How We Advised Welsh and UK Government in 2021

Care & Repair champion the housing needs of older people in Wales. One way we do this is by responding to Welsh and UK Government consultations, ensuring that older people are heard, and their needs considered.

In 2021, Care & Repair Cymru responded to 13 consultations from the Welsh and UK Governments, as well as various Senedd Committees. Summaries of our key responses can be found below, as well as links for you to read them in full.

THE BENEFITS SYSTEM

Topic: The Benefits System in Wales
Sent to: Welsh Affairs Committee, UK Parliament
When: August 2021

They asked: What are the key challenges for the benefits system in Wales, and how do they differ from the other nations and regions of the UK?

We said: There are significant challenges for the benefits system in Wales, and they differ from the other nations and regions of the UK. Wales has the oldest population in the UK, and the highest poverty rates for people over 65 in the UK. Additionally, 1 in 3 people in Wales live in rural areas, compared with 1 in 5 in England.

They asked: Pre-pandemic, how effectively did the UK benefits system tackle poverty and socioeconomic inequalities in Wales as compared to England and Scotland?

We said: The UK benefits system has long been unfit for purpose, and Wales has often been adversely affected by UK Government policy choices. One example is the bedroom tax: Wales has fewer one-bedroom properties, and thus many vulnerable occupants were unfairly penalised for having spare rooms, facing unfair reductions in their Universal Credit or other benefits when they could not downsize.

They asked: How has the Covid-19 pandemic changed the type and amount of support needed by people in Wales?

We said: Care & Repair saw an increased need for our services, as the pandemic exacerbated existing issues, resulting in the rapid deterioration of housing and subsequently older peoples’ health. Many hazardous housing risks have gone unaddressed, and many older people felt unable to ask for help and failed to cope. The pandemic has created a backlog, adding pressure to an already strained system. Still, there is no help available to many older people.

Read our full response: The Benefits System in Wales: Care & Repair Cymru’s written submission to the Welsh Affairs Committee (August 2021)

THE WARM HOME DISCOUNT SCHEME

Topic: Energy bills for low-income and vulnerable households
Sent to: Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, UK Government
When: August 2021

Here are the key points that Care & Repair Cymru raised in our response:

  • Care & Repair Cymru does not agree with the suggestion of raising the rebate from £140 to £150, as doing so would mean that fewer households would be able to be helped.
  • We suggested that while a minimum spend for industry and financial assistance on energy bills was a good thing in theory, in practice a “households helped” metric may be better suited to ensure the financial assistance was not being spent needlessly. More help – besides financial – could be provided.
  • We disagreed with the proposed reduction in the debt write-off cap, as in the absence of better solutions for those struggling with energy debt, a cap reduction would mean that fewer people could be helped and be detrimental to many.
  • We agreed that the individual debt write-off cap should remain at £2000 per person: increasing it would mean that fewer people could be helped, and most people fall well below this debt for energy bills. Citizen’s Advice estimates that the average energy debt is a total of £1,365 across electricity and gas fuels, so the current cap suitably covers this.

Read our full response: Warm Home Discount: Better Targeted Support from 2022: Care and Benefits System in Wales: Care & Repair Cymru’s written submission to BEIS (August 2021)

SIXTH SENEDD PRIORITIES

Topic: What should the priorities be during the Sixth Senedd (2021-2026).
Sent to: Welsh Government:

  • Climate Change, Environment, and Infrastructure Committee
  • Local Government and Housing Committee
  • Health and Social Care Committee

When: September 2021

Read our full responses:

Sixth Senedd Priorities for the Climate Change, Environment, and Infrastructure Committee (September 2021)

Sixth Senedd Priorities for the Local Government and Housing (September 2021)

Sixth Senedd Priorities for the Health and Social Care Committee (September 2021)

 

SHAPING WALES’ FUTURE

Topic: Using national indicators and milestones to measure our nation’s progress.
Sent to: Welsh Government
When: October 2021

Care & Repair Cymru raised several concerns with the proposed framework, including a response to whether Indicator 33 (“Percentage of dwellings with adequate energy performance”) should be changed. We suggest that while it is important, SAP scores and EPC ratings should not be used as the final word in what constitutes “good” housing. Part of SAP scoring focuses on the amount of fuel an occupant uses, which would mean that people in fuel poverty who rationed or completely stopped the use of heating or other energy in their properties would score well in this regard.

We also call for a “Healthy Housing” Indicator to be created. This would replace Indicator 31 (“Percentage of dwellings which are free from hazards”), in favour of a more well-rounded, targeted approach. The original Indicator 31 simply notes that 18% of Welsh homes are hazardous, without any policy aims to fix these. These hazards adversely affect older people, especially those that own their own homes.

The new “Healthy Housing” indicator would break down siloes between health and housing (which we have long called for) and ensure that Wales’ housing stock was safe for its current – and future – occupiers by brining it up to an acceptable standard. Doing so would not only ensure the longevity of Wales’ housing stock (the oldest in Europe), but would also mean occupants could live healthier lives, free from risks posed by poor housing. Ensuring housing stock is kept in good condition will also mean everything is in good shape for future optimised retrofit programmes, and that housing is as energy and financially efficient as possible for current occupiers.

Read our full responses: Shaping Wales' future: using national indicators and milestones to measure our nation’s progress | Written evidence submitted by Care & Repair Cymru (October 2021)

 

SHAPING FUTURE SUPPORT

Topic: Welfare system: Meeting the needs of disabled people and people with health conditions.
Sent to: The Department of Work and Pensions, UK Government
When: October 2021

We raised a number of concerns throughout this response, as it is clear that the benefits system in Wales and the wider UK is not working for many.

First and foremost, we raised issues with the current flurry to digital-based consultations, many older people are unable to access the benefits application process due to a lack of digital skills or other access. Where they are able to, DWP employees lack the necessary skills to ask the right questions and find necessary information. Care & Repair Caseworkers have noted that peoples’ benefit entitlements have been completely revoked or reduced due to inaccurate telephone conversations with DWP representatives.

At the time of writing this response, there were still no in-person visits from DWP caseworkers, meaning that older people in more rural areas who are unable to travel into city hubs are excluded from accessing services.

We also called for the DWP to explore options to “make it easier for disabled people to access practical support such as aids, appliances, [and] services”: we have seen how effective simple technology devices like Alexas can be in preventing injury and allowing older people to live safely and independently at home for longer after a pilot project run by Bridgend Care & Repair. Something as simple as voice recognition to turn on lights can prevent falls. We want those devices to be accessible and easy to use for every older person who wants them.

Read our full responses:  Shaping Future Support: The Health and Disability Green Paper | Care & Repair Cymru response to The Department of Work and Pensions (October 2021)