PLAID CYMRU MP Jonathan Edwards is backing a parliamentary Bill aimed at curbing the premium rate costs of phone calls to government agencies such as the Department for Work and Pensions.
The Government Services (Telecommunication Charges) Bill will be presented to parliament on Tuesday, February 21.
The scope of the Bill, which started out with a purpose to reduce costs for phoning the DWP has since been expanded to cover all UK Government Departments and agencies after it was revealed the Home Office Spousal Visa helpline charges callers £1.37 a minute over and above network rates.
Carmarthenshire’s Jonathan Edwards MP, who is co-sponsoring the Bill, said the high costs of calls impacts primarily those most vulnerable in society who are seeking assistance from the state.
Commenting ahead of the Bill being presented to Parliament, Jonathan Edwards said: “It doesn’t sit right with me that those who need to seek assistance from the state are the ones primarily affected premium rate phone call charges.
“In many instances a person is contacting a government agency because their circumstances have changed or they are in need of support. Premium rate phone numbers can act as a barrier to people accessing assistance.
“The Universal Credit helpline, for example, can cost up to 50pence per minute from mobile phones. A long wait on hold, being passed from assistant to assistant or, as many have experienced, having to call back several times to get things sorted can cost people a small fortune that they simply don’t have.
“I see no reasonable argument for premium rate charges. I’m sponsoring this Bill so that calls for help from the most vulnerable in our society do not cost the earth.”
CIEH joins over 60 charities calling for measures to tackle fuel poverty this winter
THE CHARTERED INSTITUTE OF ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH (CIEH) has joined over 60 charities in their call for the UK Government to implement a suite of measures to prevent millions of households falling into fuel poverty this winter.
CIEH have signed a joint letter released last week as part of our involvement in the ‘Warm this Winter’ campaign. Warm This Winter is a new campaign demanding the government acts now to help people struggling with energy bills this winter and to ensure we all have access to affordable energy in the future.
The Government has already introduced a number of measures designed to support households with soaring energy bills, namely the Energy Price Guarantee. Originally introduced by Liz Truss, freezing the price cap on energy for two years, it was then reduced to 6 months by the Chancellor Jeremy Hunt. Secondly, the Energy Bills Discount Scheme introduced by Boris Johnson, which offers £400 to households, spread over 6 months from October to March.
However, even with the Government’s support package this winter, 7 million UK households will still be in fuel poverty and forced into making impossible choices. This will rise to 11 million households – over a third of UK households – next Spring without additional targeted support.
Warm This Winter are seeking to put pressure on the Government by making the following asks:
- Urgently expand the support available to people this winter, including confirming that benefits will be rise in line with inflation as normal, and clarify the future of financial support from April 2023
- Rapidly embark on a national programme of insulating homes, schools, hospitals and workplaces, which could save households on average around £500 on their bills each year
- Implement a plan for a rapid roll-out, in harmony with nature, of clean, renewable energy to move the UK beyond expensive, volatile fossil fuels and enhance UK energy security
CIEH has consistently supported calls for the Government to both increase financial support for households facing fuel poverty this winter as well as calling for the rollout of a national programme of insulation measures.
Ross Matthew, Head of Policy and Campaigns at the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, said: “CIEH are delighted to lend our support to the Warm This Winter campaign.
“We have been consistent in our calls for the UK Government to provide greater support to households who are being faced with the impossible choice of turning on their heating or putting food on the table.
“While current government measures may prevent a full-blown crisis this winter, we are concerned that there is no long-term plan beyond Spring. That is why we also support Warm this Winter’s calls for the rollout of a national programme of home insulation as well as greater investment in renewable sources of energy in the long term.
“We urge the UK Government to recognise the severity of the situation many households face and to take urgent action.”
Jeremy Hunt sets new direction for government as Truss’s credibility trashed by u-turn
ON MONDAY, Jeremy Hunt unpicked virtually every element of Kwasi Kwarteng’s mini-budget to calm financial markets and restore order to chaos.
The new Chancellor’s statement was a sobering reminder that although Prime Ministers serve with their colleagues’ consent, governments cannot survive without market confidence.
Mr Hunt said every Government’s core responsibility was to deliver economic stability.
“No government can control the markets. But every Government can give certainty about the sustainability of the public finances.”
His words were a damning implied indictment of the PM’s economic policy.
FULL REVERSE GEAR
The Chancellor’s words had an immediate effect on markets: the pound strengthened, and UK government bond yields fell to reduce the cost of government borrowing.
The statement might reduce the amount of a projected mortgage interest rise in November.
But make no mistake: the statement is a humiliation for the PM.
Every policy she’s trailed, trumpeted, and brought in has been chucked on the bin fire of her Government’s reputation.
Liz Truss sacked Mr Kwarteng because she did as she said and pursued a policy she endorsed enthusiastically.
The PM’s campaign slogan was “Trusted to Deliver”.
Her detractors pointed out that Liz Truss was pushed by the political winds and could not set her own course.
She’s tried setting her course and crashed the economy into an iceberg.
Moreover, her Cabinet colleagues must wonder whether they can trust the PM to stand behind them when they pursue a government policy she supports.
This is a government living hour-to-hour, in office but not in power, and with its key policies made by financial markets instead of ministers.
GOVERNMENT AIMS TO “REGAIN TRUST”
The Chancellor’s statement pulled no punches about the size of Ms Truss’s and Mr Kwarteng’s miscalculation and overconfidence.
Mr Hunt said: “The government is prepared to act decisively and at scale to regain the country’s confidence and trust.”
The painful use of the word “regain” underlines what the Government lost after September 23.
The Chancellor stated there would be “more difficult decisions” on tax and spending.
Mr Hunt is focused on lowering debt in the medium term and putting public finances on “a sustainable footing”.
Using the word “sustainable” implies the previous plan was unsustainable.
In light of this, government departments will be asked to find efficiencies within their budgets. The Chancellor is expected to announce further changes to its fiscal policy on October 31 to put the public finances on a sustainable footing.
TAX CUTS SCRAPPED
The Chancellor announced a reversal of almost all of the tax measures set out in the Growth Plan that have not been legislated for in parliament.
The following tax policies will no longer be taken forward:
Cutting the basic rate of income tax to 19% from April 2023. While the Government aims to proceed with the cut in due course, this will only happen “when economic conditions allow for it, and a change is affordable”. The basic rate of income tax will therefore remain at 20% indefinitely. This is worth around £6 billion a year.
Cutting dividends tax by 1.25 percentage points from April 2023. The 1.25 percentage points increase, which took effect in April 2022, will remain in place. This is valued at around £1 billion a year.
Repealing the 2017 and 2021 reforms to the off-payroll working rules (also known as IR35) from April 2023. This will cut the Government’s growth plan’s cost by around £2 billion a year.
Introducing a new VAT-free shopping scheme for non-UK visitors to Great Britain. Not proceeding with this scheme is worth around £2 billion a year.
Freezing alcohol duty rates from February 1 2023, for a year. Not proceeding with the freeze is worth approximately £600 million a year.
This follows from the previously announced decisions not to proceed with the Growth Plan proposals to remove the additional income tax rate and to cancel the planned increase in the corporation tax rate.
The changes are estimated to be worth around £32 billion a year.
That still leaves the Government with a lot to find to plug the hole in its finances, which indicates more pain will follow in public spending.
The Government’s reversal of the National Insurance increase, the Health and Social Care Levy, and the Stamp Duty Land Tax cuts will continue to benefit millions of people and businesses.
The £1 million Annual Investment Allowance, the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme and the Company Share Options Plan will continue supporting business investment further.
ENERGY BILL SUPPORT TO CHANGE
In September, the Government announced massive financial support to protect households and businesses from high energy prices.
The Energy Price Guarantee and the Energy Bill Relief Scheme support millions of households and businesses with rising energy costs.
The Chancellor made clear they will continue to do so from now until April next year.
However, looking beyond April, the Prime Minister and the Chancellor have agreed that it would be irresponsible for the Government to continue exposing the public finances to unlimited volatility in international gas prices.
A Treasury-led review will therefore be launched to consider how to support households and businesses with energy bills after April 2023. The review’s objective is to design a new approach that will cost the taxpayer significantly less than planned whilst ensuring enough support for those in need.
The Chancellor also said in his statement that any support for businesses will be targeted to those most affected and that the new approach will better incentivise energy efficiency.
“CHAOS AT THE HEART OF GOVERNMENT”
Rebecca Evans, Wales’s Finance Minister, responded: “The complete unravelling of the mini-budget shows the chaos at the heart of the UK Government.
“In six short weeks, the UK Government’s reckless and flawed economic policy has caused mayhem in the financial markets, pushed up mortgage costs and stretched household budgets even further.
“Now the UK Government is rolling back on its energy price support scheme for households, which will only add to the uncertainty people face as they worry about paying their bills.
“The new Chancellor has signalled a new era of austerity to start to fill the hole in public finances.
“We will all pay for the Government’s mistakes. But this is a crisis made in Downing Street and one it needs to address.
“The Chancellor needs to use his next financial statement to provide reassurance we will not see the deep spending cuts that will affect jobs, services and our economy – and to provide support to vulnerable households who have been ignored today.”
Wales stands firm in support for Ukraine￼
IN THE latest update on the Ukraine crisis, Wales’s Minister for Social Justice Jane Hutt thanked all those households across Wales who have come forward to offer their homes to Ukrainians fleeing the War and encouraged more households to provide this vital support.
APPEAL FOR MORE HOST FAMILIES
The Minister for Social Justice said: “I’m delighted to say that over 5,650 people from Ukraine, sponsored by the Welsh Government and Welsh households, have already arrived in the UK.
“More than 8,200 visas have now been issued to people from Ukraine who have sponsors in Wales, so we expect the number of arrivals to continue to grow in the coming weeks.
“Thousands of Welsh households sponsored Ukrainians to arrive in Wales and committed to hosting them for at least six months.
“As we move into the autumn, we approach the end of that initial period.
“We hope hosts and Ukrainians will agree to extend many of those placements, but we need additional hosts to support those who cannot continue living where they are.
“To ensure a warm welcome to Wales, I’m inviting households across Wales to come forward and open their homes to welcome those seeking sanctuary.
“We’re immensely thankful to all those across Wales acting as hosts to Ukrainians, but more households must come forward.
“I completely understand that there are those who want to help but may not have the resources to do so, given the circumstances we’re all facing with the cost-of-living crisis.”
WALES WILL STEP UP TO THE PLATE
Jane Hutt continued: “What we all know, and has been proven countless times, is that the people of Wales are one of the most generous across the globe, and I’m sure we will step up to the plate once again.
“The idea of hosting can be daunting. That’s why we have funded Housing Justice Cymru to provide a Host Support service which includes expert and reliable information, training, advice, and guidance for people hosting, or those considering hosting, Ukrainians in Wales.
“More information on sessions and training can be found on the Housing Justice Cymru website. We also publish regularly updated guidance for hosts and sponsors at gov. wales/ukraine.
“We still need many more households to consider whether they could provide a home for those in need. This would normally be a commitment to hosting for 6 to 12 months.
“If anyone is considering this, we encourage them to register their interest at gov.wales/offerhome, and to attend one of the ‘Introduction to Hosting’ sessions, facilitated by Housing Justice Cymru. You won’t need to continue the process if you decide it is not for you.
“We have also partnered with Airbnb.org to ensure very short-term emergency placements can be provided to prevent homelessness.
“If you cannot host for more than 6 months but you could offer your property for up to 30 days at a time, you may also be able to contribute. Visit gov.wales/offerhome and follow the link to the Airbnb.org platform.”
Finally, the Minister stated: “We will continue to communicate with those who host Ukrainians, with updated guidance and information to support the valuable role you are undertaking.
“To all those that are already hosting and to those that are considering hosting, thank you, we owe you all a huge debt of gratitude.”
WESTMINSTER MUST BACK HOSTS
DURING COST-OF-LIVING CRISIS
Conservative MS Mark Isherwood raised how the cost-of-living crisis affects Ukrainian refugees.
Where families had taken in those fleeing Russian aggression, he noted a risk of sponsorships not continuing beyond six months because the hosts cannot afford the rise in fuel costs.
He asked the Minister what discussions she’d had with the UK Government about increasing the £350 contribution to households who’d taken in Ukrainian refugees.
The Minister agreed with Mark Isherwood that ending a specific ministerial post dealing with refugees was regrettable.
She noted a lack of information from the UK Government over the summer months and since Liz Truss replaced Boris Johnson as head of the Conservative Government.
Ms Hutt said: “We asked for an increase at least to £500, or up again, doubling to £700 per month. An urgent decision is needed regarding this as they reach the end of their six-month period.
“That period is underway, so we’re writing to all hosts to see if they will continue.”
UK GOVERNMENT URGED
TO PICK UP THE PHONE
The Minister thanked Mark Isherwood for introducing her to a charity offering support in North Wales, Link, and hoped that he and his colleagues would bring pressure to bear on their Westminster colleagues to ensure those in need from Ukraine and those in Wales helping them received support.
She added: “I look forward perhaps that we might have some telephone calls from the Prime Minister and other Ministers to us in Government. We must engage with them and follow this through.
“There is a huge job of work to be done here. We’re taking responsibility in the way I’ve outlined, funding our welcome centres and paying thank-you payments to hosts if they support a family who initially arrived in Wales under the Ukraine family scheme.
“That’s not happening in England. The commitment that we’re making is considerable.
“I hope everyone will join us today, saying that we need to press for those answers in terms of financial support.”
THE THREAT OF HOMELESSNESS
Sioned Williams of Plaid Cymru raised the spectre of Ukrainian refugees becoming homeless in Wales due to a lack of financial support and the end of existing hosting and housing placements.
The Minister praised the work of local authorities across Wales supporting refugees.
She said: “There are very imaginative programmes. That includes a whole range of issues like repurposing empty buildings.
“Local authorities are really coming up with a whole range of ways in which we can support people, perhaps, from a welcome centre, or a host family, into that intermediate accommodation, and then on to other longer-term accommodation.”
Pembrokeshire currently houses around 200 Ukrainian refugees, with the demand for assistance outstripping the availability of suitable accommodation.
NOT ONE PENNY FROM WESTMINSTER
TO SUPPORT FAMILIES FLEEING WAR
Responding to a question from Mabon ap Gwynfor about problems housing family groups, Jane Hutt hit out at the lack of support from the UK Government and how it’s u-turned on a commitment to help families.
“The UK Government has never given a penny towards the family scheme.
“The former Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, in one of his last PMQs, actually said that he thought the Ukraine family scheme should get the same funding and support as the Homes for Ukraine scheme. It’s never happened.
“We have provided thank-you payments to people who are hosting Ukrainian families. It’s all Welsh Government money; it’s not UK Government, because they don’t provide a penny. And also, the British Red Cross—£246,000—who are actually supporting Ukrainian families who are hosting family members under the Ukrainian family scheme.”
On Wednesday, September 28, Eluned Morgan, Wales’s Health Minister, announced the continuation of free healthcare in Wales to Ukrainian residents displaced by the ongoing conflict.
The exemption will continue to apply unless there’s a significant change in circumstances in Ukraine.
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