On behalf of the people of Wales, the Senedd’s Committees are raising serious concerns as the nation faces a cost of living crisis.
The Finance Committee is holding the Welsh Government to account on its spending plans and has published a report looking at the draft budget for the next financial year (2022-23) which starts on 1 April.
The Committee is concerned that there are significant pressures placed on people’s incomes, particularly poorer households, as a result of increasing inflation and energy prices.
The report recognises the Welsh Government’s ongoing efforts to address the cost of living crisis, in particular with its Discretionary Assistance Fund, aimed at helping with winter fuel bills, and its extension of free school meals.
Members of the Committee are however concerned to hear evidence from organisations such as the Bevan Foundation, who point out that the range of Welsh Government support schemes have a “low profile”, meaning that often the most vulnerable people are missing out.
The rising cost of living and the impact this could have on the poorest households was a key consideration for the Equality and Social Justice Committee. While accepting that most of the levers to combat hardship, including tax, welfare and benefits are not devolved, the Committee urged the Welsh Government to continue to consider the financial pressures on individuals and households in finalising its spending plans.
Members are calling on the Welsh Government to continue raising awareness of the support that it provides.
Chair of the Finance Committee, Peredur Owen Griffiths MS, commented:
“As Wales tentatively emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, the Welsh Government is facing significant challenges in responding to economic pressures, the effects of climate change and Brexit. This is all at a time when there is a worrying squeeze on household incomes.
“Pandemic-related pressures will remain significant for health, local government and businesses. I do however welcome the shift in this Draft Budget towards recovery.
“Our Committee has heard that public services are under unprecedented pressures and that poorer households, in particular, will bear the brunt of increases in inflation, driven by higher energy costs, planned tax rises and increasing consumer prices.
“Although I welcome increased spending over the coming years, we are calling on the Welsh Government to do all they can to support people through the cost of living crisis facing Wales today.”
A number of Senedd Committees have looked at all areas of the Welsh Government’s budget spending plans and have taken evidence from experts and Ministers. Here are their findings and recommendations for improvements:
Tackling health inequality after the pandemic
The Finance Committee is concerned about staff shortages and workforce issues. These include staff burnout and COVID-19 absences, to more longer-term challenges, such as dealing with vacancies, competition from private and other public services and wage pressures.
The Health and Social Care Committee is also highlighting the challenges, including responding to the pandemic, recovering and maintaining non-COVID services, and working to transform health and social care to help people in Wales live longer and have healthier lives.
The Committee welcomes the increase in social care funding to reflect local authorities’ funding assessments, including meeting the cost of paying the real living wage.
However, both the Health and Social Care Committee and the Local Government and Housing Committee are calling on Ministers to provide more information about plans to address the immediate crisis facing social care, as well as the longer-term challenges of stabilising the sector, preparing for reforms, and achieving a fair and sustainable balance in health and social care funding.
The Committee is asking for more detail on how the budget will be targeted to achieve the Welsh Government’s strategic priorities for prevention and tackling health inequalities that the pandemic has shone a light on.
In gathering evidence, the Finance Committee heard appeals from businesses to retain 100% business rates relief for 2022-23 because of pressures such as rising national insurance contributions, energy costs and inflation. The Committee is calling on the Welsh Government to consider alternative means of taxation on businesses to ensure a fairer system before any changes to business rate are introduced.
The Economy, Rural Affairs and Trade Committee is concerned about the effects of the most recent COVID restrictions on businesses. The Committee is recommending that the Welsh Government consider developing a package of targeted assistance to support economic recovery in those sectors most affected by the recent restrictions.
Putting children at the heart of the budget
The Children, Young People and Education Committee is once again frustrated that consideration of children’s rights are not incorporated into the budgeting process. The Committee is calling for the Welsh Government to publish Children’s Rights Impact Assessments for the Budget alongside its Strategic Integrated Impact Assessment.
The Committee is also worried about how far families in north and mid Wales must travel to access specialist perinatal mental health support and believes the Welsh Government is taking too long to deliver on its promise to create a new more accessible service for Welsh families.
Members are urging the Welsh Government to clarify its plans for perinatal mental health services for families in north and mid Wales, and to update on when they will be able to access this vital support.
The Committee questions why the Education Maintenance Allowance maximum rate of £30 per week has not been revised since 2004 and is asking the Welsh Government why it has not increased the rate.
Tackling the housing crisis
The Local Government and Housing Committee is concerned that there is currently a record amount of people in temporary accommodation and each month significant numbers are continuing to present as homeless.
The Committee recommends that the Welsh Government closely monitors the pressures on emergency temporary accommodation to make sure that local councils have the financial resources and access to accommodation to continue with a ‘no-one left out’ approach.
With price inflation, supply chain disruption and a shortage of skilled labour, the Committee is concerned that the Welsh Government will fail to meet its target of building 20,000 affordable houses, especially as the evidence presented showed that this number may not be sufficient to address problems with housing supply in Wales.
With serious issues, such as the removal of unsafe cladding, Members welcome the extra money in the draft budget to support building safety. The Committee believes that providing leaseholders and tenants with solutions as well as information about the safety of their buildings must be a priority for the Welsh Government.
The Committee is calling on the Welsh Government to provide leaseholders and tenants with answers about how the funding will be used as soon as possible to ensure clarity and certainty.
Protecting our environment
The Climate Change, Environment and Infrastructure Committee is clear that now is a critical time in the fight against climate change and nature’s decline.
The Committee says action taken by the Welsh Government will be crucial in determining whether Wales can reach Net Zero by 2050. The Committee acknowledged there has been an increase in funding for key climate change policies but called for the Welsh Government to improve monitoring and reporting arrangements to track how it is making a difference.
The Committee calls for urgent change to address the nature emergency and reverse the trend of biodiversity loss.
It says that the Welsh Government must be clearer about the total amount of funding it is providing for nature recovery, and how the impact of this funding on biodiversity loss will be assessed and monitored.