Minister: Wales "too dependent on welfare benefits"

Seconds out, round two. A Wales Office minister has defended controversial changes to housing benefit and disputed a Labour claim that Wales is hardest hit by the so-called "bedroom tax".

A week after they clashed in the Commons on the issue, Stephen Crabb has written to shadow Welsh Secretary Owen Smith to argue that tenants in Wales will, on average, suffer the joint lowest financial loss of any UK region.

Mr Crabb said the changes were part of welfare reform plans designed to tackle the challenge of "high rates of economic inactivity and a working age population that has become too dependent on welfare benefits".

Around 40,000 tenants in social housing in Wales (46% of working age housing benefit claimants) are affected by the under-occupancy penalty which penalises tenants with more bedrooms than the UK government thinks they need.

Last week, Mr Smith highlighted the UK government's own figures that suggested the proportion of social housing tenants affected was higher in Wales than elsewhere.

Today, Mr Crabb replied: "You will clearly see from the same table that you mention in your letter that the estimated financial impact in Wales is below the average for Great Britain as a whole and is the joint lowest of any region of the United Kingdom - and therefore Wales is not the hardest hit."

"We are committed to tackling the economic mess left by the previous government head on. One of the most significant challenges we face in Wales is high rates of economic inactivity and a working age population that has become too dependent on welfare benefits.

"Not only does Wales have an economic inactivity rate almost two percentage points above the UK average, but also the highest proportion of working age benefit recipients that have been claiming for more than five years of any part of the United Kingdom.

"I regard it as a tragedy that more than 200,000 adults in Wales have never worked a day in their lives. Worklessness and the growth of benefit dependency have left too many of our communities in Wales trapped in poverty."

Mr Crabb said welfare reforms were "a vital step to breaking this cycle of poverty and failure". He added: "Labour treats poverty as a political football but just doesn't care enough to want to tackle it at source."

I suspect we haven't heard the last of this one.