Devolving the Benefits System

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Devolving the Benefits System

Post  MH on Thu 5 Feb 2009 - 22:56

Someone was kind enough to show me a copy of the Plaid Cymru Parliamentary Group's submission to the All Wales Convention. If I get permission, I'll link to it in the relevant thread, however there was one table in it that I hadn't seen before, and which surprised me.

The source document was the Wales Devolution Monitoring Report 2008, part of a series of reports from the Constitution Unit at University College London.

Devolution Monitoring Reports 2006-2008


Survey respondents were asked about which level of government "ought to make most of the important decisions for Wales" for four key policy areas: Welfare Benefits, the National Health Service, Schools, and Defence and Foreign Affairs. Results are presented in Figure 6.3 below. These show not only clear majority public support for the devolved level of government to have control over areas where they already make many decisions – on schooling and healthcare – but also a similar level of public endorsement for those powers to extend to an area like welfare benefits. The latter is striking, as it is a policy area that currently remains very much reserved to Westminster.



Source
My first reaction was to think that the tax and benefits system is so intrinsically interlinked that if the Assembly were to gain control of benefits, it would of necessity mean gaining some degree of control over the taxation system too ... something the UK government would be anxious to deny us.

My second thought was somewhat different. We have control over Health and Education, and very few people think we shouldn't. Yet we have no corresponding control over the taxation system that pays for either. So what makes benefits any different?

My third thought was that the UK government might in all probability welcome this becoming a devolved matter. If we look at Wales' overall balance of payments situation, the Assembly's block grant is less than what we pay into the Treasury, and the Social Protection budget is by far the biggest thing that tips the balance the other way. We're talking of about £10bn in total, which is about twice what we spend on Health and three times what we spend on Education. Of course not all of this is what we generally think of as being "on benefits" - it includes pensions and universal child benefits for example - but I'd guess about half of it is.

The figures are here. Table 9.10a, p127.

If we want to get a truer picture of how much it costs to run Wales, then we surely need to include one of the largest elements of expenditure. If we give the Assembly some direct responsibility for getting those "on benefits" back into work, it will be in the knowledge that whatever money they save will increase the amount available to spend elsewhere. That is a strong incentive. The UK Treasury will also benefit from the taxes and NI contributions that those who return to work will make. A win-win situation.
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Re: Devolving the Benefits System

Post  Aderyn y Si on Fri 6 Feb 2009 - 1:22

I don't think I've seen any particular calls for the benefits system to be devolved, not even in Scotland (though independence obviously includes that).

I'd say that care for the elderly and vulnerable and the health service tend to overlap, so it would make sense for the Assembly to handle both. And allowances for carers too.

Other things that might be at the top of the list of transferable powers would be Council Tax and Housing Benefit.
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Re: Devolving the Benefits System

Post  MH on Wed 11 Feb 2009 - 22:37

Here's a related story from the Observer this weekend. It talks about the Westminster Government's plans to involve private firms in the process of finding jobs for the unemployed. There's a parallel story in the Times.

Key Labour employment plan close to collapse - Observer, 8 Feb 2009
Job-finder plan 'in crisis' - Times, 8 Feb 2009

I won't go as far as to call this privatization of the benefits system, as some have. But it is certainly a step towards that, at least so far as the future of JobCentre Plus is concerned.

Is it any wonder that people in Wales do not trust this Westminster government to do what is best to get people into work? It's an attempt to distance itself from what is squarely a government obligation. It's all too easy to "cherry pick" parts of a service and farm those out to private companies. Just like the postal service, there are bound to be takers for the easier tasks (if you pay them enough money to do so) but I bet none of these firms would take on people who are less employable. How do you put together a service that identifies needs and trains people to find work, or indeed "hold the hand" of people who have been out of work for so long that they need sustained, individually targeted help to make what will be a big psychological adjustment for them?

There's nothing good about the financial crisis that's engulfed us, but I do take a small crumb of comfort from the fact that these private companies have shied away from tendering because the job is now "too difficult" for them to make money out of it.
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benefits the huge problem

Post  nblaen on Tue 12 Jun 2012 - 11:01

living here in south wales, benefits and their levels would be a huge problem to overcome in attempting to sway voters towards an independent Wales. Whilst we have a lack of employment opportunities, and extremely large social deprivation, with huge numbers of people reliant on the benefit system then persuading them to vote for a independent Wales is going to be an uphill struggle. it would take a huge leap of faith, for these voters to even consider a move away from the traditional Labour party and Westminster. how would we as a country deal with this problem? if its just more of the same, where people are being forced to look at gaining employment is never going to gain an extra vote in the south. and if an independent Welsh government took over responsibility for this problem as they would surely have to following independence, then voters would have to be assured that come what may they would be no worse off under this system, than under the old one.
being a 'customer' of the benefit system, I hasten to add not through choice, then asking me would I be prepared to vote for an independent Wales, would be a difficult choice, better the devil you know? how would we be able to assess those termed 'in need, sick, ill and disabled?' if we are to continue with the same failed model currently imposed by Westminster, using a private provider to decide 'fitness for work' is surely not the way forward, but what model would be fair? we are also faced with what is termed as a 'hard core' of claimants who traditionally have relied on benefits as a 'way of life' how would we change or attempt to change that attitude? unless we can deliver true employment opportunities, with wages that make it worthwhile than the claimant being so much better off in employment than within the benefit system. 'old habits die hard' so, as westminster is doing with the stick and no carrot in order to force people into low paid employment will never be the answer, nor is lowering the level of support available to claimants. sanctions, forcing sick, disabled off benefits. we have a long way to go to change the attitudes here in the south, but change we must, I cannot look to the future for my children and grandchildren and see nothing from westminster, but more of the same.

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