A fairer Wales? Part III of Constitutional Convention plans

Should powers over ‘Welfare’ be devolved to Wales? Lee Waters invites you to help shape the design of the Crowd Sourced Constitutional Convention

The third stage of our Crowd Sourced Constitutional Convention will focus on the issue of ‘Welfare’.

Just as we are ‘crowd sourcing’ the funding to try and help us hold this innovative experiment in deliberative democracy, we are also ‘crowd sourcing’ the design of the debate.  This week on Click on Wales we are posting the working drafts of our plans for each of the stages of the eight-week project for you to shape.

After considering the purpose of the UK and how we create a more prosperous Wales in the initial phases, we’ll move on to the issue of fairness. In the debate surrounding the Smith Commission in Scotland the debate has been reduced to the short-hand term ‘Welfare’. This is an imperfect term but should be seen to refer to the future of the Welfare State rather than simply a question of dependency or benefits.

There is a noticable nervousness about tackling the issue of ‘Welfare’ in a Welsh context with concerns ranging from its complexity, the fear that it will expose our dependency on the UK wide benefits system, and the political fear that it is a ‘trap’.  Nonetheless, we feel it is important that we attempt to confront the subject, not least since the changes set out in the Smith Commission report mean that the UK Welfare State is about to change. Our choice is to be paralysed by fear and allow others to shape a debate that will impact on us, or to try and engage in shaping the system in way which which responds to Welsh needs.  Our ambition for this phase of the debate is to start a debate about what that means.

As with all the themes four cross-cutting themes have guided the design of our questions:

  • Performance to date
  • Barriers to progress
  • Capacity and calibre
  • Do we need more powers to identify these problems?
Here is our plan for the phase:
Stage one: What is meant by ‘welfare’?
  • What is the budget (information sheet / infographic)

  • What did the Smith Commission say?

  • How does it work in Northern Ireland?

Stage two: Why is everyone so nervous of welfare devolution?

  • Explore nervousness around devolving to Wales: expose our poverty – financial costs & risks too great

  • Case study – lessons from devolution of Council Tax benefit

  • Advantages of unified approach –  Social Union / Single Labour market

Stage three: What are the opportunities to do things differently?

  • Explore criticism of welfare reform and pose alternative approach linked to already devolved policy areas (If you don’t like it why don’t you change it?)

  • Housing benefits: ‘Bedroom Tax’ : 40% of Welsh tenants under-occupying so Wales is worst hit by ‘Bedroom Tax’. Can we mitigate this?

  • Attendance Allowance

  • Work Programme

  • Other Smith Commission areas

Stage four: ‘Powers for a purpose’

  • Biggest public spending budget, should Welsh Government have greater control?

  • How strong is the case for devolving some areas in stages?

    [* The expert group we consulted on the design of the first and fourth stage included Mark Parkinson (Secretary of the Silk Commission], Tamsin Stirling, Sioned Hughes, Jess Blair and Lee Waters]


We’d value your input to try and shape this attempt at engaging the public in a debate about our country’s future.  Also if you are able to make a financial contribution to help us reach the potential of this initiative please donate here.

Lee Waters is Director of the IWA.

5 thoughts on “A fairer Wales? Part III of Constitutional Convention plans

  1. The title begs a question: should the welfare system be about ‘fairness’ – in which case do we mean in the meritocratic or the egalitarian sense – or about poverty relief? There is a difference.

    Incidentally, this is one area where even a Unionist might favour decentralisation, but is decentralisation to the Welsh Assembly sufficient? Should further decentralisation not be on the agenda too?

    Also it seems absurd to discuss benefits without discussing tax. A single, simplified comprehensive tax-benefits system could be Wales’ gift to the world.

  2. I don’t think there is the capacity in Wales at present to design and implement a unified tax-benefit system and, even if there was, how could it work as a dependent part of a non-unified UK system.? We could not have an independent system since almost all of Welsh benefits are financed by subsidy from the rest of UK. My question is what would be be trying to achieve with welfare devolution? Health and social care are already devolved and require unifying reforms. Surely enough to be going on without taking on individual welfare payments – with no more money. My fear about this debate is that, in the interests of comprehensiveness, it will raise non-issues to the neglect of problems we can tackle.

  3. And you can make those fair points in the debate, I’d value your input on the approach we are taking and any suggestions you have on how we can design it differently

  4. Crazy idea! We gain control of welfare but expect the English to keep paying for it. How long to we think that will last ? Maybe I am underestimating their generosity but lets try an estimate the risk and compare it to the potential benefit. We get a more Welsh set of benefits but we might lose most of the funding. Crazy idea!

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