Last Wednesday night, the Welfare Reform Bill finally passed. It slipped quietly through its last stages in the House of Lords. Whether you support it or oppose it, this piece of legislation brings about a huge change in how people receive benefits, and especially disability and sickness benefits. The Institute for Fiscal studies conducted a study on how this will affect people in Wales and the Welsh economy, and it actually affects us worse than anywhere else due to a higher rate of disabled and ill people.
Unfortunately, there seems to be a growing misconception about people who claim disability benefits, and while we applaud when ‘benefit cheats’ are caught and punished, they are a very small minority. Just 0.8% is over-paid due to benefit fraud, according to the Department of Work and Pensions’ own report on the matter. In particular, Incapacity Benefit fraud is just 0.3% and Disability Living Allowance is 0.5%. So, the wholly legitimate 99.7% of those claiming Incapacity Benefit and 99.5% of those claiming Disability Living Allowance will be affected by the cuts in benefits.
In my constituency team, one of the things my staff and I help constituents with are problems with their benefits, and so it comes as little surprise to us that the benefit fraud level is that low. It takes a lot of work and time to claim, and often requires several layers of evidence and support to start receiving payments. It’s not easy, even for those who desperately need help.
In terms of how these reforms will directly affect Wales, in 2014-2015 the average Welsh household is expected to lose 4.1% of its income (£1,100 per year) compared to the UK average that will lose 3.8% (£1,170 per year). The Institute for Fiscal Studies also estimate that these will be regressive, meaning that they “will take more proportionately from lower-income groups than from higher-income groups” and are “likely to be even more regressive in Wales”. It will also take proportionately more from families with children, families with children under 5 and for those with more than 2 children.
We are getting ready to cope with the way people need help as a result of these changes and I want people to know that they can contact me for help. It is best if you come to me sooner rather than later for help because government cutbacks mean that my inquiries are responded to more slowly than in the past. The first port of call for advice should be to the Citizens’ Advice Bureau (whose column in this newspaper is always worth a read) – call your local branch on 0844 477 2020. If you need advice on debt management call the local Consumer Credit Counselling Service on 0800 138 1111. And, if you feel I can be of any assistance please call my constituency office on 029 2022 3533.