.' We want to learn lessons from this. So, actually, in terms of disability, disabled people have said to me in these discussions, 'Well, actually, now we know we can work from home.' Yes, you can be very isolated, that's the difficulty, isn't it, so it's this balance, but you can work. There is a benefit from being able to acknowledge that working from home is as powerful as it would be to go to an office somewhere.

So, I think the—. But to me also, I just wanted to say, in terms of the impact of COVID-19 and the legislation that you've scrutinised and that's taken through the Coronavirus Act, we learned earlier on that there were issues relating, for example, to access to care packages if you were a disabled person. And local authorities have had to repurpose a lot of their staff and work to supporting the vulnerable, and particularly the shielded vulnerable, but then there are people who have care packages who need to keep going with those, and they wanted to make sure that there was a consultation about strategic guidance, and, as a result of them coming to a meeting, a virtual meeting like this, they had a huge impact on that guidance. They strengthened it; they made sure that equality and human rights were at the forefront of that.

I think the other area, which we may go on to, is this minority ethnic advisory group on funerals, burials, but also on the ethical code, which was really at the very beginning, early in April—an ethical code and values for the health service. And that included a lot of representation organisations, and faith as well as equality organisations, to ensure that human rights and equality were in that ethical code. 

So, those are just some examples, but I think flexible working, being able to work from home—there are barriers, there are issues. Many of you will know that you've been in meetings with children around you, because people are working from home, and then access to childcare is an issue. Well that's a big question, not for this committee today, but—. So, I think you will have a chance to look at the benefits and the fact that shorter working weeks, ways in which we can work more flexibly, as you say—we've proved it can happen. And, actually, if it empowers people to be at a computer in a public consultation with Government Ministers, which actually makes a difference, then we shouldn't let that go. 

14:25

Okay, thank you for that, Minister. Could I just say that, as you mentioned, there are a number of items we'd like to come on to and we're halfway through, and we're probably about a quarter of the way through our hoped-to-be-asked questions?

Snappier questions and shorter answers, I guess, yes. You did talk about the recovery phase, Deputy Minister. I'm just wondering how you think that the introduction of the socioeconomic duty is likely to help public bodies during the recovery; I'm thinking in particular how we can reprioritise health funding in deprived areas, for example. Is that something that you think is likely to help in the recovery process? 

Well, we were all asked as Ministers what were our priorities for the recovery process, and I put that the top priority was enacting the socioeconomic duty. That might sound strange in the sense of all the things that we have to do, but it seems to me, because this virus has shown the adverse impact and it's exposed inequalities, and there's been so much documentation about that—ONS, IFS, et cetera, Equality and Human Rights Commission—that the socioeconomic duty has to be enacted.

We've had to, as you know, delay implementation; we were going to, anyway. There is pressure on the Government in terms of legislation and regulations, but I'm pleased to say this is going to go ahead, the socioeconomic duty. It will go through the Senedd in terms of approving regulations. But I think you're absolutely right; it will be a duty on public bodies. It should help them actually address the inequalities that have been exposed. 

Thank you, Chair. My questions relate to domestic abuse, and we know that one in three women in Wales experience some form of violence or sexual abuse in their lifetime. During lockdown, calls to domestic abuse helplines have soared. Sadly, between 23 March to 16 April, there have been 16 related killings of children and women in the UK. Welsh Women's Aid have criticised the Welsh Government for announcing on 16 April £1.2 million for services, because they state that this £1.2 million was already announced in December. So, with this in mind, Minister, my question is: as the need for such services escalates, will you be announcing additional funding for the domestic abuse sector to the £1.2 million previously announced in December?

14:30

Thank you very much, Caroline, and I'm very pleased you've asked that question because I've had some very productive and fruitful meetings, and responded to the Welsh Women's Aid letter. In fact, perhaps I could share that with the committee because it covers a lot of the points that Caroline has raised.

Basically, we had a budget anyway for VAWDASV and, in fact, it was an increased budget for this financial year. So, it was important that I made it very clear publicly that we had that £1.2 million new capital funding for this financial year. And we'd already agreed that that funding should be made available particularly for dispersed community-based accommodation. So, that's not just refuges, but actually this has come from the consultation with the specialist sector, that they need to have other forms of accommodation. And, actually, this has been particularly the case in terms of responding to COVID-19, because there's had to be social distancing in refuge accommodation. Around refuge work, we've made sure right from the word go that refuge workers are key workers, and therefore they had to have the protection that other key workers would have. 

But, also, we announced money that was very important for refuges, to enable them to buy—. It was £200,000 to buy furnishings, white goods. Obviously, these have been—. There is an impact in terms of infection control, but also, like many other organisations—and I haven't mentioned this yet—in the third sector, giving funding for IT equipment, so that there could be remote working. So, funding has been going out for that as well. 

And, also, this week, we had a meeting of the sustainable funding group, to look at the funding of specialist services in the VAWDASV. We've opened the capital programme. We've had a lot of applications for other sources of need within domestic abuse, which includes sexual violence, Safer Wales. Every Friday, there is a meeting with officials—and I've attended one of them—of all the organisations, so that's Welsh Women's Aid, BAWSO, Safer Wales, Cymorth. We come together and discuss the issues, and we've just launched a campaign—in fact, the First Minister mentioned it—'Home is not always a safe place'.

Interestingly, Caroline, in Wales the calls to Live Fear Free haven't soared in the way that we've heard in England, but that's because it's very difficult to phone out, we believe, from a house for a victim. So, we've been promoting this new campaign, 'Home is not always a safe place to be', and what we've found is that people want to go through silent communication, so there are much longer web chats, many more text exchanges, but also, promoting 999 plus 55 to the police as well. So, we've been trying to reach out to victims of domestic abuse.

As of last week, I think there were 14 places available in refuges. We're monitoring that very carefully, but we have got funding within the £10 million that Julie James announced. If one needed to then create more accommodation, safe accommodation, local authorities with their providers can work to get that funding available. 

Just on funding again, so the Women's Aid groups, the various third sector groups, can also apply for the third sector funding, the resilience fund and the voluntary services emergency fund. And there is some funding that has come via the Home Office that they can also bid for. So, we're trying to making sure that access to funding is available, but the main thing is to work very closely, as we do every week, meeting the sector. But this is a chance, obviously, for us to then look at—. The impact of lockdown has been adverse and therefore, in terms of moving out of the lockdown to recovery, we expect there will be a call, a big call, on resources for particularly accommodation and specialist advice. So, we're looking to what funding is needed and working with the organisations to see what kind of funding we think that women—or not just women, but domestic abuse victims, women and men—and those who are affected will need so that they can actually reach the services. But, quickly on this point as well, we're engaging with the supermarkets, the volunteers who are working, and also with Community Pharmacy Wales to get the message out about what to do to seek help.

14:35

Thank you for that answer. May I probe a little more on funding, please, because the CEO of Thrive Women's Aid in Port Talbot has stated that violence against women needs to be treated in the same way as a pandemic? She's also said that—. In view of this, I'd like to ask what progress is being made on developing sustainable models for the future. And if I may ask, Jane: would the funding be both direct and ring-fenced? Because in Port Talbot, a region that I represent, 29 per cent of families and children live in poverty, so this makes them extremely vulnerable in this area. So, if I may ask you for an answer on those two questions, please.

Yes, well, I think I mentioned, Caroline, that this week there was a meeting—we've had this group, called the sustainable funding group, which includes all of the sector, and it includes Thrive. I've corresponded with Thrive, in fact, in the last few days, to respond to those queries. So, it's a sustainable funding group, looking at ways in which we can protect that funding and also make it sustainable. It's actually chaired by Yasmin Khan, who, as you know, is the national adviser; she chairs the meeting. They had a very constructive meeting on Tuesday. I think there's great progress being made in this direction to meet the concerns and needs of, not just Women's Aid, but all of the other providers. This is something that I want to come back on and update the committee, because they are preparing for us proposals as to what they will need, particularly as we come out of this lockdown and we will see that there will be even more need.

Thank you for that. And finally from me, I'd like to talk to you about people who are shielded and also I'd like to highlight the children who are not in school and are subject to domestic abuse. I'd like to talk to you about, like you said, the 'Home shouldn't be a place of fear' campaign. What work is carried out to protect the shielded and the vulnerable regarding the help that we've asked for by supermarkets, police and pharmacies, to raise awareness of how to access services, for, in particular, these people who are extremely vulnerable? Thank you.

Well, obviously, there is a cohort of 120,000 of the shielded, as we've described—the ones who've received a letter from the chief medical officer. Therefore, all of the local authorities are aware of who those people are. The local authorities are contacting all these people—they've been given the contact numbers; they've been exchanged. So, they're the ones, for example, and I'm sure you're aware of this, who would be eligible to have a regular food box delivery. But, local authorities are also managing this in very different ways in partnership with the voluntary sector, with the councils for voluntary service who are actually managing the throughput of matching volunteers to, therefore, vulnerable families. So, those are the people with particular health conditions. They obviously will include people who may be victims.

One of the issues that we've got, which has come before us, and I think you've already had some representations on, is elder abuse—there's elder abuse as well in homes. I think Hourglass has written to us about this, and I've responded to them. This is an issue that Julie Morgan is very concerned about.

But you've also focused on the children. So, this is where I think—. Of course, the schools have remained open for vulnerable children as well as the children of key workers, and we were concerned, when initially these arrangements were made, that not all of the children who could come, who were recognised as vulnerable, were coming to school. But I think Kirsty Williams has said, just reporting to us this week, that there's a much higher number of children coming to school now who are entitled to come to school in terms of vulnerability. We think that probably there hasn’t been that rise in calls to Live Fear Free that we anticipated. There have been complex calls privately, and this has included calls about concerns about children, as well as other victims of domestic abuse. So, the fact that schools have always been a place where victims, and including women in particular, have been able to come and seek advice, that has been a difficulty, really. But as for access for children and young people, enabling them to come forward to be able to access school is vitally important.

14:40

And how do we help those who are shielded, but they're dependent on an abusive partner, so they don’t have access to the outside world, maybe, because of a disability? How are we going to reach those people, Jane?

We've been doing a lot of work with the people who they are seeing. So, obviously, the local authorities, very clearly, who have a responsibility and links, just in terms of access to food and also to medicines—you know, there's a whole volunteering force in terms of delivering medicines. We had a meeting with Community Pharmacy Wales, and there are 750 community pharmacies in Wales who are now providing information, and also, interestingly, doing the training, because, you know, we have e-learning training about how to detect domestic abuse. So, the staff are undertaking that.

Supermarkets. Lesley Griffiths raised this with supermarkets, because a lot of shielded people want online booking for food—priority bookings, not necessarily a free food box. They want online priority. So, we've got posters. Digital communication is crucially important, but you still need some hard-copy posters. You need information to put in a box.

The volunteers are also being encouraged to undertake e-learning training because they are engaging with people. So, obviously, we've done a community campaign now that you will have seen about 'Home is not always a safe place'. I think it's very difficult for disabled people who are victims of domestic abuse because it's harder for them even to come out of the door, but it is about public awareness.

We haven't got much time, but I think Mark wants to come in, briefly, at this stage.

Yes, a couple of questions, which tie in with both the first sessions and the comments you've just made in answering questions around domestic abuse also. How will you respond to the growing divergence from the social model of disability and the public sector equality duty that have been reported to me as chair of the cross-party group on disability, the cross-party autism group and others, where increased barriers are being encountered? I'll give you just two examples. On behalf of RNIB Cymru, I submitted a question asking what the Welsh Government plans to enable blind and partially sighted people to access priority shopping or to self-register, given that social distancing is problematic for them, and they're unable to access priority online deliveries, which they previously relied on. The reply I received from Lesley Griffiths was that a blind or partially sighted person would only be a priority if they were in the shielding group.

You've just mentioned schools. Only yesterday I received an e-mail for a parent in Flintshire who's son has severe autism, severe learning disabilities, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder, who attends Ysgol Maes Hyfryd in Flint, which provides for pupils with a range of severe and complex needs, who said, 'I received a call from social services on Monday, stating that education has refused to take my child and eight other children, and there will be no provision until lockdown was over.' That's the real experience that people are reporting to me constantly throughout each day.

And particularly in terms of domestic abuse, a letter from Women's Aid specifically asked for ring-fenced funding. You've explained that they can access funding through different pots otherwise. How will you, therefore, monitor this to ensure that they are receiving funding where, for example, the Welsh Government's received £1.7 million extra from UK Government consequential funding for domestic abuse, sexual violence and for vulnerable children to ensure that the calls by Hourglass that you referred to, and others were addressed, but Hourglass are saying that their very business is under threat if they don't get that extra support and staffing.

14:45

Thank you very much, Mark. I think, just to start off, I'm glad for that feedback—any feedback that I can have of people with lived experience and for organisations like RNIB, then that's what I need. In fact, RNIB and RNID sit on the disability equality forum and we've met twice and we're meeting again next week specifically to look at issues on the impact of lockdown and then the framework for recovery.

So, I mean, I will want to take up that issue, particularly in relation the feedback that you got from RNIB, because obviously, in terms of that very shielded category of people who have got these specific health conditions, their access—. I think you were referring to the fact that they could get priority online booking for supermarkets, and yet, it's also very helpful often the way that people who are blind and partially sighted have been able to get access to those priority bookings. So, I mean, I will take that up as a policy issue, because the very shielded is very focused on those particular needs. But, of course, we're also looking at the wider cohorts of vulnerable and disadvantaged people, and, in fact, I've had a meeting with Lesley Griffiths and also Hannah Blythyn, who's responsible for food banks, for example, just on a wider level of vulnerability and need.

But this is an equality issue that I would also want to take up in terms of what you described as a situation affecting a young person not being able to access school, with autism. Well, again, that's something that I'm sure—and I hope that you would raise that not just with the local authority, but that's something that we can raise as well with the education Minister because we need that response. But I have to say that, as far as I'm concerned, and, indeed, the way that I work with the disability equality movement, I'm absolutely committed to the social model of disability and I bang on about it all the time at every opportunity, as you probably know, Mark, because it's crucial in terms of getting things right in terms of equality.

I was very pleased, when I got a message very early on saying, 'Can we make sure that the Welsh Government has a signer at their press conferences?', that we've had a signer at every press conference, which are every day. I don't see a signer at the UK Government press conferences, but perhaps, Mark, you could try and make sure that they do because it's so important. I mean, that's about tackling exclusion and discrimination.

As far as Women's Aid is concerned, I mean, we have got a budget for VAWDASV of £5.25 million revenue funded budget. It was an increase on the previous year of £0.25 million, and we have to make sure that there is the capacity. I've already said to Caroline that we've got a sustainable funding route. We've asked for any proposals about how extra funding could be used, and that, of course, includes emerging needs like the Hourglass writing to us about elder abuse—something which I've responded to very positively, and we need to look at those needs. We also need to look at what may be necessary in terms of other bespoke—and it's bespoke, ring-fence, however you look at it—services that may emerge. We have sought to get every pound we can get from UK Government announcements. Some of that is not money that actually is going to come directly to Wales; some of it Home Office funding you have to bid for, while some of it, which is very helpful, is going via other third sector organisations, or the lottery, as another funding body. So, I can assure you, and I hope that I've assured you that we're working so closely now—as we always have sought to do—with the specialist sector in terms of VAWDASV . 

14:50

Okay. We've got eight minutes left and a number of questions. Delyth, could you ask the first question on human rights?

I was going to say exactly what the others have. There's one principal question relating to HR considerations I'd like to ask the Deputy Minister. You've mentioned already that the lockdown does present difficulties for some groups of people particularly. What human rights considerations will be guiding your plan to lift the lockdown, please? I'm particularly thinking about BAME communities, about women, about disabled people, but also the fact that PPE, a lot of it doesn't fit women, so if we are going to be moving to a place, coming out of lockdown, where people are going to be encouraged to wear face masks, I would implore, please, the Welsh Government to make sure that what is available to the public is equally usable for women.

Well, thank you. This is why having equality and also the well-being of future generations committee as a key test in terms of recovery measures is crucial. And it's also crucial in terms of a roadmap out of the lockdown—that it has to be equality impact assessed, but also from a human rights perspective—. So, yesterday, I met with the—I have a steering group called the strengthening equality and advancing human rights group, and you will recall that this was set up in order to undertake research to look at our human rights base. The research is being undertaken by Professor Simon Hoffman and Diverse Cymru, and this very key question about human rights underpinning the way we move out of the COVID-19 pandemic was at the forefront. The Equality and Human Rights Commission were there, and I hope that they're going to give evidence to your committee, even if it's written evidence, because they have a statutory duty to ensure that we are delivering in this way, and they are looking towards an action plan towards a more fairer, equal Wales, which I think is the kind of route map we would certainly subscribe to.

So, it's actually building—it's back to Dawn's question—it's building on some positives, as well as the negative impact of COVID-19. But the human rights issue is fundamentally important, particularly in terms of black and minority ethnic communities. And I would say that, just the people we've talked to, and John raised this yesterday, in fact—. So, for example, the test, trace and protect issue: it's vitally important that we know that this will have to be done in perhaps a different way to reach to those BAME communities; it's not going to be the same for everyone. It cannot be one-size-fits-all in terms of the recovery. We've got to look at it through the equality and human rights lens, and for me, at the moment, that means listening to people and engaging with forums. So, the Wales Race Forum, disability equality forum, also the faith communities forum, which we haven't mentioned, faith being a big issue in terms of how do we then move towards places of worship being reopened, and also, equality.

We haven't mentioned refugees and asylum seekers, because I've been meeting with them as well, and there are some real issues that the committee may wish to consider, because I was very pleased that Julie James announced back in April that she will expect local authorities to support people with no recourse to public funds, and that's a big issue for refugees and asylum seekers

Thank you very much, Minister. Dawn, perhaps we could deal with the first two questions on the voluntary sector?

Yes, sure. Thank you, Chair. Deputy Minister, perhaps you could just tell us about the effectiveness of the mobilisation of volunteers through Volunteering Wales.

Yes, I mean, I think this is where the volunteering response—probably we would all agree—has been absolutely incredible. And just in terms of the numbers, I think it's now up to 30,000 volunteers registered, but also 6,000 already actively matched and engaged. Just in terms of the volunteering force, we have got, of course, in Wales, an infrastructure already, which doesn’t exist in England, with Volunteering Wales website, so people can register on the volunteering website, which went up to 28,000, but also, then, they can be matched to their local council's voluntary service.

So, across Wales, and I can give you—I probably haven't got time now, Chair, but I can give you a breakdown of, for example, gender, ethnicity, age groups of our volunteers, and also a bit of a geographical response as well to where those volunteers are based. So, it's been a phenomenal response. But I have to say also, there are all these little voluntary groups that have set up in communities, in neighbourhoods, Facebook groups; we've encouraged them to register because there have been a couple of things that we've done, such as producing safeguarding policies, because you actually do need to safeguard volunteers and beneficiaries with this whole movement that's developed.

14:55

Yes. If you could provide us with that further information, Minister, that would be very useful. Dawn.

Yes, my final question, Chair, is just about the advice services and how Welsh Government is supporting them through this pandemic, when clearly, the demand for those services is increasing.

Yes, well, of course, we already had our single advice fund allocation that was made shortly before the pandemic. And very quickly, Citizens Advice, which is the main provider, but with many partners, went offline—they went online and away from the face to face. What we have also done to support them is provide some more IT support for them in order to be able to deliver that advice.

So, I'm getting up-to-date and regular reports on their interactions. Clearly they've had to interact digitally through these online arrangements, which is difficult for people who are used to going along to their Citizens Advice office; I know people queue on a Monday morning down in local ones in my constituency. But, I think if I could also perhaps, Chair, give you the latest figures. I think the latest figures we had was that 80 per cent of the contact with our advice services was for people with protected characteristics. But I would like, Chair, if you could bear with me for the last minute or two, to ask Alyson Francis if she's got anything more specific she'd like to say as my official on advice services.

Thank you, Minister. I'm very conscious of time. I think the Minister has certainly given you a lot of information about a whole range of topics there, including a lot of the work we're doing internally within Welsh Government around policy impact assessments and the focus that we're putting on that. I think the close working with the stakeholders across all the different equality groups, and particularly the VAWDASV sector is a really important stream of work for us, and we're getting a lot of really good discussion and engagement around that—we're really conscious that things that are happening on the ground can act quickly to act upon them. What the stakeholders are also saying to us is that their counterparts across the border and in other parts of the UK are very envious of the level of contact that they have with officials and with Ministers in Wales, and the speed at which we are reacting to the things that they are raising with us. So, that seems to be appreciated very widely indeed.

Just on advice services, I think we could, if it would be helpful, give you a bit of feedback, John, as Chair, as to the latest—. Because we get monitoring reports. We have tried to support the advice services more effectively, Citizens Advice Cymru, and I think they are very pleased that we've increased the discretionary assistance payments by £11 million—that is assisting, particularly in terms of those who are applying for universal credit. But also, many of the questions that have been asked by Caroline, Mark, Delyth and Dawn are actually about how do the most vulnerable, get support and advice, and how do we get the communications.

So, my next final point about lockdown and recovery is that I want—and this answers Mark's question, partly—I want much more accessible information. We need it in different languages, we need it in different formats. There are people who are digitally excluded in Wales who aren't benefiting from all this virtual working. They might watch television and they might read a leaflet, so we have got to look at all of the means of communication that we can do in order to break down those barriers.

15:00

Yes, okay. Minister, thank you very much, and your official, for appearing before committee today to give evidence. You will be sent a transcript in the usual way to check for factual accuracy. Diolch yn fawr.

3. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42 (ix) i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod
3. Motion under Standing Order 17.42(ix) to resolve to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting

Cynnig:

bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(xi).

Motion:

that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(xi).

Cynigiwyd y cynnig.

Motion moved.

Okay. Our next item, then, is item 3, and that's a motion under Standing Order 17.42 to resolve to exclude the public for the remainder of the meeting. Are Members content so to do? Yes, okay. We will, then, move into private session.

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 15:01.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 15:01.

Dysgu am Senedd Cymru