At full council, January 2019, I presented a Motion on Addressing Extreme UK Poverty, drawing on the recommendations of Prof Philip Alston (the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, who toured the UK in November 2018 and wrote a statement condemning the Conservative government for its harsh “welfare” regime) and analysis of the local impacts of Welfare Reform.
The speech Mary gave in presenting the motion is below. During the debate, Nick mentioned the people who have been made so desperate by benefit cuts and claims processes as to have taken their own lives. Recent figures given to a Scrutiny Working Group on Welfare Reform show that Uplands ranks in the top 5 wards for referrals to Swansea Foodbank. The Conservatives mentioned two of the recommendations in the motion as being particularly important ones which they support, but said, repeatedly, that work was the best route out of poverty, in blatant denial of the fact that the majority of households in poverty in Wales are working households, and we have our highest rate of working poverty ever. When called to vote, they abstained. There were no votes against. The Lib Dems supported, as did many Independents – but not all. Fortunately the Leader called for a Named Vote so that every Swansea resident can see how their representatives voted.
Motion on Extreme Poverty – Mary’s Opening Speech
I wish to thank Council for the full and useful discussion which arose last month when I presented an update report on Welfare Reform. As we all noted, this is having a dire effect, with a great many Swansea citizens being plunged into unliveable hardship. I believe it is absolutely necessary for this council to ensure that the UK Government in Westminster is fully aware of the impact of these policies on our community and our economy.
In preparing this motion, however, I found that somebody has already attempted to send the very same message to Westminster. The UN’s Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty toured the UK last November to test the government’s claim that extreme poverty does not exist on our shores.
In preparing his visit, Professor Alston said: “The UK has gone through a period of pretty deep budget cuts first under the coalition and then the Conservatives and I am interested to see what the outcome of that has been.”
Well, he certainly did see what the outcome has been, as we are seeing here in Swansea.
We find a punitive and draconian system, driving people into hardship and despair. We find increases in debt, in rent arrears, in mental health problems … ultimately, we see an increase in children being taken into our care. This is a terrible outcome for the families affected, and it is financially unsustainable for this Council.
We find these devastating impacts everywhere. My own ward of Uplands, known for its relative affluence, is the ward with the 5th greatest numbers of residents presenting at Swansea Foodbank.
So-called social security is, as Professor Alston observed in his report, simply not working. He has made very clear recommendations which this Council must endorse, for the benefit of our citizens locally and the betterment of the whole UK – these are included in the motion, numbers 1 to 4.
Further to these, our local partnership working has highlighted problems giving rise to further recommendations.
Number 5 recognises that if someone waiting a month or more for their first payment of income and having nothing to live on in the meantime were to approach a responsible lender, such as a Credit Union, they would have an assessment of their income and outgoings to establish how much of a repayment they could bear, whilst still being able to survive. The DWP undertakes no such affordability assessment, operating as an online payday lender with easy cash available resulting in crippling debt.
Number 6 recognises that the promise of Universal Credit as originally devised was to MAKE WORK PAY, and since the removal of universal work allowances it does no such thing.
Number 7 notes that a landlord may request a direct payment of rent from the DWP only after 8 weeks of arrears have accrued, and those arrears can be difficult to get back. Small wonder, then, that private landlords are simply refusing to house people on Universal Credit – a problem flagged up in all the early pilots, which the Government continues to ignore.
Presiding member, today I was in a meeting of local partners commenting that while they welcome the government’s halt to managed migration from the previous benefit system over to UC, many organisations are calling for a halt also to natural migration to universal credit. Therefore I would like, please to slightly amend the motion to include a point number 8: Halt the natural migration of benefit claimants onto Universal credit until it is fit for purpose and widespread problems and concerns have been resolved.
In closing – I am very proud of the work this Council is doing to mitigate the impacts of Welfare Reform. Our welfare rights service is second to NONE, with an appeal success rate of over 95%. Our early intervention services and young people’s services work with people in the most challenging and complex of circumstances, and only this week I was very proud to launch Swansea Working, our new partnership model for employability support, providing a single point of contact for any person in Swansea wishing to find a new or a better job. But not everybody affected by welfare reform CAN get paid employment. And far too many people languish on insecure contracts, paid the minimum wage, which by any calculations I have ever seen is simply not enough to live on, and the situation is only getting worse.
Indicative calculations put before cabinet last year predicted that by 2020 there would be an average loss of £46 per week for every working-age household in Swansea. This totals a loss of nearly £40 million per year to our local households and local economy. Those on lower incomes spend their money locally so the impacts on local businesses will be catastrophic. £40 million per year, and that does not even include pension-age households who we learned last week are to face further devastating cuts.
We cannot stand by and let this happen to our citizens, our traders and our economy, we must send a clear message to Westminster and I urge Council to support this motion.