Jane Hutt, Minister for Social Justice
This afternoon I chaired a second Cost of Living Summit where I was joined by the Minister for Climate Change and the Minister for Finance and Local Government, as well as key stakeholders from across Wales.
Our first Cost of Living Summit in February enabled us to get a clearer understanding of the impact that the cost of living crisis was having at a grass roots level – in people’s homes, in our communities and for organisations. The feedback we received provided us with the information we needed to target resources where they would have greatest impact.
Today, I again underlined that the powers and the fiscal resources needed to help people with the rising cost of energy and increasing living costs lie mainly with the UK government. Nevertheless, the evidence has shown us that our interventions are making a difference.
Since we last met, we have run a second national Claim What’s Yours benefit take-up campaign. Over 8,000 people responded to the campaign’s call to action to contact Advicelink Cymru and have been helped to claim over £2.1m of additional income.
Feedback from the first Summit helped inform the detail of how we invested the £330 million package of support which was announced by the Minister for Finance and Local Government in February.
The funding will support a further Welsh Fuel Support Scheme this winter which will provide more people on low incomes with a non-repayable £200 cash payment towards their energy bills later this year. I will make an announcement on this next week. The previous Winter Fuel Support Scheme supported over 166,000 households.
It has also seen investment of nearly £4 million in a fuel voucher and Heat Fund scheme which will support vulnerable customers that have to pre-pay for their fuel.
Our budget in March saw £14.9 million additional investment in the Discretionary Assistance Fund, extending the flexibilities which ensure more people receive emergency financial support when they need it.
In response feedback from the Summit, I held a Food Poverty Roundtable in May which brought together a range of stakeholders to discuss the impact of rising food prices and energy costs on levels of food poverty. Feedback has helped to inform how the funding should be directed to more effectively support people experiencing food poverty in the here and now and how we can help to reduce and prevent the need for emergency food provision in the longer term.
The crisis has highlighted the importance of sustainable solutions for tackling food poverty and the importance of enabling local networks to respond to local needs.
I am pleased to announce £3 million Welsh Government funding to support the development of cross-sector food partnerships and strengthen existing food partnerships that can help build resilience in local food networks through the co-ordination of on the ground, food-related activity which tackles the root-causes of food poverty. These networks will develop citizen action, maximise the effectiveness of projects and ensure that resources are targeted at areas of greatest need.
They will provide join up, drawing in support and expertise from other services such as Public Health Wales, Welsh housing associations and advice service, to understand and address local need. They will ensure the immediate and growing needs of households experiencing food poverty are met while also focussing resources on prevention and sustainability to support resilience in the longer term.
This approach will also support a direct fund for emergency aid to help meet growing demand for emergency food provision as a result of the cost of living crisis.
Feedback on access to benefits and sharing information about the financial support that is available has led to the setting up of the Income Maximisation Task and Finish Group which is looking at ways of helping people to access all the financial support they are entitled to and supporting people struggling to repay their debts.
Minister for Climate Change has agreed to provide local authorities with an extra £6m this financial year for a Discretionary Homelessness Prevention Fund. This fund will provide immediate support to both prevent and relieve homelessness and will assist in mitigating the reductions made by the UK Government to the Discretionary Housing Payment grant.
However, our work is not finished. With a further rise in the energy price cap in October, we know things will get worse before they get better.
The Summit today explored what more we need to do. The feedback recognised the need to develop actions which not only address the immediate needs of vulnerable households but also support them to build resilience in the face of the challenges to come.
Delegates recognised the need to strengthen the impact of our collective efforts by working as partners with a common goal. Once again, they shared their thoughts and ideas about what we can achieve by working together.
We have listened and we will continue to do everything within our powers to protect people from the impacts of this crisis and support our communities through this challenging period.