Invest to Save within the NHS
Rebecca Evans AM (Labour), WELSH FOCUS CONFERENCE April 4, 2012.
Next up please Rebecca if you would come and do your worst please. Rebecca is regional AM for Ceredigion, Carmarthen and Pembrokeshire. Everyone knows their AM directly. But not many people know the regional AMs and Rebecca is our Labour AM for the 3 counties, Rebecca I think will speak about welfare is it?
REBECCA EVANS AM: Yes. Shall I kick-off? OK
First of all a big thank you to you Henry and Damien for inviting me you come to your inaugural conference it’s a privilege and it’s been great to meet you in your other roles at the Assembly before today.
As you said I’m one of the Regional Members so I cover Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire, Powys, Ceredigion and half of Gwynedd as well so I spend a lot of my life on the road.
Before I talk about welfare reform and tell you a bit about myself, disability issues are very close to my heart and although I am not a disabled person myself I did spend most of my twenties as a full-time carer for someone with disabilities so I do know how frustrating it is just to have to fight for everything you are entitled to and no where more so is it the case than with welfare and benefits.
Before becoming an Assembly Member I worked for the national autistic society where my role as a policies and campaigns role and we had a campaign called don’t write me off which some of you will have heard off and it sought to make the benefit system work for people with autism and to help those with autism who could work into work and I know that’s going to be a strong theme that runs through discussions today.
Disability is a core part of my work in the Assembly. I’ve set up the cross party group on disability and really excited about it. Our key themes are to make sure the government uses the social model of disability in everything it does, that it drives forward independent living and convention on the rights of people with disabilities in all its work as well. That’s something I’m really excited about.
Welfare reform is an incredibly contentious and polarising issue and one that can cause real anxiety for people. In fact it’s one of the top 3 issues I find in my post box and my email box every day alongside healthcare and education.
I was with some of you back in October when thousands of disabled people and their families and friends took to the streets to march in solidarity against the cuts to disability benefits and services and these rallies took place right across the UK represented the largest ever gatherings of disabled people but even then it’s just represented the very tip of the iceberg because there were many disabled people who were physically mentally emotionally or financially unable to come and mark so for every one who was marching there were dozens and dozens who couldn’t.
I am not opposed to welfare reform and there is no question disability benefits do need reform. Indeed disabled people and their carers have long been saying the assessment process needed to change. The process prior to any changes was heavily weighted towards physical disabilities making it difficult for people with disabilities such as mental illness, autism or learning disabilities to demonstrate how they were affected by their condition and it’s long been said the assessors making the decisions on benefits need greater awareness, understanding and training in a whole range of conditions and how they affect the individuals in order to make the right decisions as to what benefit the person should receive.
The assessments hitherto have made no meaningful acknowledgement of people’s ability to cope with their disability, it varies from day to day, as might their needs, and there always needs to be greater focus on helping people into work. So, yes there needs to be change but I feel some of the current reforms fail to address these issues.
There are pressing reasons why we need to get things right: disability organisations have been telling me that disabled people are twice as likely to live in poverty as non-disabled people. Nearly half of all disabled people have no savings at all. Families with a disabled child are on average £50 a week worse off than a family without and 72 per cent of carers with substantial caring responsibilities are financially worse off as a result. Disabled people are statistically less likely to find work. Likely to have fewer qualifications and take home a lower average pay packet but behind all these statistics are individual people.
I’m really aware of the anxiety many people feel about the road ahead which is why I want to highlight some of the positive things that happen here in Wales in Wales the Welsh Government has been explicit that a priority should be to build a Welsh society that treats people with equality, dignity and respect and it is committed to ensuring its spending priority works to lessen the impact of any UK government cuts on the most disadvantaged people in society and is committed to continuing to raise concerns about disability benefits with the UK government minister for disabled people Maria Miller.
It’s also set up ministerial task and finish group to consider the cumulative impact of welfare reforms across Welsh Government policies and services and options for mitigation within the limits of what it can do with its devolved powers. The group is chaired why Leighton Andrews the minister for education and skills and the ministers recently commissioned a piece of work to analyse the impact of welfare reforms on people in Wales and they’ve recently published a first stage of their analysis which does tend to reinforce some of their concerns that I and others have had about the scope and scale of changes.
The analysis showed Wales has a higher dependence on welfare benefits than Great Britain as a whole and the main reason for this is the high proportion of people claiming disability and sickness benefits and this means Wales has been even harder hit than other parts of Britain. The analysis shows on average households in Wales can expect to loose 4.1 per cent of their income as a result of caps in benefit changes or £1100 a year and geographically the Welsh Government suggests the South Wales valleys and inner city areas of Cardiff, Newport and Swansea are most likely to be disproportionately affected by changes although impacts will be felt right across Wales.
The poorest households with children are estimated to lose the largest proportion of their income and particularly non working lone parents and workless couples with children expected to suffer disproportionate financial hit and analysis shows families with children aged under 5 or more than one child expecting to be particularly badly affected.
I am just realising I had said I would bring some positive things to the discussion and although welfare reform is non-devolved the Welsh Government is committed to trying to act and respond in a progressive manner. It’s made it clear to all local authorities in Wales that it expects them to undertake a rigorous equality impact assessment to gauge the impact of any policy and spending changes on people with disabilities. I think that is a really progressive important step.
Last year the Welsh Government became the first administration in the UK to produce an equality impact assessment on its own budget and I am particularly pleased to see the government introduced public sector equality duties to promote equality to tackle discrimination and prejudice and build a fair and tolerant society. So that means that public bodies have a duty now a legal duty to act in a way that delivers equality.
2 days ago the Welsh Government launched its strategic equality plan which gives actions and timescales for driving forward its equalities agenda. I have a couple of copies with me but I certainly will be happy to share further copies after today’s event.
The government showed it is prepared to listen to disability groups because it’s responded positively to calls for an independent living framework and I was aware of a number of candidates before the election signing a pledge to support independent living so I’m keen to see that initiative work in Wales and we can expect some new announcements on that from the Minister for equalities very soon.
The Welsh Government’s responding a number of ways to welfare reform and the current economic challenges and I’m really keen to see that disabled people are able to benefit and take advantage of these initiatives. For example yesterday the Welsh Government launched the jobs worth Wales in Carmarthen. It’s a 75 million pound government scheme to create 12,000 new job opportunities over the next 3 years for people aged 16 to 25. In the Assembly have tabled a statement of opinion alongside Mike hedges Assembly Member for Swansea east saying the best way to ensure that disabled people can access the scheme is to set a minimum number of disabled young people who should benefit from it and this is something I’m still working from so I would welcome any support you can offer by writing to your Assembly Members and asking them to sign up to this statement.
So while I’m talking about jobs it would be remiss not to mention issues facing Remploy. The latest from Welsh Government is that it has asked the UK minister for disabled people to devolve funding for Remploy factories to Wales for the next 3 years and First Minister has also written to the prime minister asking about devolving responsibility for Remploy factories to Wales and they’re going to continue to apply pressure to the UK government on this matter and I am sure they’d be happy to liaise with you with updates.
The Welsh Government said it’s going to work with Remploy, the union and other interested parties of which there are many. To see if they can find a viable option for workers in Wales using the powers they have here.
I do feel very much for the individuals who are facing redundancy at this most difficult economic time and really hope we can find a solution for them,
Returning to welfare reform, I would like to end by sharing with you some of the growing stigmatisation of disabled people on benefits by some parts of the media, Mark has already spoken about this, this morning, it is something I have talked about at some length in the Assembly and debates as well. Journalists, such as The Sun’s Ron Middle. Have shown a bigoted attitude to disability. Why is the stigmatisation of disabled people who rely on benefits, why doesn’t it cause moral and public outrage it should. Perhaps because of the problem is so entrenched in parts of the media and society.
The Strathclyde centre for disability research, associated with the University of Glasgow, conducted research into the changes in the way that the media reports disability and the way it had impacted on the attitudes of people against disabled people. Much of the report — researchers found reduction in the numbers of sympathetic and real life articles, more about the burden of disabled people allegedly placing on the benefits system. Some articles, blaming people in receipt on is capacity benefit when focus groups were asked to describe a particular story about a disabled people, benefit fraud was a theme mentioned. The research also reported, there is a significant increase in the use of pejorative language to describe disabled people including the suggestion, that claiming incapacity benefit is a life style choice and that the term scrounger were common. Before I well in the car this morning while I was waiting outside. I got here early, I like to try and make sure I got to the right place.
I found estimates of the incidence of fraud and error relating to disability living allowance are actually very low in comparison to other benefits. The latest figures suggest that, that around 1.9% was overpaid due to fraud and error, this compares to 5.7% on income support, 5.2 for job seekers allowance, 4.4 … and 3.3 for incapacity benefit. Of the £220 million overpaid, 60 million was due do fraud and the rest due to customer error or official error, even this figures don’t stand up to scrutiny, when , when it is claiming that they are somehow fraudsters.
SCOPE Cymru, reported that the Welsh media has a more balanced approach to reporting but it is a fact that many people rely on the London media for their news. Welfare reform is one of the biggest issue of the days; today’s discussions will make an important contribution to the debate. I am keen to hear what attendees think about how the Assembly can be responding to the challenges of welfare reform.
I would like to end by taking this opportunity to wish Welsh Focus well. I have been watching the developments with interest and I think you are already fulfilling an important role of educating and challenging politicians, I like to see the responses that people make to government statements and so on and articles in the press. So, I think you will become a force to become reckoned with. I hope today is a start of a long and productive relationship. Thank you.
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HENRY: Thank you Rebecca.
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I would like to ask now, any questions anybody would like to ask Rebecca on what she has talked about just now? Across the room? If there is anybody who wants to ask a question, we have got a cordless microphone over there that you can speak into, is there? Alan?
NEW SPEAKER: Alan. Access officer with Pembrokeshire County Council. Can I ask Rebecca, with the strategic equality plans that the local authorities required to make, are there any measures in place to check them or content of them to make sure that they are doing the job so to speak?
REBECCA EVANS: By understanding is, all of the plans have to be submitted to Welsh ministers to be signed off. Then I imagine that I would have to check, but I think there would be a person within the local authority who is role it is to make sure that it is being delivered. I am trying to think who would be, I will have a think, if I kind find out, I will ring the office and, I will come and find you over coffee.
HENRY: Lady on the row with her hand up. You have to go right around. Put your mileage in later.
NEW SPEAKER: Thank you, is it on? Yes, Sian from CBM Cymru, Wales and also on the steering committee of DWA which you will hear more about this afternoon. Thank you for your talk, mine is a comment and maybe a request more than a question. I was impressed by what we are doing in Wales in respect of considering the number of people with disabilities to be involved in various grants and schemes. But I am just wondering through the international development fund that the Welsh Government has, it is a small pond that is available but there are over a hundred and twenty community programmes. I wondered if it would be possible to, to strengthen the disability component of that in respect of ensuring that when people are putting grant proposals into Welsh Government and similar pots, that we ensure that there is an element of including people with disabilities and asking the programmes what they are doing about disability within their communities in Africa because there, very often I don’t think that they are all are aware of how many people with disabilities there are in their communities and I think this is an ideal opportunity to raise awareness about that and I wonder if you could please take that back as part of Welsh Focus and also our disability interests from here and in Africa?
Thank you very much.
REBECCA EVANS: I would be more than happy to do that; perhaps we can have a chat of how to work together. There could be, perhaps we could do awareness raising at the event, sorry, awareness raising at the Assembly or perhaps questions to ministers, letters to ministers, statements of opinion. I have been impressed by the display outside. If you haven’t been already out to see the work in Africa. It was eye opening for me; I would love to take this forward.
NEW SPEAKER: Great, thank you.
HENRY: Thank you Sian. Anybody else? Nevil.
NEW SPEAKER: Nevil farmer. Some 3 weeks ago we had a phone call from the job centre. Can you hear me?
HENRY: Yes you are on.
NEW SPEAKER: Nevil: stating that they are going stop our benefits at the end of April. That means that I will have no income at all. My wife and I we both on benefits and we are both going to lose that benefit. What do these people think that we are going to live on? Could you answer that please?
REBECCA EVANS: I would love to ask them the same question myself but I mean, what I can do, as one of the Assembly members for the region, I could make representations to the DWP on your behalf and on behalf of anyone facing a similar, a similar problem. That is something that I can do, taking forward from today. As I said when I just, when I started it is one of the biggest things. Almost everyday people contacting me with exactly the same problems. So if there are things I can do in talking to the DWP on your behalf. I would be happy to do that.
NEW SPEAKER: Nevil: why do the conservatives hate us so much to do such a thing to us?
REBECCA EVANS: Perhaps I will let the conservatives on the bill this afternoon answer that one would be more.
NEW SPEAKER: Nevil: yes, I will ask them.
REBECCA EVANS: I don’t think I should answer that one.
HENRY: Thank you for that Nevil.
Anybody else got anything they want to ask? Rebecca, yes?
Going once, going twice, ok, thank you very much for that.