Wales politics

Housing benefit powers 'could tackle poverty in Wales'

Elderly person with a handful of coins Image copyright PA

Devolving housing benefits to Wales could help boost affordable homes and tackle poverty, an independent think-tank has said.

The Bevan Foundation claimed policies aimed at combating poverty in Wales were not working.

It said it was "disappointing" nearly a quarter of people were in poverty, as in 2006-7.

The Welsh Government said it was "working hard" to increase prosperity and take people out of poverty.

The number of children living in poverty has fallen from 33% to 29% since 2012, but pensioners in poverty has risen from 14% to 17% since 2013.

For its report, the foundation took its definition of poverty as those living with a household income of less than 60% of the median (middle) figure.

UK government figures for 2014-15 showed about 23% of people in Wales were living in poverty.

"The latest figures are very disappointing", said the foundation's director, Dr Victoria Winckler.

"That around 700,000 people - many of them in work - are struggling to make ends meet suggests that UK and Welsh Government policies aren't working.

"Even worse, reducing poverty seems to have fallen off the current Welsh Government's agenda, with few references to it in Welsh Labour's [assembly election] manifesto and the post of tackling poverty minister disappearing."

Dr Winckler said using devolved benefits well could make a difference to people's lives and strengthen the economy.

"We think there's scope to devolve some welfare benefits and bring those in-house where they're a good fit with Welsh Government policies," she told BBC Wales.

"So housing benefit we think could make a real difference. There's £1bn coming into Wales and going straight into landlords' pockets.

"If that money was used differently and better, we could be building more houses and people could have more affordable and secure homes."

Dr Wincker believes benefits for young people could be devolved too "so they're not being forced into low paid, low skilled work before they know what they want to do with their lives".

A Welsh Government spokesman said: "Wales has the fastest growing rate of employment in the UK along with the sharpest declining rate of unemployment over the last 12 months.

"We are working hard to identify ways we can increase prosperity for people in Wales and help people out of poverty.

"Job creation, closing the education attainment gap and improving skill levels are top priorities for this government and represent the most effective levers at our disposal to tackle poverty in Wales."

Plaid Cymru spokesman Steffan Lewis said the report "casts a damning judgement" on Welsh Labour's "abject failure" to tackle poverty.

But he called for a transfer of social security powers from Westminster to Wales, claiming "our most vulnerable people are exposed to policies designed to benefit the London City square mile at everyone else's expense".

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