Y Pwyllgor Cydraddoldeb, Llywodraeth Leol a Chymunedau Y Bumed Senedd
Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee - Fifth Senedd19/06/2019
Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol
Committee Members in Attendance
|Caroline Jones AM|
|Dawn Bowden AM|
|Huw Irranca-Davies AM|
|John Griffiths AM||Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor|
|Mark Isherwood AM|
|Sian Gwenllian AM||Yn dirprwyo ar ran Leanne Wood|
|Substitute for Leanne Wood|
Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol
Others in Attendance
|Cian Sion||Canolfan Llywodraethiant Cymru|
|Wales Governance Centre|
|Dr Victoria Winckler||Sefydliad Bevan|
|Guto Ifan||Canolfan Llywodraethiant Cymru|
|Wales Governance Centre|
Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol
Senedd Officials in Attendance
|Yan Thomas||Dirprwy Glerc|
Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.
The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.
Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:30.
The meeting began at 09:30.
Okay, welcome, everyone, to this meeting of the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee. The first item on the agenda today is introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest. We have one apology, from Leanne Wood, and Siân Gwenllian is substituting for Leanne.
The membership of the committee has changed for this meeting. We are now six members rather than the previous eight. So, I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Carwyn Jones, Jenny Rathbone, Mohammad Asghar and Gareth Bennett for their service on the committee, because they have now stepped down. And I would very much like to welcome Caroline Jones and Dawn Bowden to their first meeting of the committee.
Item 2 on our agenda today, then, is our first evidence session on our inquiry into benefits in Wales: options for delivery. The committee visited Scotland last week, which was very informative and useful, but this is our first formal evidence-taking session as a committee. I'd like to welcome Guto Ifan, research associate of the Wales Governance Centre, and Cian Siôn, also a research assistant with the Wales Governance Centre. Thank you, both, and thank you for your written evidence to the committee. If there wasn't anything you'd like to say initially, I will begin with the first couple of questions, or did you wish to say anything?
No. Okay. Firstly, then, in terms of your modelling of what devolution of benefits to Wales on the same basis that they've been devolved to Scotland, in terms of the benefits involved and what that would mean in financial terms for Wales, you state that the Welsh Treasury could be better off to the tune of £200 million a year if those same benefits as are being devolved in Scotland were devolved to Wales. That figure is arrived at using the indexed per capita formula to calculate the block grant adjustments. This might be rather complicated for the lay person in the street, not to mention possibly members of the committee, or the Chair. So, I wonder if you could say a little bit more, really, about your workings behind the calculation. You know, how firm it is as a figure, what caveats should be considered.
Sure. So, the £200 million figure, that refers to the projected surplus to the Welsh Treasury in 2023-24, assuming that the benefits—personal independence payment, disability living allowance, attendance allowance and carers allowance—all of those had been devolved in 2018-19, as you say, using the indexed per capita method. And that was the most beneficial method that we modelled—I should point that out.
In terms of how we came about that figure, we used data on historic claimant rates in Wales for these major benefits and assumed that those historic patterns would continue into the future. We then used the population projections figures published by the Office for National Statistics, and that allowed us, in combination with the claimant rates, to produce caseload figures up to 2023-24, and then the spending projections are underpinned by forecasts produced by the Office for Budget Responsibility. Now, they produce forecasts on a UK-wide level for all of these benefits, but using the caseload figures that we had derived for Wales—and we did the same thing, actually, for England as well—we were then able to disaggregate that figure to arrive at an estimate for Wales.
Now, there are many caveats. The population projections could be inaccurate to begin with, but those are published by the Office for National Statistics, so they do inform UK Government policy as well. It could be the case that future trends in the claimant rates do not match the historic trends that we've seen since 2009-10. The one thing I would say to that is that it's unusual with these sorts of benefits to see any market shifts in caseloads from year to year, just because many of the claimants are on them long term. And also, obviously, you've got the OBR spending forecasts. They could be inaccurate as well, but, again, those are the forecasts that are used to inform UK Government spending plans. So, if they did, for instance, understate the figure for Wales, they would likely be understating the figure for the UK as a whole as well. And since, with devolution, what matters is what happens to Wales relative to England, you would expect that that would mitigate some of the risk. Of course, they'd also have seen the indexed per capita method and that it was devolved in 2018-19, and that's before administration costs, I should also note as well.
Yes, okay. So, is the essential point in terms of that £200 million figure the forecast that the number of claimants would grow more slowly in Wales compared to England?
Yes, that plays a part in it, yes. We also actually looked at some projections of what would have happened had they been devolved in 2010-11. And, for that period, from 2010-11 to 2017-18, we actually had outturn figures available, and we reached a similar figure of around £160 million using the most beneficial method, and that was using actual data. So, it has been the case over the past decade or so that the case load has been increasing relatively slower in Wales compared to England for many of these benefits.
So, that's an established trend, and you expect that to continue.
Yes, and we would expect that to continue, yes.
Okay. Could you explain why that indexed per capita methodology would be more financially beneficial to Wales rather than using the Barnett formula, and could you explain how it works in Scotland?
Sure. So, the initial levels of spending in Wales on these benefits would be higher, so the initial transfer of funding from the UK Government on a per person basis would be higher in Wales than in England. On these benefits, I think it's about £649 per head of general population, compared to £434 in England—
So, that's because, although the trend is for the number of claimants in Wales to be growing more slowly compared to England, nonetheless Wales has a higher percentage of claimants for those benefits than England.
Yes, sure. And you'll probably have heard of the Barnett squeeze over time, so if spending is initially higher in Wales, the Barnett formula has a sort of in-built convergence property in it, so that as per person spending is growing in England, a given increase of the same pounds per person increase in Wales and England results in a lower percentage increase in Wales, because of that initial higher level of spending. So, over time as spending grows, there's a convergence in relative spending levels.
The indexed per capita method, the IPC method, that they've agreed to use in Scotland doesn't have that same convergence of funding. So, the Welsh Government would get 50 per cent more per person than in England of whatever is spent in England over time. So, that initial higher level of spending difference would essentially be locked into the system after devolution. Of course, if spending needs grew above that level of per person spending after devolution, the Welsh Government still bears that sort of risk, but it doesn't bear the risk of that convergence over time. And, interestingly, in terms of the Barnett formula plus the now-agreed 5 per cent uplift, the needs-based factor as they call it, under that scenario, we find that the amount of funding that would be transferred over time would probably relatively match what would actually need to be spent to keep the same level of benefit spending in Wales. That's because, as you said earlier, there's convergence in the system already because of that slower case load growth. So, the two of them work together, if you like, and that means that there's no—or it's a relatively neutral effect on the Welsh budget under the Barnett formula.
So, if you put the 5 per cent into the equation, is it still the case that the indexed per capita methodology is more favourable to Wales than Barnett with the 5 per cent included?
Yes. So, the 5 per cent slows that rate of convergence, but not enough so that it keeps it steady, if that makes sense.
I see. And in terms of how it works in Scotland—?
So, the initial level of spending in Scotland is less than in Wales, so the differential is less, but then they've agreed that, I think it's about—I might be wrong—20 per cent higher in Scotland per person spending. So the Scottish Government from now on will get 20 per cent more funding than whatever's spent in England. So regardless of what happens to the case load trends in Scotland, the amount of funding that they get for these benefits will be 20 per cent per person higher than what England gets over time.
I see, okay. Mark.
On that particular point, how will the 115 per cent Barnett floor impact on that, where the convergence that will occur—so effectively the 5 per cent you referred to has that floor mechanism built in?
It's 5 per cent, so any uplift to the Welsh budget now from year to year is multiplied by an extra 5 per cent—or 105 per cent. Then, in the fiscal framework agreement, by the time that relative funding levels across the block grant as a whole reach 115 per cent of England, that multiplier switches then to 115 per cent. I think in the work that we did previously on modelling the implications of that, we didn't project that we'd get to 115 per cent of the level in England any time soon, so it's likely to stay as a 105 per cent multiplier for an extended period of time, because that slows the level of convergence enough, and Wales's population is growing at a slower rate and spending hasn't been growing very fast. So there's been a divergence in relative funding levels, so we don't envisage that we'd get to 115 per cent any time soon.
Although in 2016 the Wales Audit Office said that currently we're at 120 per cent.
Yes. If that figure falls to 15.5 per cent, I think, then that would increase the increment, increase the needs-based factor to 115 per cent. I'd imagine if devolved benefits—because that would push that relative figure higher if that's included in the overall calculation. Yes, that would either have to be re-thought about or that would push the relative spending figures much higher so that we'd take longer to get back to 115 per cent, if that makes sense.
Would you like to continue?
If you'd like me to, yes.
What would be the financial implications of devolving other benefits, for instance, universal credit or specific elements of other benefits, for instance, the housing element of universal credit?
We haven't specifically looked at those particular benefits. We simply took the suite of benefits devolved to Scotland and just looked at that. In terms of whether you could do that, there are case load figures available, disaggregated for Wales and by local authorities, I think, for universal credit, housing benefit, the legacy housing benefit and the housing element of universal credit. I think the difficulty would arise with forecasting forwards, because the benefits that have been devolved to Scotland—old age and disability benefits—they're very closely tied to demographics, whereas if you're talking about universal credit, for instance, it's much more connected to other macroeconomic indicators—you know, the performance of the economy as a whole, the job market—and so it would be much harder to project forwards, I think, with those benefits.
Nevertheless, the Office for Budget Responsibility does produce projections on a UK-wide level for all those individual benefits, but it's not something that we've looked at specifically in the reports.
Right. And in all your calculating, have you factored in the need for further or new infrastructure costs, staffing costs, overheads?
The infrastructure of the administration?
The administration, yes.
Those are not included in the headline figures. We did talk in the report about some of the developments in Scotland. Obviously, I think the latest estimate is around £308 million, I believe, whereas initially they were granted £200 million as part of the agreement with the UK Treasury for the initial set of costs. We haven't, in the report, looked at exactly how much it would cost to set up a welfare agency in Wales, so that would certainly be something that would need to be done if there was interest in going ahead with this, I think.
And we'll come on to some more questions on that later.
We were in Edinburgh last week and met their relevant scrutiny committee, who expressed a variety of views to us, but there was some concern expressed. Obviously, on the positive side, it's early days and some things had bedded in—the easier things had gone first, so they'd bedded in well—but there was also concern about the lack of modelling, looking down the road, over invest-to-save, cost-benefit, and how this might impact as they move forward with proposals. What, if any, views therefore do you have thus far on the progress and effectiveness of the devolution of the benefits in Scotland?
I guess the first thing to say is that it's already having an impact. The Cabinet Secretary, Shirley-Anne Somerville, recently said that they'd effectively given around £35 million pounds of extra funding to claimants through the carer's allowance supplement and the Best Start grant, the pregnancy and baby grant that they've introduced. So it's already having an impact and I think, as you said, the initial work that's been done around creating Social Security Scotland, creating the agency and the infrastructure to deliver these benefits has been pretty good, and that's recognised in the Audit Scotland report that came out a couple of months ago.
Obviously, there's a delay in delivering some of those benefits, and I think, from now on, the Scottish Government will progressively take on more—it will start to fund the benefits and then the Scottish Government will progressively take on more of the administration of the other benefits that are to be devolved. I think that delay reflects the nature and complexities and interdependencies that will inevitably arise from devolving welfare benefits. So, having two Governments and two agencies dealing with the same clients and the same claimants. So, yes, a cautious approach is probably well advised.
From a Welsh perspective, were we ever to consider devolving benefits to Wales, I think it is advantageous that someone's gone before us, so that we can look at the example of Scotland, that they are a certain number of years ahead of us on that, so there is scope to learn what went right and what was done well in Scotland. And then, yes, I guess we'd have a clearer view of what devolving these benefits would mean for Wales.
I'll just bring in Huw at this stage.
I'm just wondering, is it too early yet to make a really sound decision on the effectiveness of the devolution of benefits within Scotland? It's still very early days. And if that is the case, at what point would we be able to say, 'Well, we can see now what works, what the difficulties are'?
I'm not sure when the end date is; I think that's been pushed further and further back in terms of when all the benefits will be devolved, and then to get an estimate of what the funding transferred from the UK Government is doing compared to what is being spent on those benefits. And you'll have the added complexities of whatever the Scottish Government do with these powers. So, if they start varying benefits—as they have done with the carer's allowance supplement—it's going to make it quite difficult to get an estimate. But I think, once Social Security Scotland do have control and do actually administer the benefits under Scottish Government control, we'll get a sense of what the initial set-up costs might be for a social security Wales, or whatever, and then what the ongoing administration costs would be.
The argument around all of this, around the issue of effectiveness, is in some ways twofold. One, by doing this, do you get a better fit with your devolved policies? That could be a measure of effectiveness in itself, that you're managing to streamline some of these benefits around how you administer your devolved responsibilities as well. But the other thing is the actual outcomes for individuals who are receiving it and impacts on poverty alleviation, in-work poverty, which we've heard about today, and so on. It seems to me that we probably, if we were to take the approach that said, 'Let's just pause and see how Scotland is going', I'm just wondering how soon before we'd be able to say: is it two years down the line, is is three or five years before we see that there's a tangible impact on fit with policies and outcomes for individuals?
I think one of the exciting things in Scotland at the moment is that it's created a debate around what the Scottish Government can do with these powers. It's still early days on that front, but the work that the Institute for Public Policy Research Scotland are doing, and I think the Joseph Rowntree Foundation in Scotland are doing around what the Scottish Government can do with these powers, and how that will impact, as you say, on poverty levels and relative poverty levels and the child poverty targets that the Scottish Government have been set—. So, I think probably keeping an eye on that sort of debate, and how that might translate on to a Welsh level.
Yes, indeed. In terms of Wales, the report that everybody looks back to, the 2016 report from the Bevan Foundation, really caused a bit of a stir around should we be looking at devolution of administration of benefits and so on. But one thing they said was that, in terms of things such as disability and carers benefit, their view at the time was that they should remain reserved because, for one reason, there was little appetite at that moment in Wales for devolution of those benefits. Do you sense any change in the political mood in Wales? Because, ultimately, these become political decisions, as well as purely financial or modelling decisions.
We made a comment in the report, actually, that some people in the third sector might view this with justifiable trepidation. And I think that was partly informed, actually, by the Bevan Foundation report that you mentioned there. There wasn't, to our awareness, much literature, especially on disability benefits and the prospect of devolving disability benefits to Wales, prior to writing this report. Now, I would say, based on the responses to the consultation that I've looked through, and you've looked through those in much more depth, obviously, but I think it's fair to say the mood has probably shifted slightly, and that might be because we're now seeing the Scottish Government do their own things with their newly devolved welfare powers. We are seeing new benefits being introduced. I think a young carers grant is been introduced in September this year.
And I think we're also in quite a different position in 2019 to where we were in 2016, with the wider context of fiscal devolution to the Welsh Government. Obviously, we now have £2.1 billion of income tax in our control. So, I think the Welsh Government has assumed much more risk, if you will, since then, which I think puts us in a slightly different position politically than we were in back in 2016 when that report was written.
Just one small additional thing. In terms of that political mood surrounding this issue, did the change in First Minister make a difference here?
Yes. I think that was one of the reasons why this committee was set up as well. But, yes, he did make a comment back in February that he wanted to look at and explore all the options related to devolution. And that was one of the reasons, actually, why we were quite interested in looking into this further and writing this report.
The question we asked in Scotland, and we had some interesting responses—. The motivation for this—people can disagree with the current Government policies and current parties in Government, whether it's here or in London, but those Governments come and go, policies change, even different Governments of the same party can have opposing policies to their predecessor Governments. So, the physical act of devolution should not therefore be about short-term agreement or disagreement with current policies because they change, but why, if at all, the evidence exists to show that having the decision making at a different level would improve outcomes for people—what evidence is there to support, or not, that contention?
I think we've—. So, yes, we looked at what's been devolved to Scotland, and quite neutrally took a look in our report. So, we didn't look back, then, at why you'd want to devolve these benefits in the first place, if that makes sense, and why these specific benefits. So, I think there are criteria that you could probably look at in terms of what is a suitable candidate for devolution, something like what the Holtham commission did with the different taxes, looking at different taxes individually. So, specifically, on social security benefits, you'd imagine that if it's related to devolved areas already, so social care duties of local authorities interact with some of these benefits, you'd imagine that having benefits that aren't cyclical and don't vary too much relatively in Wales compared with the UK, in terms of you'd want the central Government with its greater financial management capability to smooth out benefits related to incomes and the labour market—. So, yes, I think there's probably a way of looking at these individual benefits. And, as you say, it's to judge where responsibility should lie.
And I think one of the arguments you could make is that you would want to devolve things because it would allow you then to tailor your policies to adapt to the needs of the people of Wales, which may be different to the UK as a whole. There may be more of a need for certain benefits in Wales. And also, as Guto said, many of these benefits, especially attendance allowance, carers allowance, intersect with the responsibilities of local authorities at the moment, and with devolved areas of responsibility—social care, health. They all interact with each other, so that might be one of the reasons why you would consider it. But, yes, as Guto said, this was intended to be an objective look at what would happen if the benefits devolved to Scotland were devolved to Wales.
I just want to test this a little bit further. Because the counter-argument would be that you don't actually devolve benefits in any shape or form, but what you do is you maximise the administrative flexibility. Now, you can argue whether or not the Welsh Government have done this or not, but all of those things that you were talking about, about how you take various allowances and say how they fits to carers individually on the ground in Wales—can we persuade the UK Government to give us the ultimate flexibility, that we have the same benefits coming to us, administered centrally in the UK, but we just get on with administering them fully within Wales? Now, that retains—and I'm just testing this; I'm not expressing an opinion—if you like, that union of redistributed benefits that is the UK, but then maxes it down to—. Is that not a valid counter-argument?
Northern Ireland does have full administrative powers over its welfare system, but they are not allowed to make any changes to the eligibility criteria, compared to the UK.
But if there was more flexibility, is that a counter-argument? If the alternative, from a Welsh Government perspective, was to go banging on the door in Whitehall, and say, 'What we want is: guarantee us the funding, but we want to multiply the flexibility we have about how we use these benefits, and who's eligible, and how we apply them in certain circumstances'. No? Sorry—I'm testing this.
I guess it's something that probably could be explored. There are flexibilities over universal credit, for instance, that were granted to Scotland and to Northern Ireland. I think in Northern Ireland certain elements of universal credit—the bimonthly payments et cetera. And there are some elements, I believe, of social security now in Northern Ireland that are outside of the parity conditions that the UK Government imposes on social security in Northern Ireland. We haven't looked specifically at what the administration of benefits or the powers or the flexibilities over the administrative powers would look like. Of course, you might be able to bypass some of the initial set-up costs of creating a new agency, for instance. You probably would need to compensate the Department for Work and Pensions if benefits were being devolved and were being administered differently in Wales.
There would be a cost, and it would require Secretary of State UK authorisation, and that could change over time, and it would require agency payments with HMRC, or other benefits agencies and so on. So, there are downsides to it—I just wanted to test it, because you leave, then, some of the control and the ability to take those powers away at that end of the motorway.
In terms of your point around the pooling of resources across the UK, I'd imagine the indexed per capita method—to go back to the way that you'd devolve it—would be quite important, and then the funding mechanism would be quite important, in terms of the net effect on Wales, in terms of the funding. That IPC method, by guaranteeing a certain level of per-person funding in Wales, in a sense would lock in the level of pooling of resources—if that makes sense.
Yes, it does.
Okay. Just one further question from me on that IPC calculation that we covered earlier, and the fact that, in relation to disability and carer benefits, the projection of a slower growth rate of claimants compared to England gives that financial benefit that you outlined. Could you just say something briefly about the factors behind that slower growth rate in Wales?
Yes, so some of it is related to demographic reasons. So, the over-65 population as a share of the total population is significantly higher in Wales, compared to the UK average and compared to England. But, in recent years, and going forward, the over-65 population is projected to grow quicker in England, compared to Wales. And, obviously, a lot of the benefits—attendance allowance is only available to those over 65, and over-65s make up a large amount of the disability living allowance case load as well.
We also saw that the biggest increase in the claimant rate had been, actually, among the under-25s and that was for conditions such as behavioural disorders and learning difficulties, and that cohort is also projected to grow quicker as a share of the total population in England, compared to Wales, over the next few years, and has been as well in recent years.
There's also a wider point to make as well. If you look at the personal independence payment and DLA, for instance, and you look at the difference in the claimant rate between Wales and England—among the over-65s, in Wales, they are almost twice as likely to be claiming PIP or DLA compared to England. But among the under-25 cohort, actually, there's very little difference in that claimant rate, and so you would expect, over time, that there would be some convergence, and we've seen that happen since 2009-10. And according to our projections, we believe that that will continue, certainly up until 2023-4, which was the end of our forecast periods.
It's not something that we've tested, but it does suggest that there's some cohort effect—with younger cohorts now, you can imagine what the reasons behind that hike are, with a certain cohort of the population having higher levels of case loads and claimant rates. So, as that cohort becomes older and is replaced by younger cohorts that weren't affected by the same things over 30 years ago, you'd imagine, then, that the overall claimant rate in Wales would converge with the—
So, it could be the sort of industrial legacy playing out—
Yes, I mean, we didn't test the hypothesis, but it was certainly evident. It's Neath Port Talbot and Merthyr Tydfil—those are the local authorities with the highest claimant rates.
Sure. Okay, thanks for that. Siân.
Diolch yn fawr iawn am yr adroddiad rydych chi wedi'i gyhoeddi, ac, yn sicr, mae o wedi symud y drafodaeth ymlaen yn sydyn iawn, achos mi oeddem ni'n trafod datganoli elfennau o weinyddu'r wladwriaeth les—roedd y drafodaeth yna wedi cychwyn. Ond mae beth rydych chi wedi'i ganfod—y £200 miliwn ychwanegol yma i'r Trysorlys—wedi golygu bod y drafodaeth wedi symud ymlaen yn sydyn i wneud llawer iawn mwy mewn gwirionedd.
Beth fuaswn i'n licio gwybod ydy beth ydy'r risgiau efo hwn? Mae o'n swnio fel no-brainer i fi, ond beth ydy'r risgiau a beth ydy'r ffeithiau efallai rydym ni jest ddim yn gwybod amdanyn nhw sydd ynghlwm efo hyn i gyd? Faint o waith ydych chi wedi'i wneud i edrych y tu allan i'r gwaith manwl yma i edrych beth all fynd o'i le efo hwn, mewn ffordd?
Thank you very much for the report that you've published, and, certainly, it has moved the debate forward very swiftly, because we were discussing the devolution of elements of the administration of the welfare state—that discussion had already started. But your findings—that additional £200 million for the Welsh Treasury—has meant that the discussion has moved forward swiftly to do far more, if truth be told.
What I would like to know is what are the risks with this? It sounds like a no-brainer to me, but what are the risks and what are those things that we're currently unaware of attached to all of this? How much work have you done to look outside of this detailed work to look at what could possibly go wrong with this?
Efallai taw'r costau mwyaf fyddai'r gost gweinyddu. Rwy'n credu byddai pobl yn Llywodraeth Cymru—unwaith y mae'r pwerau yma'n edrych fel y maen nhw'n mynd i ddigwydd, byddai pobl y tu mewn i Lywodraeth Cymru yn gallu edrych ar beth fyddai'r costau yna'n golygu. Mae hwnna'n un o'r pethau dŷn ni ddim yn gwybod a dyw e ddim yn chwarae rhan yn y ffigurau—yn y ffigurau headline yna yn yr adroddiad.
Perhaps the greatest cost would be the administration cost. I think people in Welsh Government—once they knew that these powers were going to happen, officials within Welsh Government could look at what those costs are likely to be. That is one of the things that is unknown and it doesn't play a role in the figures—in those headline figures in the report.
Roeddech chi'n sôn am £200 miliwn yn yr Alban, ond ei fod o wedi mynd i fyny i £360 miliwn.
You mentioned £200 million in Scotland, but that has gone up to £360 million.
Ie. Roedd y £200 miliwn yna—cytundeb gyda'r Trysorlys Prydeinig ddaeth â'r £200 miliwn yna i'r Alban. Doedd o ddim i fod yn amcangyfrif o faint y byddai'n costio i osod i fyny'r system yn yr Alban, ond dyna oedd y compensation a gafodd ei negydu efo Trysorlys Prydain.
Yes. That £200 million—an agreement with the British Treasury brought that £200 million to Scotland. It wasn't supposed to be an estimate of how much it would cost to set up the system in Scotland. That was the compensation that was negotiated with the British Treasury.
Felly, mae hwnna'n un ffactor mae eisiau bod yn wyliadwrus ohono fo, ynglŷn â faint fyddai cost sefydlu yn y lle cyntaf. Unrhyw beth arall?
So, that's one factor that we need to be mindful of in terms of the cost of establishing this in the very first instance. Anything else?
Yn gyffredinol, ar y pwynt yna, mae'r ffaith taw trafodaethau gyda Llywodraeth Prydain fyddai’n penderfynu sut mae hwn yn cael ei ddatganoli a sut mae'n cael ei gyllido dros amser. Felly, dŷn ni ddim yn gwybod beth fydd context y trafodaethau yna. Mae'n deg i ddweud fod Llywodraeth Cymru wedi cael bargen eithaf da y tro diwethaf aethon nhw mewn i drafodaeth gyda'r Trysorlys ar y pwerau treth. Dwi'n credu fod treth wedi cael ei ddatganoli mewn ffordd eithaf cynaliadwy. Wrth gwrs, dŷn ni ddim yn gwybod beth fydd—mae'r trafodaethau yma'n gallu bod yn wleidyddol. Roedd y context yn yr Alban yn ystod y trafodaethau yn hollol wahanol i beth fyddai'r trafodaethau wrth i Lywodraeth Cymru efallai ofyn am y pwerau yma yn y dyfodol. Felly, mae hynny'n ffactor dŷn ni ddim yn gwybod.
Generally, on that point, there's the fact that negotiations with the British Government would determine how this is devolved and how it's going to be funded over time. So, I don't know what the context of those negotiations will be. It's fair to say that Welsh Government had quite a good deal last time they went into negotiation with the Treasury on the taxation powers. I think taxation was devolved in quite a sustainable manner. Of course, we don't know—these negotiations can be political. The context in Scotland during the discussions was totally different to the discussions when Welsh Government might want to negotiate in the future. So, that's an unknown factor.
Rydych chi'n mynd am y fethodoleg IPC yma, ac mae hwnna'n eithaf creiddiol i'r fframwaith cyllidol fyddai angen ei drafod. Mae yna risg, efallai, o gychwyn y trafodaethau, o landio i fyny efo diffyg cytundeb ynglŷn â'r methodoleg penodol yna a rhyw fethodoleg arall fyddai ddim cweit mor ddeniadol, efallai. Mae yna risg yn fanna, siŵr o fod.
You've taken this IPC methodology, and that is quite central to the fiscal framework that would need to be discussed. There is a risk, perhaps, of beginning those negotiations and ending up not having an agreement on that particular methodology and then moving to another methodology that might not be quite as attractive. There is a risk there, I suppose.
Os dŷch chi'n edrych ar draws y Deyrnas Gyfunol nawr, mae yna fethodoleg gwahanol ar gyfer penderfynu block grants a'r block grant adjustments sy'n ymwneud â threth. So, lle, 20 mlynedd yn ôl, roedd pawb yn cael eu trin yn eithaf tebyg, nawr drwy'r trafodaethau unigol yma gyda'r llywodraethau gwahanol mae yna fframwaith cyllidol gwahanol yng Nghymru, yr Alban a Gogledd Iwerddon. Felly, byddai yna drafodaeth i'w chael wedyn. Efallai bod y ddadl, 'Ond mae'r Alban wedi cael hwn, felly bydd Cymru yn ei gael e yn awtomatig' ddim yn rhywbeth sy'n wir rhagor.
If you look across the United Kingdom currently, there are different methodologies for deciding the block grants and the adjustments that are associated with taxation systems. Some 20 years ago, everyone was treated fairly the same, but with these individual discussions with the different governments, there is now a different fiscal framework for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. So there would be a discussion to be had then. Perhaps the argument of, 'Scotland has had this, so Wales will get it automatically', is not something that is true anymore.
Wedyn, mae defnyddio pwerau benthyg yn rhan o'r darlun hefyd, onid ydy? Ydy hwnna'n risg?
Then, using borrowing powers is part of the picture too, isn't it? Is that a risk?
Rwy'n credu efallai y risg yw dŷn ni ddim yn gwybod faint bydd y gwallau yn y rhagolygon yn cymharu gyda beth fydd yn cael ei wario yn y pen draw. Efallai bydd y rhagolygon yn dweud y byddwn ni'n gwario hyn a hyn, ac yn y pen draw bod gwariant yn dod mewn rhyw £50 miliwn yn uwch, er enghraifft, neu rhywbeth fel yna yn digwydd. Yna, byddai angen rhyw fath o bwerau newydd i Lywodraeth Cymru allu delio gyda rhywbeth fel yna.
I think that the risk and what is unknown is we don't know how the inaccuracies in the estimates will compare with what will be spent ultimately. The estimates might say that we will be spending X amount, but possibly the expenditure would come in at £50 million more, for example, or something like that could happen. So, you would need some kind of new powers for Welsh Government to be able to deal with that kind of scenario.
Faint o risg ydy hynny mewn gwirionedd? Bod yna ffactorau dŷn ni ddim yn gwybod amdanyn nhw rŵan yn creu sefyllfa lle mae yna wariant llawer uwch nag ydyn ni'n meddwl.
How much of a risk is that in reality? That there are totally unknown factors that could lead to a situation where expenditure is far higher than we'd expected.
Rwy'n credu bod hynny'n mynd nôl i'r math o fudd-daliadau sy'n cael eu datganoli. Fel dywedodd Cian yn gynharach, mae'r rhain ynghlwm iawn gyda demograffeg. Dŷn nhw ddim yn rhywbeth sy'n neidio o gwmpas o flwyddyn i flwyddyn, efallai.
That goes back to the kind of benefits that are being devolved. As Cian said earlier, these are closely aligned to demography. They're not things that jump around from year to year.
Okay. Thank you.
Okay, Siân? Dawn.
Thank you, Chair. Thank you, both, for your report and your evidence. You've heard that we've been to Scotland, and we did meet with the Cabinet Secretary, and we met with the Scottish Social Security Committee, as well as the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and—who else? I can't remember. Anyway. Those, I think, wasn't it? Yes. I took a number of things from that. I'm quite agnostic about this whole process, and this inquiry is going to be really useful for me in terms of where we eventually fall on this. The key for me is not about devolution of benefits for the sake of devolution of benefits, because I think there's an ideological argument for that and the Scottish Government were very clear about that. Ideologically, they want everything devolved because they see that as the stepping stone to independence and so on. So, that's perfectly fine; it's a political position. I don't have that same kind of political ideology about devolution. I want to see things devolved so that it's better, not just for the sake of devolving it.
So do I, actually.
Yes, yes. But I'm just saying the Scottish Government weren't taking that view. So, that was slightly different.
What was very clear from Audit Scotland's report was—you have touched on this, but I'm not sure if you can answer it. What they were saying was that there are a lot of unknown costs around the administration and the implementation. So, as you've already said, the UK Government gave a lump of money to Scotland to set this up. But the thing that we established was that this whole new agency's been set up but we haven't lost any jobs in the Department for Work and Pensions, so that's all still being financed as well, and then the ongoing implementation costs appear to be unknown.
And then, if we are to devolve these benefits so that we have a better benefit solution for people in Wales, then I think we would, probably, want the kind of flexibilities that they've got in Scotland. But, again, I understood from what they were saying that the flexibilities that they've got, whether it's around Scottish choices, whether it's the new benefits they've introduced, the carers supplement and so on—all of that comes out of the block grant. So, anything additional they do comes from the block grant, and not from any grant that they get from the UK Government.
Now, given that Scotland fares a lot better under the Barnett formula than Wales does, what is the risk associated to Wales of having a benefits system, even if it's just about a campaign in terms of raising awareness—because that was one of the big things that Scotland did, that they've been able to raise the awareness of benefits that people can draw on—when we have a real struggle with the block grant settlement in Wales at the moment? So, the risks around that, really—those future unknown costs, and where all that money's going to come from.
So, were you thinking, particularly, then, Dawn, of the introduction of new benefits as they've done in Scotland?
There's a couple of things really—it's the administration, the set-up and the implementation costs. And what Scotland have told us is that money they have from the UK Government is basically not meeting that, and they've got to find that out of their block grant. And then any flexibilities written into the benefits system, and anything additional that they want to do, even if it's just an awareness raising campaign—all that has to come from their block grant as well. None of that comes from the UK Government. And if they get additional take-up, they have to be responsible for that as well. That doesn't come from the UK Government. And that, to me—I thought, 'Crikey'; given the levels of funding that we get from the UK Government, and how Wales is not as well served by the Barnett formula as Scotland is, my concern was where the hell would this money come from. Have you thought about that? Because that, to me, seems a really big risk.
I guess then there is the balance between risks and power and control, and similarly on the tax side of the equation as well. The Scottish Government has more control over tax, but that also carries more risk than Welsh Government. Then on the spending side, I'd imagine that fully devolving the system, creating your own social security agency, allows you greater flexibility to start varying things. But then there's the added costs and the risks then of costs through devolution, as opposed to a situation where you'd get greater flexibilities over administration, forgoing some of that administration cost. But then you're not at risk then of case load trends differing in Wales compared with England.
I think you also mentioned the awareness campaign and that the increase in the case load wouldn't be funded. Now, that would be true if the awareness campaign happened after devolution. But I think the point we made in the report was that if the Welsh Government in the future decided to go ahead with this, it would be prudent to increase take-up and lead an awareness campaign immediately prior to devolution, so then the baseline would be as high as possible, and so if there's any divergence from that higher level then that would have an impact on the funds available to Wales.
And would that be what you would see with something like the attendance allowance? Because you flagged that up, didn't you, as being a risk area, really?
That was based on the comments made, I think, again, by a Bevan Foundation report, that attendance allowance was underclaimed. There is evidence that the case load has been decreasing in Wales, but it has been decreasing in England as well, in recent years. Now, I would say the main risk there is that attendance allowance is relatively more underclaimed in Wales compared to England, and I'm not sure whether that's the case or not. But it would in any case make sense for the Welsh Government, in the year just before devolution, to make sure that all or as many people who are entitled to that benefit apply for it as possible, just to make sure that in future years you don't get a significant increase in the case load that isn't replicated in England, and doesn't give you more funds.
Let me just bring Huw in on this point, Dawn. Huw.
Thank you, Chair. It's purely on this point of the baseline. What you say about an awareness campaign in the year leading up to this is, of course, correct, if it goes in the same way that they agreed with Scotland. What if, however, a UK Government says, 'We're going to take the average of the preceding three years'?
Well, actually, I think that did happen with the—I think it's the cold weather payments. Or not the cold weather payments—the one that depends on the temperature. I can't remember what that's called. So, they took the average over 10 years for that one, which makes sense, I suppose, because in some years the UK Government doesn't pay anything out, because it's not cold enough. Yes, you're absolutely right. I mean, we—
And you made the point earlier that what Scotland have been offered, in various ways, will not necessarily be the same as what Wales is offered.
Yes, that's true. I mean, it was the case for tax devolution. They took the one year immediately prior to devolution. So, there is precedent there for Wales, but of course, yes, it does depend on the outcome of the negotiations.
That depends on the negotiations, though, doesn't it?
It's not offering; it's demanding.
Yes, but in negotiations they have to agree as well. I agree we—
Okay. I'm afraid we can't get into a debate across the committee on this, and we need to move on in any event. Caroline.
Diolch, Gadeirydd. Looking now at the fiscal arrangements, I wonder—. As part of the devolution of benefits to Scotland, you mention an increase in borrowing powers. So, I wonder, have you made any assessment as to the extent, then, to which the Welsh Government borrowing powers would need to increase, should social security be devolved to Wales?
We haven't specifically looked at what arrangements would need to be put in place. We made the point that maybe the budget management facilities of the Welsh Government in general would need to be arranged, given that this is an added risk for the Welsh Government. If you look at the borrowing powers the Scottish Government have, there's—I think it's up to £600 million of borrowing for day-to-day spending that they can do every year, up to an overall limit of £1.75 billion, and then there are three caveats or criteria for that borrowing.
The first is in-year cash management, so that's pretty flexible—up to £500 million a year for the Scottish Government. So, that is forecast, for instance, for shortfalls. So, if we forecast that spending next year will be slightly higher than the year after, we can borrow this year and spread those costs over a period of time. The second part of the borrowing powers is the borrowing for forecast errors. So, when something comes in under or above forecast, then you can use the borrowing powers. And then there's the last, more complicated, I think, part of the Scottish Government's borrowing powers, which is the 'Scotland-specific economic shock'. They've got a list of criteria related to gross domestic product growth in Scotland, and if that gets triggered, then they can borrow up to £600 million to fund that. And then if you compare that to what the Welsh Government have got, it's a £200 million a year annual limit, up to a total of £500 million, and that's purely just to cover forecast errors. So, if you compare that £200 million for forecast errors with the Scottish Government's £300 million for forecast errors, that probably looks relatively in line with Scotland and would probably be appropriate for the sort of forecast errors that you'd imagine you'd get.
But I guess, maybe, what would need to be looked at is the in-year cash management. So, if we project that spending—. If the forecasts actually say that there's a shortfall or surplus in one year—. Because, at the moment, that sort of volatility is only dealt with, in the Welsh Government case, with the Welsh reserve, so it makes it relatively more important that we pay into the Welsh reserve to be able to manage flexibilities like that. So, that is a pretty long-winded way of saying that, yes, you'd need to take into account the tax and borrowing powers. The Scottish Government borrowing powers were agreed to complement the greater level of tax devolution and the borrowing powers in Scotland. And that again would be part of the negotiation for Wales, looking at what the social security powers of the Welsh Government would be, and would then—. Looking at what the tax devolution is that you've already got and whether the—. And, I think, specifically, it's that in-year cash management that you'd need to look at.
Okay, thank you. Cian, do you want to say anything, or—?
No, I think Guto's covered that.
Guto's covered it all. Okay, thank you. So, for budget management purposes, would it not make sense for a suite of benefits to be devolved as opposed to a single benefit, and have you made any assessment of whether the suite of benefits devolved to Scotland would be the appropriate set of benefits to be devolved to Wales?
I mean, I think that's definitely a fair point about devolving a suite of benefits as opposed to a single one because you're not putting all your eggs in one basket in that way. In terms of why we chose this suite of benefits, we simply took the ones devolved to Scotland. So, we didn't actually necessarily look at whether they were the right ones for Wales. However, there are some reasons why the ones picked for Scotland were chosen that would apply to Wales as well. I think this has been covered, but I think the main point is that there are less cyclical compared to some other benefits. So, they don't rely on trends in the job market, and so on and so forth. You might think that some other major benefits, such as the state pension, contribute to the state of the social union across the UK. You may take that view, and so something like that may not be a suitable candidate for devolution. But all of these benefits are tied to predictable indicators of demographics, and that would apply in Scotland as well as in Wales. And, I think, the other point to make is that one of the additional powers granted within the Scotland Act was the power to create new benefits. So, even if the suite of benefits—. If the Welsh Government did want to create a new benefit that targeted a problem that was unique to Wales, then they would be able to do that.
Okay. So, should—?
Caroline, only very quickly before you go on, I think Huw wanted to come in on this point.
It's purely on that point, Caroline. Thank you, Chair. Would it be fair to say that if there was a decision to move ahead with devolution of a single or, particularly, a suite of benefits, there would need to be a fair bit more work? It wouldn't simply be a question of looking at what has been devolved in Scotland. It wouldn't simply be a case of looking at cyclical and non-cyclical. There would need to be some fairly detailed analysis. The point that Mark made earlier about, 'What would be the beneficial outcomes of this on efficient use of benefits within Wales?' and individual outcomes in order to do that. It isn't a question of just pulling them down. Your piece of work is really helpful, actually, because it identifies areas that may well be the right ones, but, surely, we have to granulate this. We have to really do a hefty piece of work to see what would be the right ones.
Yes, I think that's a fair comment. I mean, we simply, as I've said, took the benefits devolved to Scotland and assumed that they would be devolved to Wales. But you're absolutely right—there may be some other ones that we've missed there.
So, if powers were to be devolved to Wales, it's fair to say that there would need to be a mechanism for review, renegotiation, and so on and so forth, for any fiscal framework that you would have, really.
Yes. On that point, I think there's the periodic review built into the fiscal framework for tax and the block grant funding arrangements at the moment, and each Government can request a review. So, I think, having that review mechanism, the Welsh Government can raise concerns with the Treasury, which is important.
Would you say that there were any issues with splitting up packages of benefits support? So, for example, devolving DLA and PIP but not employment and support allowance? Would that pose any problems?
I think, what we said about—. I guess, then, having elements of—. I think we'd need to look at it from the point of view of, again, having two agencies administering benefits to the same claimants. I think there may be some complexities involved there in terms of—
In the administration.
—the inter-dependencies: if eligibility for one changes and not the other, how that gets compensated, I guess, through either Government, and having what they call 'a no-detriment clause' in the Scottish fiscal framework agreement, having that in place would allow the Welsh and UK Governments then to raise concerns if the actions of one agency or Government impacts on the spending of the other.
I think the point that we made in terms of the package of benefits taken together—. I think some of the benefits and the net effect on the Welsh budget vary from year to year, and as long as those certain net effects aren't related to each other and are statistically independent of each other—the likelihood of one being higher and lower from year to year—I think, then, having a package of benefits makes sense so that one offsets the other over time.
Sure. It reduces the risk. Yes, okay. That's fine. Over to Mark.
I have one very brief question. We know that the border between Scotland and England is thinly populated, but roughly almost 50 per cent of the population of Wales lives within 25 miles of the border, 90 per cent within 50 miles. I live within the largest cross-national border population in the UK, with thousands upon thousands crossing the border every day for work, access to services or retail therapy. What are the risks that that might suggest, should a future UK Government have a more generous offer than a future Welsh Government or vice versa?
I think some of the concerns were raised during tax devolution as well, and what we do have now, because we have a Welsh rate of income tax—. HMRC does have a list of people who are primary residents in Wales, so I would imagine that it would work on the basis of, if you are a Welsh taxpayer with a 'C' at the start of your tax code, then you would be eligible for those benefits.
I guess it's an important point as well to make sure that, with the transition between people moving in and out of Wales, the transition between the benefit systems was as seamless and as smooth as possible. I think that would be important. You're right in terms of that being an added, perhaps, complexity in the Welsh case that isn't the case in Scotland, because of more people in terms of gross flows of population between Wales and England every year. The flow of claimants would be greater, so, yes, it's an added thing to consider in Wales.
There is already significant concern around speculative housing development in border villages, and the danger is that things like this could have a greater push or increase the pressure more in that respect, if people perceived that life a mile across the border would be more beneficial for them if they fell into difficulty in the future.
I guess that's true on a range of policies in terms of what you pay the local authority, what services are provided by local authorities, but, as you say, it is an added thing from that perspective. But that's not to say—. There are differences now between what you are eligible for in terms of services and the tax that you pay in Wales compared with England. Ultimately, it does put a further constraint on what the Welsh Government can do, and I guess that is the same, again, on tax devolution. It puts an added constraint—or it's an added thing for the Welsh Government to consider as it sets income tax policies, that effect on net and gross flows of people across the border.
Okay. Thank you very much. Thank you both for giving evidence to the committee today. You will be sent a transcript to check for factual accuracy. Diolch yn fawr.
Committee will break very briefly for a comfort break.
Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 10:29 a 10:40.
The meeting adjourned between 10:29 and 10:40.
Okay. We move on to our second evidence session on our inquiry into benefits in Wales and options for better delivery, and I'm very pleased to welcome Victoria Winckler of the Bevan Foundation. If it's okay with you, Victoria, I'll move straight into questions, unless there's anything you wanted to say initially.
Not at all.
No. Okay. Firstly, then, in terms of the benefits and risks if some powers over social security were devolved to Wales, could you set out briefly what you consider to be those main benefits, main risks, and maybe if the risks might be mitigated?
Okay. First of all, I would say the question of whether any benefits should be devolved is a really big one, and I think it's absolutely right to explore both the benefits and the risks in a balanced way. I think the benefits are the possible devolution of some benefits, or the administration of some benefits, would give a much better fit with existing devolved responsibilities. So, we have some UK benefits that have a very significant impact on devolved responsibilities, and have the potential to undermine those devolved responsibilities without the Welsh Government being able to do anything about it. And the most obvious one is housing. But there are others as well.
I think devolution of benefits would also give the opportunity to better design a benefit so that it fitted with Welsh circumstances. So, for example, again, the housing one is the obvious one. Rather than subsidising rent, you might want to change the way that help with housing costs was delivered. And, similarly, perhaps with some disability benefits, or even to reflect the different climate and housing stock. There are all kinds of different things that could be done. But that ability to do things that work for Wales, I think, is really important.
And then, I think, there's a bigger question, which is that, as the Welsh Government's powers have grown, or as the Assembly's powers have grown, and it has taken on responsibility for more and more areas—and I think it's vision has grown correspondingly—I think it's quite reasonable to want to be able to take decisions over what is a very important part of people's lives. If you can decide income tax, or at least some part of the income tax people pay, the corollary of that, I suppose, is you should be able to decide some of the benefits as well.
So, those are the sort of big picture principle stuff around the possible advantages. Going alongside that, of course, are quite significant risks, and I think there are, for me, two real risks. The first one is a fiscal one, which we identified in 2016, and the recent paper that you heard about in the session before, also identified that that very much depends on the settlement. So, if you get a straight Barnettisation, then it won't work. If you get a transfer of the existing envelope, then you get a different picture. But, nevertheless, there are risks around that, there are risks around admin costs, which, certainly, the Scottish example tells us can be quite substantial. And there are risks of unforeseen consequences. So, who knows what some major economic shocks and, I don't know, who knows what might happen, but something where—[Interruption.] Sorry?
Like Brexit. [Laughter.]
Well, at least that's a known unknown, isn't it. There's the unknown unknowns, to quote a certain person. But, you know, those have the potential to completely knock things off course.
And I think the other risk, which is probably one that's underplayed, is around the complexity of the benefit system. Every major reform that the Department for Work and Pensions has ever undertaken has been plagued with administrative and technical problems. It is a big and complex system. I don't think anyone should assume that anyone else could necessarily do it better. They could do it differently, but not necessarily better. And, of course, that would mean the problems are very much on your doorsteps. So, those, I think, are the big risks. I think the question of the balance between the two should be looked at, probably on a case-by-case basis.
Could you just say a little bit more, Victoria, in terms of the devolution of the administration of benefits, as opposed to devolution of the benefits themselves? I mean, in terms of those considerations of benefit and risk, how do they apply to either one of those?
Well, there's a whole host of different models for possible devolution of some decision making. There's the Scottish model, which is a mixed model, where you've got, 'Well, here you are, here's disability living allowance. Here you are—go away and do what you want with it'. There's then the scope, which also—the Scottish Government has to vary, for example, payment—all the stuff, you know—payment frequency and who receives the payments of the housing element, whether they're direct to landlords et cetera. In Northern Ireland, as I understand it, they operate within the broad UK benefit framework, but they have options to top up. I don't think—I could be wrong—they have powers to vary in the way that Scotland does.
So, I think when you start from the question of, 'Should benefits be devolved?', I would start from a different place, which is: 'What support do people on low incomes and/or in crisis need in Wales?' And then you're asking a whole lot of different questions, and you're potentially not just picking off the sticky-out bits from the UK system. Does that make sense?
That's a really interesting way to frame the question very differently—not on the philosophical or political aspect of, 'Should we devolve this?', but, actually, 'What is the best way to deliver more beneficial outcomes?' My question to you would be—. And, I welcome the report you brought forward a couple of years ago; I think that and other things, including the people we heard from before, starting to get a debate going around this—. But you just laid out quite a wide range of risk areas here, so wouldn't it be logical, as a starting point, to say, 'Well, are we making the most of the current flexibilities?' Are we being hard-nosed enough with the UK Government to demand more flexibilities, before we go into the area of risks, through greater devolution? Sorry, I'm only testing this; I'm not expressing an opinion here, but I'm testing this. Have we made the most of what we can currently do? Housing benefit, you raised there, and we sometimes hear Ministers say, 'Well, I'd love to do this, but the nasty UK Government isn't allowing us to do it.'
I certainly think there is scope for the Welsh Government to press much harder for arrangements within the existing benefits system to suit Wales. The local housing allowance is a classic example. The so-called bedroom tax, the spare-room subsidy—we've had that applied in parts of Wales that have some of the cheapest rents in the whole of the UK. I don't know what's gone on, obviously, behind closed doors in discussion, but I think, given the potential for the UK benefits system to really pull the rug out, as it's doing on housing, from under the Welsh Government's ambitions, there's scope to be more assertive. I don't know whether they've done that or not.
Okay, thank you.
Okay, Huw. In terms of the mitigation of the risks, Victoria, is there anything more you might say on that? There are considerable risks there. Are there obvious ways they might be mitigated?
The key one is the fiscal one, where the trick is to negotiate a decent settlement. We worked out in 2016—had Wales had the Scottish settlement, we would've been much better off. We looked at housing benefit, employment and support allowance and jobseeker's allowance, and on all of those, Wales would've been better off. And then, of course, as you heard this morning, the same applies for the benefits devolved to Scotland. I think that's the key. I mean, if you can't get a good settlement, you don't do it, and I think there would almost certainly need to be some sort of get-out clause so that, if, I don't know, everyone was struck by some terrible virus and all went on the sick, then there was some—I don't know—that there would be some get-out clause, or if the UK economy absolutely crashes through the floor, then, again, there was some scope for review of that.
Yes, we did hear about a possible review of the fiscal framework and, indeed, borrowing possibilities for unexpected events. Siân.
Jest i fynd â chi nôl ychydig bach i beth roeddech chi'n ei ddweud rŵan ynglŷn â—
If I could just take you back to what you were saying now regarding—
Bear with me.
Roeddech chi'n sôn ar y dechrau mai mater o gael balans ydy hyn rhwng—
You mentioned at the outset that this is a matter of achieving a balance between—
I am sorry, it doesn't seem to be working. I do know how to use these. Just bear with me a sec.
I was just mentioning the balance between the risks and the advantages, which, obviously, is important to weigh up, and you said that needs to be done case by case.
I think so, yes.
What do you mean by that?
I think there are some benefits that are linked with place and are linked with circumstances that the Welsh Government has more influence over, so the housing component, say, of universal credit—the Welsh Government has an influence on the housing market and housing is a devolved responsibility. For disability benefits, the Welsh Government cannot shape the conditions that people acquire or are born with, so the risk there, if you like, is higher, but then the benefits could equally be higher if there were savings on the benefit bill, for example, because of the way that services were provided. That's why I think each one needs to be looked at very carefully. Carers allowance—what would be the advantages to carers of having their benefit devolved?
So, you're not necessarily agreeing that the suite of benefits that have been devolved in Scotland, and which are the basis of the fiscal study, are necessarily the ones that would have most effect in Wales, and that we shouldn't necessarily just replicate the Scottish solution, but, of course, fiscally that might be the best way of doing it.
Well, my concern is about the impact on people. I think so long as the money stacks up, rather than the money being the driver.
And I think that's why we're having this discussion—because it's been seen as a possible way of mitigating, again, some of the worst effects of austerity et cetera, and raising people out of poverty. That's why we're looking at all of this, and what you're saying is, if it doesn't do that, the ideological idea of just devolving it for the sake of devolving isn't worth the effort.
It may not be. I think our starting point would be that, as a matter of principle, decisions should be taken as close as possible to the people who are affected. So, I think our starting point would be to devolve as much as possible, because it's closer to people, you can reflect their circumstances. But there are also very important UK-wide considerations, which is why I don't think anybody is considering, for example, devolving pensions or child benefit, or industrial injuries benefit, all those kinds of things, which are linked with payment of national insurance contributions. So, I think the fit with devolved powers is, therefore, a very important filter, if you like.
But do you think that the suite that's been—. The list that's been recognised by the Wales Governance Centre—that does look at particular benefits that could make a difference to people's poverty levels, for example.
The Scottish settlement was a product of its time, and it was the art of the possible at that time. I think if the starting point is as I suggested it should be, what do people need in order to be able to live a decent quality of life no matter what their circumstances, and what safety net could we put in place, then you might come up with a different shopping list. And, certainly, on my shopping list, on our shopping list, would be help with housing costs. That is one of the big drivers of poverty and people struggling to make ends meet. And yet it's not covered that, because it wasn't devolved to Scotland.
No. For the record, that is not one of the areas that's covered here, and that should be there, you think, but that might have financial implications, of course.
It does. When we looked into it in 2016, housing benefit, as was, put £1 billion into the Welsh housing market. That is a major investment that, as that changes, shapes people's lives, the kind of homes people can afford, it's going into private rented housing, and yet we don't talk about it. We don't recognise it in our housing strategies, we don't recognise it as—. It is a lot of money coming in, and I think it's a very significant amount. You should want to get your hands on it, really.
Okay, well that's really useful. What about other risks, around political accountability, for example, in dividing it, in having two benefit systems?
Well, I think we've got mixed political accountability at the moment. So, there are a number of different sources of financial help that people get at present that are devolved, such as help with council tax costs, help in a crisis, the discretionary assistance fund, the education maintenance allowance, school meals—there's a big, long list of them. And, obviously, when there's a change, people get confused and it can take a very long time for people to catch up—people still write to their MPs about the NHS, for example—but I don't think that's a reason not to do something.
Okay. And what about this argument that the devolution of social security powers would break up or weaken the UK's social union?
I don't think that stacks up, to be honest. We already have significant parts of the welfare state devolved—health and education being the obvious ones. We have had bits of the social security system be devolved under the previous UK Government. So, council tax support, the crisis fund, and there was talk about devolving attendance allowance. So, these things aren't fixed. As I've mentioned, there are, if you like, almost different types of benefits within the social security system. They are the big social contract, insurance-based ones, like pensions, child benefit and so on, but then there are a lot that are linked with place or where there can be discretion, for which it's a moot point where they sit.
Yes, thank you.
You're content with that. Okay. Dawn.
Thank you, Chair. A lot of the points I was going to raise you've answered, just because you've been giving very full answers.
No, no, it's fine. And you've been very clear in setting out your overall objectives. So, just some clarity, I guess, around some things. When you produced your report in 2016, you talked about that disability and carers benefits shouldn't be devolved. In light of experience and in light of what's happening in Scotland and so on, is that still the view of the Bevan Foundation, or do you think that this is a moving feast and we need to look at things as they are now, three years on?
There is a very good phrase, which is, 'Nothing about us without us', and that's what shaped the view we reached on those benefits at that time. Disability groups just had not given any thought whatsoever to the possibility of benefits being devolved and were very reluctant, to be honest. I'll be honest, they felt they were fighting a fight at the time around things like assessments, and the thought that there might be something else for them to deal with was just too much. And, at that time, the Scottish system hadn't been introduced as well. It was just either 'We don't know' or 'No, we don't want this because just can't cope with any more'. I think times have changed. From my point of view, we can see advantages to devolving some of those, or aspects of some of those benefits, but I think it is absolutely critical that you or anyone takes the views of those groups into account, and begins to think about and design a model that would work best for them. That might not mean devolution; that might mean variations within a UK system.
One of the things the Scottish Government talked to us about was improving the assessment process.
So, they've designed a new assessment process in consultation with the users and so on. So, even if you didn't have the full devolution of benefits, you could have devolution of assessment, so there are things around that.
And you could integrate that assessment, then, in with other aspects of that individual's health and social care, so they're not having multiple separate assessments, or if an assessment identifies particular need, there are then links with the health and social care system in order to make that happen. I certainly think that's one. Or that other kinds of support could be provided, as well as cash support.
Sure. Okay. And then coming back to the issue—. I know you're very passionate about housing, and actually it's an issue that's very close to my heart as well, particularly in an area like Merthyr and Rhymney, which is—. You know, I probably have as many issues raised with me about housing as anything else. So, I'm absolutely with you on the concerns around housing. But, of course, housing—and I understand what you're saying about if we have more control over that—housing benefit is now part of, or will be part of, universal credit when it's fully rolled out. So, are you advocating or suggesting that housing benefit would then—? Because I'm assuming you're not talking about full devolution of universal credit at this point, but given that housing is a part of that, we'd have to take that out of universal credit.
Well, there are two—. I mean, there are lots of options, but one option would be that, yes, housing benefit was taken out of universal credit. Council tax support comes out, so it's not impossible to do that. It might not be something that the UK Government would want, but it's not impossible. And certainly, at this relatively early stage when universal credit is still applying mostly to new claimants rather than to existing claimants, it's feasible. But even if housing benefit or the housing element of universal credit remained a UK Government responsibility, there are still areas that the Welsh Government could have control over within that, such as setting local housing allowance, such as changing the requirement around the spare bedroom subsidy, which does not make sense in areas with low rent and low demand. You are actually imposing costs because of the churn that ends up in local housing. It's just, as you know in Merthyr—. And there are big questions about the reliability of data, and so on and so forth. So, I think there are things that could be done without necessarily pulling it out.
Okay. I suppose the question that follows on from that is whether, ultimately, that makes the system more complex than it already is, or not.
I wouldn't have thought it would make—. If the system remained within universal credit—. If the housing element remained within universal credit, I wouldn't have thought it would make it more complex for the claimant, because that hard-wiring that goes on beyond the scenes—the stuff about local housing allowances—is a matter between the Governments. I think if it came out altogether, it might actually give greater flexibility and be potentially easier for the claimant, because they wouldn't have that five-week wait, they could get their rent paid direct to their social landlord or private landlord. It's uncharted territory, but I do think it needs to be looked at.
And it's one of the things in Scotland that they've not taken housing benefit out of universal credit, but they've introduced the Scottish choices, which gives the Government some flexibility about how they administer certain elements of it.
You wouldn't see that as a way forward, or—?
Well, absolutely, but the question of frequency of payment, I would argue, is not a structural issue.
No, it's not changing the levels of payments.
But why would you not want to give claimants more choice and flexibility?
Sure. Thank you very much.
Okay, Dawn? Are you content with that? Mark.
Thank you. I think the questions suggested I ask have actually been effectively answered, particularly in the context of the precedents from Scotland and whether benefits should be devolved in the same way here. I think you've largely addressed that already. I'm just wondering, internationally, particularly in federal states, whether there are any precedents for this, both in large, low-population border areas, but also, particularly in the context of Wales, where you've got most people living near the border, areas like where I live, with a very significant large population living across the border, crossing that border daily. Internationally, is there anything we could be looking at as a model?
Internationally, I have to confess, I don't know. I think the cross-border issue is an important one that would need to be looked at. There is a risk of people moving across the border to the regime that's most advantageous to them. I would suggest that risk is relatively modest. We already in Wales have more advantageous regimes for prescriptions and student finance, and I'm not aware that there's been large numbers of people coming into Wales in order to take advantage of that. I think there are ways of addressing that, and that's why, I suppose, the housing option, I think, is a particularly suitable benefit or area of support to look at, because it's fixed. Okay, people may well move and live in Wales if they want to—. But as I say, I think, while there is a risk, I think it shouldn't be overstated.
I'll pick you up on the housing option, if I may. I think it was in 2008 when the local housing allowance was introduced, what's now known as the bedroom tax was introduced to the private rented sector, and direct payments were introduced for people on housing benefit in the private rented sector. The incoming coalition Government then extended that to all recipients of housing benefit, but introduced the universal support framework, under which I understand, I think, 30 per cent of social housing tenants on housing benefit had payments paid directly to the landlord, but only 5 per cent of private rented sector tenants on housing benefit had their housing benefit paid directly to landlords. But, two weeks ago, the UK Government announced a new IT system, which will mean, in future, the majority of housing benefit recipients in the rented sector will have their benefit paid directly to the landlord.
I think the point I'm trying to make is that policies change, Governments change; sometimes Governments of different persuasions follow a precedent set by a different Government and then that party change their policies or disagree with the way it's been implemented. We're really talking here not so much about short-term policy, much as there's much to discuss about that, but the long-term devolution, permanent devolution, of powers over a given area. And the broader question is why that would improve outcomes for people, both support for people in need of support, but also support for them to get out of whatever circumstances they might be in if they wish to become more independent, which most disable people you refer to seek.
We've been very clear that we are not assuming—and I don't think anybody else should assume—that devolution of a benefit would inevitably mean a more benign regime. The Welsh Government might wish that for now, but Governments change, as you said. So, that's why, for us, the most important—. Two key things. The first one is what works to meet people's needs and aspirations, whether that's to live independently as a disabled person or to escape poverty. And the second one is what is then a good fit for existing and future devolved powers, so that the citizen gets the best possible seamless service. We are not arguing, as some have, that the housing element should be devolved so that you can get rid of that nasty bedroom tax, or whatever. We're very clear on that. Governments can and do change.
And finally—and I think this has been touched on—in terms of devolving existing benefits, we've heard reference to Scotland creating new benefits. Should we be therefore, rather than devolving benefits, looking at that topping-up model that Scotland has followed, for instance with the Scottish carers grant?
I think the ability to create new or top-up benefits is really important—it's part of the deal. We have the ability to create new taxes, and, therefore, to generate new areas of spending, I think, is also an important power. What I would say, though, is that it's quite difficult to see how that can be done responsibly if you don't have responsibility for the whole area. So, just creating more and more extra benefits, extra top-ups is—. Where they may be useful, that's fine. But, in terms of generating a coherent system, I think there are risks with that, because you just get a real mess then, don't you?
Okay. Thank you.
It's only one small supplementary, but it's on an area that I don't think we're covering a lot—unless I'm missing something. We're looking at the Scottish model, we're looking at aspects of the devolution of administration of substantive areas of welfare. But isn't there another way to unpack this as well, which is, in parallel to our discussions here in this committee, there are major discussions going on about future inter-governmental arrangements within the UK, and the strengthening of the JMC, the Council of Ministers approach? I don't think we're anywhere close to it yet, but the ground is fertile for this because of those who fear the break-up of the United Kingdom are now talking about how do we put the mechanisms in place. Well, is it madness to imagine a JMC around social security, where you actually sit down, on a parity basis, and say, 'Of course UK Government has to deliver its manifesto, so what it says it's going to do, but we should then have flexibility for the devolved nations, and we can agree it around this table, about how that is delivered'? So rather than say, 'Let's look at what should be devolved'—and you argue, absolutely, the principle of get it closer to people so we can see what's going on, make it real to people's lives. But the other way of doing this is to say, 'Let's strengthen it up there, and let's get agreement around the flexibility that Wales and Northern Ireland need'. Scotland have already gone some way down a different journey. I'm just testing this.
What you're hinting at, I think, is that there are a number of different ways of getting to a position where the Welsh Government could take decisions that improve people's lives and fit with current responsibilities. The Scottish model is one model. As I think I've hinted, I think it's a bit of an odd model, because it's taken—I don't see a rationale behind the choice of benefits, other than they were there. And there are some flexibilities in some areas, but not necessarily all. So, the kind of option that you're talking about would be another way. We know what the UK Government is spending at the moment, so within that budget allocation, to all intents and purposes, I don't see why the Welsh Government couldn't say, 'Well, actually, we'd rather concentrate that budget on fewer people, or spread it more widely on more people, or limit it'—I don't know. But to do that, there needs to be a clarity and a vision about what the Welsh Government wants.
Indeed. Indeed. But when we look at those tweaks and adjustments that could come from these strange hybrid systems—which we currently have already, but even a more hybrid scheme—surely there is, a federalist might argue, a logic to saying, 'Let's get more meaningful discussion at that top level where we can anticipate what's going on, where we can say, "The implication of that for Northern Ireland or for Wales is this", so can we now adjust it before you do it?' And also, of course, the read-across not simply from social security, but to work, and support for work and so on and so forth. It's probably something that, because we're looking at Scotland so much, we're not focused so much on, but I'm just positive there might be an alternative way to unpack some of this.
Yes, I agree. What I would also say, and we're doing some work on this at the moment, is that there is already a Welsh safety net in place, but we just don't think about it. So, already, there are free school meals, help with school uniform costs, council tax support, education maintenance allowance, disabled facilities grants, help with home insulation—a huge number of means-tested schemes. The problem is (a) finding out much about them in terms of budget, number of people who benefit, what the decision-making process is. And what we want to try and do is knit those together into a coherent whole that is within the Welsh Government's and local authorities' decision making. Really, that needs to be done at the same time as looking up to the UK. I could be uncharitable and say, 'Get your own house in order', but—.
Yes. But, surely, that argues for exactly those pieces of work to be done now, over the next 18 months, two years, so that we are in a better position, then, to make decisions going forward, as opposed to saying, 'Let's take something off the shelf.'
We are looking at the Welsh safety net. That's one of our major pieces of work at the moment. It's proving quite challenging, but, yes, we're gradually going to be publishing our findings on that over the next year to 18 months. The question of adjusting UK Government, changing that benefits system—it's not been something that we've had the resource to do.
Could I just ask you, before you go on? So, we've heard in Scotland that they have a charter, a statement of principles, in terms of how they believe the benefits system should operate. So, in terms of that sort of clarity and hard thinking that you suggest Welsh Government hasn't yet done and should do, might they look at some sort of charter or statement of principles that would deal with their existing abilities and powers and the safety net that currently exists that you've described, but also perhaps inform any devolution of administration of benefits?
Absolutely. I think that the statement of principles is very helpful. I also think the Scottish Government's panel of claimants, to get feedback, is absolutely key. The Scottish Government might not always be able to respond to feedback, but very often the things that cause the most difficulty for claimants are the little things. The question of a five-week wait, the time in which advance payments need to be paid back, they are—well, I'm told they're not administrative matters, apparently; they're policy matters. But they—on the scale of things, they are adjustable and changeable, and yet they're the things that matter to claimants. The other thing that we've picked up that really, really matters to claimants has been how they're treated, being treated with dignity and respect. I think having that statement of principles by the Scottish Government hopefully will inform what goes on in claimants' interactions with officers. We shall see.
We did hear, actually, that that's a major part of what they'd like to achieve—that cultural change within those delivering the benefits and the services.
What I will say is the Department for Work and Pensions in Wales has adopted a much more user-friendly face and is using language that I've never heard them use before and does seem to be putting it in place. Certainly, if you talk to people working with claimants, they will say that they now have a relationship with DWP and Jobcentre Plus that they've never had before, and I think that's to DWP's credit, although there's always room to do a bit better.
One of the arguments about devolving the administration of certain aspects of welfare to Wales is that we could create that culture, which is sort of—. The sanctions culture, for example, could be mitigated through having the administrative powers, but what you're saying is that we don't even need to do that, there are cultural changes that can happen now. But my question is: is that the most important aspect, really, and should we—? I mean, we have moved—. The debate's moved on to the benefits, the suite of benefits, being devolved to Wales, but is there a step before that, that the administration should—? And that should happen straight away, and then the work around the next bit should happen. Because we seem to have gone straight to the deep end, if you like.
Yes. There are absolutely things that can be done now in terms—. As I said, the Department for Work and Pensions say that they're doing them. For example, I was told recently that they've reviewed their sanctions regimes so that it's no longer possible for a work coach to impose a sanction himself or herself, it has to be signed off by a line manager, and that's a process that brings in some checks and balances to the system. Now—
And that's different to what would happen in England.
That I don't know.
That I don't know. But that, to me, would seem to be a management issue that could be delivered locally. I think the question of providing claimants with advice and support so that they get it right first time—all that can be done. I think there's scope even to—I mean, it would cost Welsh Government money, but there would be scope to ease the pressure on the five-week wait, for example, by using the resources of the discretionary assistance fund to help fund the first two or three weeks of a claim. There are quite a lot of different ways, I think, that it could be done.
Okay, Siân? Huw.
Thank you, Chair. We've covered such a wide range of areas here, but I wonder if I could ask you to try and sum up what your position is at the moment, three years on from your report, the Scottish experience, which is ongoing—we had that discussion earlier on that we might not learn the full lessons until a couple of years down the line and so on, but at least we can look at something—the feedback that you've had from groups and organisations out there who now might have their heads a bit more around this. On balance, where do you sit? Where does the Bevan Foundation sit? If you were rewriting that report now, what would you be pitching to Government, pitching to us as a committee?
Our starting point would be a reminder of the huge importance of benefits, particularly to people on low incomes, and the need—that, rather than think of it as a handout, this is actually almost like a—. It stops people falling into destitution, and the big benefits and the big determinants of people's well-being when they need help—setting aside pensions and child benefit, it is universal credit, and that a careful look at—. Well, what we couldn't do in that piece of work and what I would do now would be a careful look at universal credit and think, 'Where can that system be tweaked?' I think we would look carefully at the Scottish experience, and, in terms of the benefits that have been devolved, ask, 'What could be done better and different if that was devolved to Wales? How would we fit that?' The obvious one is winter fuel allowance. You would—. I would suggest that the potential to use winter fuel allowance in a different way that links with home energy efficiency is quite considerable, and then, in turn, links with the quality of housing for older people. Although, having seen the reaction to the withdrawal of free TV licences, I'm not quite sure that it might be a road that Government might want to go down, but anyway—. So, I think I—. And then I think there's some—. We didn't look at those small benefits at all—we didn't look at them at all—and I think, if we were to rewrite that report, we obviously would now.
Okay. So, if I can be even more unfair to you—although that was a really helpful answer, actually—if, tomorrow, you and a team of people were suddenly made principal advisers behind the scenes to Welsh Government, bearing in mind all the range of things that we've discussed, all the options that are on the table to achieve better outcomes for people, what would you say now to Welsh Government? What would you say to the committee about the way forward, the steps that need to be taken, and the timescale of it? Because there is a temptation in some of this to leap at something. Some of us hold points of principle on devolution that would say, 'Well, if it's there, we—' and so on. But what would be your measured, academic approach to say, 'This needs to be done before we make certain decisions, but there's the timescale that you should be doing it'? You've hinted at some of them, which are things that are right on our doorstep, within our own remit already.
I think I would look at—. So, there’s short, medium and long term, and I hope this isn’t academic. In the short term, I think trying to get some—. I’d do two things: I think I’d recommend trying to get some Welsh flexibilities ahead of universal credit really being rolled out. There’s a little window at the moment, and I can see absolutely no reason why people in Wales can’t decide the frequency of payment and who that payment is made to, because they’ve got it in Scotland. I just—you know, it’s a matter of parity and principle, and there’s a window, I think, there. And I think I’d probably choose a small, discrete benefit that could be devolved in its entirety that’s not linked with lots of other things, to almost test the water. I don’t know what that would be, but it might be something like winter fuel allowance or something where it doesn’t affect other claims.
I think, in the medium term, I’d be looking at housing. It’s a big ticket item. It links firmly with devolved responsibilities and I would be advising exploring what the different options are to tie housing into the Welsh policy framework, to have housing benefit or whatever, help with housing costs, as a tool—to use it as a tool in the suite that’s at the Welsh Government’s disposal. And there are lots of different ways of doing that.
I think, in the longer term, I think looking at disability benefits, but I think it is starting from—. I think there’s much more work to be done, I suppose, is what I’m saying. I don’t know if that answers your question on the spot.
Thank you for your advice. Thank you for it.
Okay, Huw. If I can speak—. We heard in Scotland that there might be a tension between concentrating on improving the services and the claimants' experience and providing them with more income. So, if we did devolve benefits to Wales, would you have a view on the relative importance of those two aspects?
I'm going to fudge the question and say that they both matter. Having £1 extra a week, if it's the wrong amount and six weeks late, is not worth having. Equally, being treated with dignity and respect, if you can't afford to feed your kids, is also not worth having. So, at the risk of not answering your question, there's a balance to be struck, and that's why it's important to work with people affected, because they can advise on what the options are for them.
Yes. I think you'd hinted earlier that, even within the current devolution settlement, steps could be taken by Welsh Government to involve the service users, benefit claimants, in a much more meaningful way than currently happens.
We did a report last November where we said, 'Universal credit is coming and is going to have a huge impact on the Welsh Government, and on local authorities as well.' We felt that there needed to be much more done to make sure that people and organisations were prepared for that. Some of that is around interface issues, such as eligibility for free school meals, but some of it is things like housing, impact on childcare, impact on the economy, impact on people looking for work, willingness to go to further education, and so on. Again, I think much more could be done on that.
I see. Okay. Are there any other—? Mark.
If I may. You referred to benefit sanctions, I think there are some figures out this month showing that they've fallen to the lowest level ever. I think it's 2.4 per cent; they were nearly 6 per cent a year before, so the trajectory is right. But you've referred to different ways of working, and we know that there were the one-year community support teams, they've now got disability support officers in Jobcentres Plus, a Disability Confident scheme and so on. But we also know, and you used, quite rightly, a disability rights strapline, 'Nothing about us without us.' We are all experts in our own lives. In terms of priorities, I think you've already talked about your emphasis on lived experience, but how should we already, in terms of the existing powers and programmes, but also if and when we apply more programmes, embed that engagement with lived experience at the beginning of the process to minimise the risk of need for appeal, or sanction or whatever?
The question of sanctions is a really difficult one. It is hard to have a system that's based on individuals complying with certain requirements unless there is the stick behind it, but, equally, withdrawing all means of support from individuals is a very harsh step. I think the problem with the sanctions regime has been that many people have felt that some of the decisions have been unfair and harsh and with very limited scope for appeal.
How you embed people's experience, there are lots of different ways. I think the Scottish Government's arrangements are potentially very valuable at that very high level, but what they don't tell you is that the Jobcentre Plus office or the local assessment centre isn't wheelchair accessible or has certain barriers to people. So, I suppose it's the same kind of principles that are encouraged across public services, which is that you talk, you engage with your users and your consumers. The private sector do it all the time, so it shouldn't be impossible, and I think it's important, going forward.
Again, I was going to ask: are you aware of any models elsewhere where this works better, because I've heard—[Inaudible.]—Scandinavia is often mentioned, for example—
Scandinavia is often mentioned, Sweden in particular.
Okay, thank you.
I would like to find out more in Scandinavia, but there we are.
If there are no more questions from committee members, thank you very much for giving evidence to the committee today, Victoria. You will be sent a transcript to check for factual accuracy. Diolch yn fawr.
All right. Thank you very much.