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11 August, 2020 Open access

‘Bold and immediate action’ needed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure that people’s incomes are maximised and that people know their rights

Senedd Committee calls for a largescale, comprehensive benefits take-up campaign, and significantly increase funding for advice services

'Bold and immediate action' is needed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure that people’s incomes are maximised and that people know their rights, the Senedd's Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee has said in a new report.

Issuing a 'stark warning' that coronavirus has already entrenched existing inequalities in Wales, by reducing incomes and increasing risks disproportionately for already disadvantaged groups of people, Committee Chair John Griffiths said today -

'The impact of COVID-19 has hit Wales hard and disproportionately affected already disadvantaged groups in society. We must learn lessons from what has happened and we must act fast to support those who've been hit hardest.

Although the Welsh Government has provided some support, the evidence we have gathered demonstrates that this commitment to equality and human rights must now move beyond the immediate situation and begin to plan for a fairer Wales.'

To this end, the Committee's new report, Into sharp relief: inequality and the pandemic, contains a series of practical, short to medium term recommendations designed to contribute to making a post-COVID Wales a fairer country, including in relation to benefits take-up and employment rights.

Highlighting that, in its 2019 report on benefits delivery in Wales, it recommended that the Welsh Government take action to improve take-up of all benefits in Wales, and that there should be a statutory duty placed on local authorities to provide benefits advice, the Committee says that it welcomes the Welsh Government's £24 million Third Sector Response Fund, but that much more needs to be done to prevent people falling into crisis as we move into the next phase of the pandemic -

'Bold and immediate action is needed to ensure people’s incomes are maximised at a critical time, and that people know their rights at work and in redundancy situations.'

To this end, the Committee's recommendations include that the Welsh Government should -

NB - in addition, in relation to devolved benefits and schemes, the Committee says that the Welsh Government should: explore options for allowing automatic entitlement to devolved benefits such as council tax reduction; pause council tax debt enforcement action for 6-12 months; facilitate easier access to the Discretionary Assistance Fund; and ensure that local authorities have sufficient funds to make discretionary housing payments to help prevent evictions.

For more information, see COVID-19: We must learn from what’s happened and do all we can to help those hit hardest.