THE First Minister of Wales has said that the Welsh Government will be launching the biggest Universal Basic Income trial in the UK this year in an attempt to learn lessons from the trial aimed a cohort of young people leaving the care system.
The First Minister gave a detailed overview of what the Welsh Government and Local Authorities were trying to do to address the issue of poverty in Wales during his press conference today, Friday (Jan 14)..
We began by asking the First Minister if he was concerned about an economic crisis now and possibly running into the next term of the Senedd and the impact it will have on children more than anyone else. We asked if it would be prudent to look at trialling Universal Basic Income with a small number of families which would provide benefits for the families but also support a UK wide call for a trial.
The First Minister replied:
“You point to what will be a very serious set of circumstances for many many Welsh families as we go into 2022. The cost of living catastrophe a phrase used by the resolution foundation will be very real for those families in April of this year. They will see their fuel bills go up, they will see their national insurance contributions go up and for thousands of Welsh families as you said the cruel decision of the UK Government to cut £20 a week out of Universal Credit that for so many families is is the difference between being able to put food on the table and keep rooms warm.
“Here in the Welsh Government we have doubled the amount of money that came to us from UK Government to help households this winter. Fifty one million pounds we have put on the table including £100 for families needing help with their fuel bills. Your point about Universal Basic Income though. We are piloting a Universal Basic Income pilot here in Wales. We are committed to it It will begin this year. It will be aimed at cohorts of young people coming out of the care system. children and young people who we know don’t get the same start in life as children who are able to rely on the help they get from their own families. That will be the biggest Basic Income experiment in the United Kingdom. I think there will be lessons that will be extracted from it that will be relevant to the whole of the United Kingdom. We are trying to do it in a way that combats poverty amongst the group of young people as you highlighted who are particularly disadvantaged as they set off in making a success of their lives.”
We followed up on the first question by pointing out to the First Minister that the Welsh Government had handed over a considerable amount of money to local authorities across Wales and increased their budgets for the next year. We argued that councils are not strapped for cash and in fact Covid has been kinder to them than most businesses and there is evidence that they have made savings. We asked if it would be reasonable now for those local authorities to identify the poorest families within their area and ensure that they especially the children, the old age and the disabled are not falling through the net perhaps by providing some form of emergency funding if only for the basic essentials. We reminded the First Minister that poverty does not jump out of homes and introduce itself.
The First Minister said: “I completely agree with the final point you made. Poverty does not introduce itself. We know that many people who live in difficult circumstances themselves go to great lengths to try to avoid that being known to other people for all the reasons we can easily imagine.
“Actually to be fair to our local authorities I think a great deal of the money that has gone to them has been money that they have simply handed on to businesses. This week businesses in Wales will have been receiving the latest set of grants that we have made available because of the latest protections. £2,000, £4,000, £6,000 in help for businesses through the non domestic rate system and it’s local authorities that we have relied on to get that money very quickly out of the door and to those businesses.
“By enlarge I think our local authorities have responded remarkably to the challenges of Coronavirus because this affect their staff as much as anybody else. If there is more that they can do to help those people falling through the net as you put it. I know that they would want to do that. We have been able to provide a better settlement for local government in the next financial year and for many years past.
“Budgets have not been easy for local authorities over the last decade so where they can do more I am sure they will want to. In a small piece of additional good news, this week my colleague Eluned Morgan has announced further funding for the fantastic care and repair services that we have in every part of Wales and when you talk about people needing grab rails and those small adaptions that can make life so much easier for people inside their own homes there will be more funding for those services in Wales from now on.”
Care and Repair can be contacted at https://www.careandrepair.org.uk/en/