THE UK Government’s EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) is causing significant problems for EU citizens currently living and working in Wales.
LOW REGISTRATION IN WALES
Wales has the lowest rates of registration in the UK.
Only 41% of those eligible to apply for EUSS to stay in Wales after Brexit have done so.
The rhetoric surrounding EU migration since the referendum has taken its toll on people’s emotional wellbeing, meaning they no longer feel welcome to live here.
The UK Government has proposed a £30,000 salary threshold for EU residents to qualify for a work visa after Brexit. This could damage the Welsh economy and leave Wales short of key health professionals, say Welsh employers.
The National Assembly for Wales’ External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee, which focuses on the implications of Brexit for Wales, is today publishing a report looking at the impact of changes to ‘freedom of movement’ after Brexit. As well as the impact on services and employers, the Committee has looked at the effect on individual EU citizens currently living and working in Wales – there are currently an estimated 80,000.
The Committee heard evidence from a range of health professionals, employers and individuals who would be affected by the proposals to change the immigration system after Brexit.
Organisations representing employers and key workers including the Welsh NHS Confederation, the Royal College of Nursing Wales, Airbus, Universities Wales, Wales TUC and the Arts Council for Wales have voiced serious concerns to the Committee. The UK Government’s proposals for EU citizens after Brexit cause concern to health services and businesses. Under the UK Government’s proposals almost two-thirds of EU workers currently in Wales would not be eligible under the proposed system with the £30,000 salary threshold, and the threshold would lead to a 57% reduction in EU immigration to Wales over 10 years.
EU SETTLEMENT SCHEME – DIGITAL BY DEFAULT
As part of the Committee’s inquiry, it heard evidence from people directly affected by the changes to freedom of movement after Brexit.
The EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) was established by the UK Government because, in most cases, EU citizens living in the UK will no longer have a legal right to reside in the UK once it leaves the EU and free movement ends.
EU citizens living in the UK must register for the EUSS.
The Committee heard many concerns about the system to register. The UK Government has adopted a ‘digital by default’ approach and there have been issues with the technology. The current system only allows the use of Android phones or tablets, not iPhones.
£30,000 THRESHOLD – TOO HIGH FOR WALES
The Welsh NHS Confederation, the membership body representing all NHS organisations in Wales, told the Committee that the proposals to include EU citizens in its £30,000 salary threshold for a visa would “exacerbate current staffing shortages”. It highlighted that 53% of EU NHS staff currently earn below that.
The Bevan Foundation highlighted that the average salary in Wales for full-time workers is £26,000, significantly below the proposed threshold. Airbus, a large employer in Wales, added that the threshold is “too high for key sectors” which could have implications for many services and industries. They argued that the proposals from the UK Government could “leave gaps in the requirements of Wales which can’t be filled in the short term.”
The Committee believes that a salary threshold set at this level will not meet the needs and requirements of the Welsh economy. It is calling on the UK Government to lower the salary threshold requirements and is recommending that the Welsh Government uses all the means at its disposal to ensure that the currently proposed salary threshold is reduced.
The Committee heard evidence from people affected directly and how many people felt that they were no longer welcome in the UK following the EU referendum.
Some argued that the policy pursued by the UK Government since the referendum has exacerbated this.
Several people said that some of the rhetoric relating to the issue of EU migration had hardened and described the toll that this had had on their emotional wellbeing, and that of friends and family members.
One participant emphasised that it is not simply an administrative process, but that real people are involved and that it was important to remember how the process affects them.
Michal Poreba from Swansea, an EU citizen originally from Poland, who gave evidence to the Committee’s inquiry, said: “The EU settlement scheme and the UK Government’s immigration proposals after Brexit are not simply about administrative processes, they are about people’s lives. Real people are involved and it is important to consider how the process affects them and their families. Yet the debate appears to be all about the practicalities of the implementation.
“Questions are asked why so few people have registered so far and how to increase the uptake. But what does it offer? Why would anybody apply? The facts are that the scheme significantly reduces the rights of the applicants. Going through the process, while technically quite easy and straightforward, feels debilitating and comes with no legal guarantees. It feels like an act of political self-harm. No wonder there are no queues to do it.
“The message repeated by politicians appears to be the same – You will be allowed to stay. We want you to stay. Of course, economically speaking they need us to stay, at least for the short term. But there is a big difference between being allowed to stay, and being welcomed. There is a big difference between a legal right and permission.”
SHORTAGE OCCUPATION LIST
Wales has specific needs. The Shortage Occupation List is an official list of occupations for which there are not enough resident workers (including EU nationals) to fill vacancies. The UK list is supplemented by a separate list for Scotland.
The majority of those who gave evidence to the Committee supported the creation of a Wales-specific Shortage Occupation List to meet the specific needs of Wales. The Committee is calling on the UK Government to establish this, which the Welsh Government would be able to amend according to Welsh needs.
David Rees AM, Chair of the External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee said: “We have significant concerns about the implications of Brexit on our workforce in Wales. The ending of freedom of movement will have consequences for business and our economy if we lose vital workers. What’s more worrying is the impact that the loss of EU citizens could have on our NHS. We rely on EU citizens who work as nurses and carers.
“We heard some very concerning and emotional evidence from EU citizens and their families living and working in Wales. We must not forget the human impact that the ending of freedom of movement will have.
“We are calling on the Welsh Government to do all it can to get the UK Government to reduce its proposed salary threshold of £30,000 in order to better reflect average earnings here in Wales. Under these proposals, almost two-thirds of EU workers currently in Wales would not be eligible to live here. This could mean that we would not be able to recruit key workers such as nurses and carers from abroad.
“The EU Settlement Scheme for those who already live and work in Wales is full of problems, with an online-only application process and limited access on smartphones, these problems must be addressed urgently.
“Wales’ economy has specific needs and changing demographics within Wales, including an ageing population, are likely to pose new challenges in the future. These challenges within the economy of Wales are likely to be exacerbated by an overly restrictive immigration regime after Brexit.
“Today we’re calling on the Welsh Government to show real leadership and send out a strong message that EU citizens are welcome, valued, and needed in Wales and we’re calling on the UK Government to rethink its proposals and take into account the needs of the Welsh economy and public services.”
Local Assembly Member praises the work of Therapy Dogs
Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire Assembly Member Angela Burns met with Jed the Therapy Dog and his owner during their visit to the Senedd recently.
Jed and Georgina were there along with other therapy dogs and owners to meet with Assembly Members and tell them about the valuable role that the therapy dogs undertake at hospitals, hospices, schools, residential homes and prisons throughout the country through the charity Therapy Dogs Nationwide.
Jed is a regular visitor to Skanda Vale Hospice in Carmarthenshire and provides an excellent service to some of the patients there.
The charity provides calm and happy dogs to visit facilities to undertake emotional and relaxing therapy to those who may not have access to pets themselves.
Commenting Angela said
“As a dog owner myself I know the companionship and emotional support that they can provide.
“The Therapy Dogs Nationwide is an amazing charity with some lovely dogs of all shapes and sizes who I have had the pleasure to meet today. We often forget about the value of mental wellbeing when it comes to health or emotional issues and these dogs provide an invaluable service.
“I also want to pay tribute to the owners who volunteer their own time to accompany their pets on visits. It would be great to see more people have access to this therapy in the future.
“I look forward meeting Jed or one of his colleague again soon when I next visit the Skanda Vale in West Carmarthenshire.”
Universal Credit now seven years late
THE ROLLOUT of Universal Credit has been delayed again to 2024.
Over seven years after it was originally supposed to be implemented in full and over a decade after it was first piloted, the scheme has lurched from crisis to crisis in its troubled history.
Universal Credit merges six existing benefits, including housing benefit and child tax credits, into one monthly sum.
The government’s stated aim is to simplify the welfare system, both to help claimants, cut fraud, and encourage work. However, its ultimate effect has been to slash welfare payments to the most vulnerable and plunge claimants into debt as they wait for their first payment of the new benefit.
The fresh delay, to September 2024, was uncovered in an upcoming BBC documentary about the government’s contentious welfare reform. It will add an estimated £500m to the Universal Credit programme, which is already billions over budget.
The delay has arisen because fewer people than expected had signed up to the new system, according to a new BBC documentary, Universal Credit: Inside the Welfare State.
In an excerpt released by the BBC, Neil Couling, the DWP’s director-general for Universal Credit said, in August last year: “We’ve had a lot of anecdotal evidence of people being scared to come to Universal Credit.
“It’s a potentially serious issue for us, in terms of completing the project by December 2023, but I’m urging people not to panic,” he said.
Mr Coulting continues in a subsequent meeting to say: “Three, six or nine months, it doesn’t matter – the headline will be: ‘Delay, disaster’.
“I would say, ‘Go safe, put the claimants first, and I’ll take the beating.'”
This week, the DWP admitted the delay was necessary because the number of people who had moved on to UC was lower than official estimates.
The BBC documentary shows the DWP acknowledging that the reason for the lower-than-expected uptake was the fear that new Universal Credit claimants would lose out.
Gross and ongoing delays in making benefit awards on the new system have plunged people into debt recouped from their benefits due to the waiting period for its first payment imposed by the UK Government.
Universal credit was phased in during 2013.
The benefit was first due for full rollout by April 2017. However, transferring claimants to the new system has been plagued by a series of technical delays. Those delays include a fiasco over IT infrastructure and the failure of the system to account for varying incomes for the self-employed and those employed on casual or zero-hour contracts.
Last week, the UK Government lost a major case on the benefit’s rollout.
In a decision handed down in the Court of Appeal by the Master of the Rolls, Lord Justice Singh, the court ruled transitional provisions relating to the treatment of disabled persons were discriminatory. It found that a severely disabled person who moved from an area where UC had not been rolled out to an area in which it had would be treated less favourably than a person who did not move. In a second case, the court quashed provisions meaning those who migrated ‘naturally’ from Severe Disability Premium to Universal Credit less favourably than those who made the transition under the managed migration scheme.
Last year, former DWP Secretary Amber Rudd said that payment delays of Universal Credit were ‘the main issue’ leading to dependence on foodbanks.
The delay’s announcement follows the publication of a report by the Resolution Foundation
The report notes that the final – and most challenging – phase of the roll-out, involving the transfer of existing benefit and tax credit claimants onto UC, is due to start later this year.
The Foundation states that a marginal average increase of a whacking £1 a week for some claimants ‘masks sizeable groups of families that lose out by large sums, and significant geographical variation across the UK. Thanks to factors such as local rent and earnings levels, and the characteristics of local populations, some parts of the country will be left significantly worse off as the switch to UC goes ahead’.
In areas with a relatively high proportion of single parents, out-of-work single people and disabled people, all of whom fare badly under UC, claimants lose out. Also, while Universal Credit favours working families with high rents, it hits those in areas with below-average rent levels.
The Foundation adds that policymakers in Whitehall, and across the UK, need to consider the impact of Universal Credit at a local level. At exactly the time that policy debates are rightly focusing on what can be done to close economic gaps between parts of the UK, this major welfare reform will be rolled out with very different impacts on those places.
Laura Gardiner, Research Director at the Resolution Foundation, said: “Welcome recent reforms mean that Universal Credit is now set to be marginally more generous than the benefits it is replacing. But this average hides a complex mix of winners and losers, with families in some areas of the UK faring particularly badly.
“As well as making reforms at a national level – such as helping families to overcome the first payment hurdle and offering more flexibility for those with childcare – policymakers across the country need to better understand the effect Universal Credit will have in different places. That understanding should be central to policy debates that are rightly focusing on what can be done to close economic gaps between parts of the UK.”
Welfare minister Will Quince said: “Universal Credit is the biggest change to the welfare system in a generation, bringing together six overlapping benefits into one monthly payment and offering support to some of the most vulnerable people in society.
“It is right that we revisit our forecasts and plan, and re-plan accordingly – ensuring that the process is working well for people on benefits.
“Claimants will not lose money due to this forecasting change.”
Welsh councils fail audit requirements
JUST two-thirds of Wales’ town and community councils met the statutory deadline for publishing their audited accounts
The timescales for councils to publish their accounts are set out by law, and yet only 486 of Wales’ Town and Community councils (66%) met this deadline in 2019.
There are 735 community and town councils in Wales. As a tier of local government, they are elected bodies, with discretionary powers and rights laid down by Parliament to represent their communities and provide services for them.
As at 30 November 2019, while a further 51 audits had been completed, 38 community councils still had not submitted accounts for audit. The number of qualified audits is still too high at 218 councils. This is according to a report issued today by the Auditor General for Wales.
The audit arrangements for community councils are designed to provide residents with a reasonable level of comfort that public money is being handled effectively. With councils handling more public money than ever, it’s increasingly important that councils follow the process set out in law.
However, the Auditor-General’s report shows that the number of councils failing to submit their accounts on time has risen compared to last year.
The failures have led to 218 qualified audit opinions to date, which means 218 councils either failed to comply with their statutory requirements or misstated information in their annual return. While this is less than last year, this number may rise once work on the remaining councils has been completed.
There are circumstances in which issues are of such significance that the Auditor General brings these to the attention of the public. During 2019, twelve such reports were issued in the public interest due to significant failures in the management of public funds by local councils.
MAENCLOCHOG A CASE IN POINT
One of the reports issued in 2019 concerned Maenclochog Community Council, where the Wales Audit Office identified a worrying series of governance failures for the financial years 2015-16 and 2016-17.
Maenclochog’s Community Council, with an annual precept of £4,000, is one of the smallest Community Councils in Wales. However, in spite of its small budget, councillors – who are ultimately responsible for ensuring public money is fully accounted for – failed to check proper accounting records had been maintained. The absence of bank statements reconciled to items of expenditure meant that the Wales Audit Office couldn’t provide an opinion on whether or not the annual accounts properly present the Council’s receipts and payments.
As a result, the WAO qualified the Council’s accounts for both 2015-16 and 2016-17.
The Auditor also mad a swingeing criticism of councillors for failure to ensure compliance with basic governance requirements. The Maenclochog report discloses that in the two financial years covered by the report, councillors had signed off on statements that they had fulfilled their statutory duties when they had done no such thing.
While the then clerk’s tardiness was a significant factor in the Council’s failure to comply with its statutory responsibilities, the Auditor points out council members sitting at the time bear responsibility for the Council’s failure to file accounts on time, or at all, until the WAO intervened in January 2018.
Since that time, a new clerk has been appointed to the Council, while the failures took place in a period which bridged the 2017 community council elections.
The report found no evidence that the Council took any steps concerning the overdue accounts. The Council’s minutes do not record any concerns related to the delayed submission of the 2015-16 or 2016-17 accounts.
The Auditor concluded, therefore, individual councillors did not understand their responsibilities about the accounts.
There was also no evidence the Council had prepared a budget either for 2015-16 or 2016-17, as required by law.
AREAS FOR IMPROVEMENT
Auditor General, Adrian Crompton said: “Local councils are expected to play an increasingly important role in the delivery of public services and local communities. While I am delighted to see the positive response from some councils to our recommendations from last year,
“I am disappointed that some councils still receive qualified opinions for multiple reasons. I recommend that all councils consider the issues raised in this report and reflect on whether any of the issues may apply to them.”
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