Wales politics

Housing benefit changes defended

A Wales Office minister has defended changes to housing benefit described by critics as the "bedroom tax".

Stephen Crabb said they were part of welfare reform plans designed to tackle the challenge of "a working age population that has become too dependent on welfare benefits".

He said tenants in Wales hit by the changes lost less than the UK average, disproving a Labour claim that Wales was the hardest hit of any nation or region of the UK.

Around 40,000 tenants in social housing in Wales are affected by the under-occupancy penalty which penalises tenants with more bedrooms than the UK government thinks they need.

Almost half (46%) of working age tenants in the social housing sector in Wales will be affected, the highest proportion in the UK, which led Labour's shadow Welsh Secretary Owen Smith to claim that Wales was harder hit than anywhere else.

Mr Crabb has now written to Mr Smith to dispute the claim. He wrote: "The estimated financial impact in Wales is below the average for Great Britain as a whole and is the joint lowest of any region of the United Kingdom - and therefore Wales is not the hardest hit."

He said the government's welfare reform plans were trying to tackle "high rates of economic inactivity and a working age population that has become too dependent on welfare benefits.

"Not only does Wales have an economic inactivity rate almost two percentage points about the UK average, but also the highest proportion of working age benefit recipients that have been claiming for more than five years of any part of the United Kingdom.

"I regard it as a tragedy that more than 200,000 adults in Wales have never worked a day in their lives. Worklessness and the growth of benefit dependency have left too many of our communities in Wales trapped in poverty."

Mr Crabb said welfare reforms were "a vital step to breaking this cycle of poverty and failure".

He told BBC Wales: "Labour treats poverty as a political football but just doesn't care enough to want to tackle it at source."

More on this story