Welsh charities fear benefit cuts' effect on vulnerable

Charity collection boxes
Image caption Charities fear the most vulnerable people will be hit the hardest

Charities say that the Spending Review will disproportionately affect the most vulnerable people in Wales.

Last week six charities urged a rethink of the cuts to the benefits budget.

Homelessness charity Cymorth has now called the Spending Review "a disaster for the very people who are most deserving of the government's support"

On top of the widely-publicised cap on housing benefit to the equivalent of a four-bedroom property, an overall limit on benefit receipt and the limiting of Employment and Support Allowance, Chancellor George Osborne has announced that local housing allowances will be calculated by taking an average of the lowest 30% of rental values in the locality, rather than an overall average.

He also raised the threshold whereby a single person with no dependants would only be entitled to the equivalent in housing benefit on a single room in a shared property from 25 to 35.

The changes to benefits have been described by the group as "all stick and no carrot", referring to the 10 % cut in housing benefit for people who have been in receipt of Job Seekers Allowance for more than a year, regardless of how hard they may have tried to find employment.

All six charities have called on the UK government to exempt supported accommodation such as homeless shelters and domestic violence refuges.

But, with many details still to be ironed out, they fear that it will be left to the Welsh Assembly Government to protect services for the most vulnerable people.

Four charities give their views here.

Joy Kent, director, Cymorth

"I'm in a meeting today, discussing the cuts with representatives of all the groups trying to battle homelessness in Wales, and I think it's fair to say that everyone is terrified about what's been announced.

"The general feeling here is that this is a disaster for the very people who are most deserving of the government's support.

Image caption The way fair rents will be calculated is a concern for homelessness charities

The "25 rule", which only allowed housing benefit for under 25s to the equivalent of a single room rent in shared accommodation, was already unfair, but by raising it to 35, the government are effectively trapping people in homeless shelters, and preventing them from getting on with the rest of their lives!

There is also disastrous news for families, with the cap of housing benefit at the equivalent of a four-bedroom house, meaning that more and more children will find themselves homeless.

And the bottom 30% average calculation for fair rent will mean that many families simply won't be able to find a house in their price-range.

John Pritchard, Shelter Cymru, policy manager

"The cuts will hit most households in Wales, but will hit the poorest people the hardest. Discussions about spending must take into account that the cuts already announced are likely to lead to increased homelessness, housing need and poverty.

"The assembly [government] should ensure that these frontline services are protected and able to deal with the subsequent rise in demand for advice and support services.

"The toxic combination of rising unemployment and welfare cuts will mean that independent advice services are more important than ever to ensure that people in difficult situations get the help and support they need to maintain a decent home."

But as the assembly government comes to grips with a £1.8bn cut in its own funding, it's not yet clear exactly how yesterday's announcement will impact on vulnerable people in Wales.

Ruth Coombs, Mind Cymru

We're already being inundated with calls from people with mental health problems worried about how the Spending Review is going to impact on them personally.

Unfortunately we're having to tell them that we simply don't know at the moment, until the assembly [government] can take stock of its own situation, and decide on their priorities.

I would urge them to take account of the fact that people with mental health difficulties are, in many instances, furthest away from the job market, and will therefore be disproportionately affected by the cuts already announced.

The changes to Employment Support Allowance in particular are causing most concern, as the assessment process is flawed at the implementation level, never mind on a policy level.

The longer this uncertainty goes on, the worse the distress is being caused to people already suffering a mental illness, meaning that there will be an even bigger problem for the diminishing resources to handle.

The changes to benefit have been described by the group as 'All stick and no carrot', referring to the ten percent cut in Housing Benefit for people who have been in receipt of Job Seekers Allowance for more than a year, regardless of how hard they may have tried to find employment.

Amanda Oliver, Community Housing Cymru, head of policy and research

This will mean more individuals will only get half their rent paid leaving a massive shortfall to attain from other income.

A reduction of 10% in housing benefit for tenants in receipt of JSA for more than one year will have a big impact in Wales given the lack of employment opportunities and the large proportion of the workforce employed in the public sector.

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