What is welfare?

Jess Blair says it is time to start talking about welfare in Wales, and how we can create a fairer and more dynamic country.

‘Welfare” is a divisive term in modern politics. Far from signifying equality and fairness it has come to be used as a pejorative. In its original form welfare was designed simply as a ‘safety net’, a means of support by the State to those in need to ensure a minimum standard of care for everyone in the UK.

This is why for this next stage of the IWA Convention, we want to create a discussion about welfare in Wales, centring on the question of how we can make Wales a fairer and more dynamic country.

Constitutional Convention

The IWA constitutional convention is underway at IWAconvention.co.uk . Please join the debate and share your ideas on welfare in Wales here, and add your comments on this piece.

The IWA constitutional convention is a crowd sourced project on the future of Wales, and the UK – an eight-week experiment in deliberative democracy to run in parallel with discussions at Westminster. There are two critical elements to our plans; we are asking questions, and not pre-judging the outcomes, and we are putting people at the centre of our conversation. Everyone can take part, and anyone can shape the conversation.

We are running this innovative project in 5 phases over 8 weeks:

  • 26th Jan-1st Feb: What is the UK for?
  • 2nd-15th Feb: How do we create a more prosperous Wales? (The economy)
  • 16th Feb-1st Mar: How do we make Wales a fairer country? (The Welfare State)
  • 2nd-15th Mar: What is the future of the UK? Includes reaction to the Secretary of State’s announcements around Welsh devolution near St David’s day.
  • 16th-20th Mar: What is Wales for?

Over the course of this project we hope to engage people, start dialogues and ignite debate around questions that are key to both Wales’ future and what kind of a future that will be.

Go to IWAconvention.co.uk to have your say.

Currently welfare, in terms of social security, is reserved to the UK Government, meaning that policy changes to things like housing benefit, winter fuel payments and even pensions are controlled by the Westminster Government. The Welsh Government has no powers over any of these issues, however, Scotland will soon receive some powers over welfare.

The Smith Commission, the committee established by David Cameron to look at powers for Scotland after the referendum on independence, recommended a limited transfer of welfare powers to the Scottish Government. This has been taken forward in the draft Scotland Bill, which will legislate on these recommendations after the next General Election. Once passed Scotland will have control over almost £3 billion worth of welfare powers. This includes;

  • The housing element of universal credit
  • carers allowance
  • winter fuel payments
  • personal independence payments
  • attendance allowance

Once agreed the Scottish Government will have the power to implement different policies in these areas reflecting their own political values. For example, mitigating the impact of the ‘spare room subsidy’, otherwise known as the ‘bedroom tax’, in Scotland.

For the first time since the formation of the Welfare State there will be different approaches to benefits in parts of the UK. Although powers are already devolved to Northern Ireland over Welfare, in practice an administrative arrangement and the policies are the same as the rest of the UK.

The changes in Scotland may therefore present significant ramifications for the rest of the UK. However, there has been little thinking about the implications for Wales. That is why this section of our constitutional convention will attempt to establish some debate around the facts on welfare for Wales.

Welfare, the facts

What people typically mean when they talk about welfare or benefits are social security payments made to those in need. This can include the old, sick, and those out of work, and people qualify for these in a variety of different ways.

See below to view a series of infographics, provided by Community Housing Cymru, which helps highlight some more facts about the welfare state.

The welfare budget has increased from £57 billion in 2001 to the current £115 billion, which the UK Government plan to maintain. This may seem a lot, however, this compared to the proportion of our GDP means that by 2017 welfare spending in the UK will be lower than France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the US.

In Wales, we face added pressures. by 2030 25% of people will be 65 or over, compared with the UK average of 22%. So while we are facing challenges now, these will intensify in the future which is why moves to give Wales greater responsibility for managing our own welfare needs are treated with caution.

Jessica Blair is the Policy and Projects Manager for the IWA and the Co-editor of Click on wales.

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