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Minister calls for more information

calls for moreTHE WELSH Government says it is being affected by a lack of information from the UK Government about proposed changes to the welfare system.

They say it is hampering their ability to plan how it supports some of the most vulnerable people in Wales through schemes such as free school meals and free dental treatment. That’s the warning from the Communities & Tackling Poverty Minister Jeff Cuthbert following talks with the UK Government about their welfare reform plans. He met Lord Freud, the Minister in charge of the welfare system on Monday and one of the topics for discussion was Westminster’s plans to replace a number of welfare benefits with Universal Credit.

The Communities Minister raised his concerns that the continued problems and uncertainties around the introduction of Universal Credit across Wales throw a question mark over the delivery of the support the Welsh Government provides to vulnerable people, including those with health problems and the disabled.

In Wales, the receipt of various welfare benefits is used to assess an individual’s entitlement to Welsh Government support such as the school uniform grant scheme and free NHS dental treatment, known as ‘passported’ benefits.

Next year Shotton in Flintshire is due to become the first place in Wales where Universal Credit will be introduced for some new jobseekers. Following the meeting, Jeff Cuthbert said: “We urgently need more information about how the UK Government’s welfare plans will work in practice because there is just a cloud of confusion over the future arrangements. This makes it very difficult to plan the changes we will need to make in order to maintain the support we provide in Wales for vulnerable people.

“I don’t think the UK Government is refusing to answer, they just don’t appear to have the answers. We are determined to make sure people continue to receive the help they are entitled to. The support we provide, such as free school meals, to already hard pressed families squeezed by the welfare changes, is really important.”

The Minister also raised concerns about the impact of the changes to housing policy known as the under occupation charge or ‘bedroom tax’.Last week the Herald published an article by Simon Hart MP who gave his views on the matter.

In it he said: “The reform of the benefit system was largely seen as essential by all parties, but we differed on the detail. For me benefits are there for people in need; for that time when life goes wrong, when you lose your job or your health; for old age or some other unexpected hardship. They should not be a lifestyle choice, or a cosy alternative to work if work is available.”