Y Pwyllgor Cydraddoldeb a Chyfiawnder Cymdeithasol

Equality and Social Justice Committee

24/01/2022

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Altaf Hussain MS
Jane Dodds MS
Jenny Rathbone MS Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Ken Skates MS
Sarah Murphy MS
Sioned Williams MS

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Claire Bennett Cyfarwyddwr Cymunedau a Threchu Tlodi, Llywodraeth Cymru
Director, Communities and Tackling Poverty, Welsh Government
Hannah Blythyn MS Dirprwy Weinidog Partneriaeth Gymdeithasol
Deputy Minister for Social Partnership
Jane Hutt MS Gweinidog Cyfiawnder Cymdeithasol
Minister for Social Justice
Sian Gill Pennaeth Adrodd Ariannol, Llywodraeth Cymru
Head of Financial Reporting, Welsh Government

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Angharad Roche Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Claire Fiddes Ail Glerc
Second Clerk
Rhys Morgan Clerc
Clerk
Sam Mason Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol
Legal Adviser
Yan Thomas Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk

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.

Cyfarfu’r pwyllgor drwy gynhadledd fideo.

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 13:30.

The committee met by video-conference.

The meeting began at 13:30.

1. Cyflwyniad, ymddiheuriadau, dirprwyon a datgan buddiannau
1. Introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest

Prynhawn da, bawb. I'd like to welcome you to this meeting of the Equality and Social Justice Committee, which is being broadcast live on Senedd.tv. Simultaneous translation from Welsh to English is available if you need it. First of all, could I ask if there are any declarations of interest in relation to matters to be discussed today? I don't see any declarations of interest, so I assume that's a 'no'. If I drop out of this meeting for any reason, then Sarah Murphy, as agreed earlier, will chair the meeting until I am able to join.

2. Cyllideb Ddrafft 2022-23: Sesiwn graffu gyda'r Gweinidog Cyfiawnder Cymdeithasol
2. Draft Budget 2022-23: Scrutiny session with the Minister for Social Justice

I'm very pleased to welcome Jane Hutt, the Minister for Social Justice, and Hannah Blythyn, the Deputy Minister for Social Partnership, as well as your officials, Claire Bennett, director of communities and tackling poverty, and Sian Gill, head of financial reporting, for our important budget scrutiny this afternoon. Minister, thank you very much indeed for your really interesting paper, which gives us lots of interesting information. I just wanted to start by asking you about the role of the strategic integrated impact assessment, which you've set out in your paper. Chwarae Teg are saying that it reads as an acknowledgement of issues, that it's decoupled from any substantive commitments or actions. I just wondered if you'd like to respond to that.

Thank you very much, Chair, and thank you very much for this invitation to come to this budget scrutiny. Of course, for social justice, it is absolutely crucial that we look at the impacts of all spending decisions in terms of this draft budget across the whole of Welsh Government, but also looking at it from every aspect of equality, human rights, children's rights, climate change, Welsh language, health, biodiversity. I mean, you know that the strategic integrated impact assessment is crucial to get this budget right, and also, for me, not just in terms of equality, but also socioeconomic disadvantage, and all the rights particularly underpinned by UN conventions.

I was very much involved way back when we started this integrated impact assessment, as a former finance Minister. It is about actually looking through those lenses across Government, so we don't have silos, and that Ministers understand the impacts of their decisions. I would say that the budget improvement programme is very important, and I know that you will have looked at this, in terms of understanding the role of the strategic integrated impact assessment, and I'm glad that there are actually some case studies in the assessment as well. Some of those case studies relate to my budget, such as the basic income, but also, if you look at those case studies, they are also very important for the new important decisions in the draft budget, like the free school meals. They're also looking at areas that, across the Welsh Government, have a huge impact on tackling poverty and improving equality.

I am also very conscious of the fact that we need to work to get this right, so that we convince—you mentioned that comment from Chwarae Teg—so that we can show that this isn't just about tick-box and listing, that this is actually asking, 'Is this an integrated approach across Government?' You know, are we ensuring that the budget improvement plan, which is now moving forward, is looking at this in terms of impact of budget decisions? If you look at the budget improvement plan, of course, which is the Minister for finance's responsibility, you will see, very encouragingly, that it's talking about improving our processes around decision making on spending proposals, to better link spending to outcomes, revisiting and clarifying the purpose of the strategic integrated impact assessment and looking at the evidence base. 

Can I just quickly mention the fact that we really have made progress in this past year to get an equality evidence unit? The head of that unit has just been appointed. I'm sure you will want to hear more about the unit. And you will be aware, of course, that in that unit, we're going to have a race disparity evidence unit and a disability disparity evidence unit, and I think this will help improve the delivery of the strategic integrated impact assessment, because it has a place, it's crucial in terms of addressing those impacts across Government, and then making sure that we can look at the outcomes. Because this is all about, 'Well, okay, if you're going to assess—.' And those case studies helped us with that, but it's then the outcomes to particularly address inequality and poverty, within my social justice portfolio.

13:35

Okay. Thanks very much. Just very briefly, back in the day, in 2012, it was 112 pages long. It's now 12 pages long, this strategic integrated impact assessment. What's missing, and how do you think that's improved it?

I recall being back there, in fact, in former ministerial roles. Getting this right has taken time. We were the first to do it, the first country to do it. So, moving on from that very lengthy—. It was then, I remember, considered to be just, 'Are we sort of doing this as a matter of rote, that everything is being looked at?' Then it becomes a list, to be more strategic about it, explaining through the case studies, particularly about the strategic equality impact assessment, but looking at it from the spending position's perspective. I'm sure you will in due course be looking at the report of the strengthening equality and advancing human rights research that's been undertaken, and actually, there are quite a few recommendations about impact assessments in that. This is globally; people are looking at this and how we can get the best information and evidence to guide budgeting. I've already quoted from the budget improvement plan as well.

I think these are important points in terms of assessing my influence on the budget as Minister for Social Justice, to make sure that the areas that I'm responsible for have got that strategic approach in terms of impact assessment. But it's not just for me, because obviously my budget—my portfolio, not so much my budget, but my portfolio—is very much about influencing the whole of Government, in terms of putting equality and fairness at the heart of the Welsh Government's budget. That's why we have got a Minister for Social Justice with Hannah Blythyn as my deputy for social partnership. So, I think there are areas that are very specific; I've mentioned the fact that we've got this evidence unit, we've got gender budgeting pilots, which you'll know are also mentioned in the budget improvement plan, and we've got more new pilots that are coming, so there's very much a gender focus, but also learning from the pilots that have been already undertaken.

I think what's very interesting, and I'm sure you as a committee will want to look at this, is how we ensure—and, again, it's very clear in the budget improvement plan—that we maintain equality at the heart of the budget. Also, we looked at this from an intersectional perspective as well, so it's not just social, cultural, economic and environmental, but it's intersectional in terms of protected characteristics and equalities and tackling poverty, as well as advancing and strengthening human rights.

13:40

Thank you. That's a very useful answer. Jane Dodds wanted to ask a question.

Good afternoon, Minister and Deputy Minister; thank you for joining us. I just, really, wanted to follow on from Jenny's question around the SIIA—two questions, if I may. One is around whether, using your ministerial portfolio, you saw a change in a budget line because of the SIIA, the strategic integrated impact assessment; whether there was anything specific that changed in terms of equality and social justice. And maybe, just to give you a little bit of time to think about that, the other issue around impact was that the children's commissioner raised concerns that there didn't seem to be transparency around the impact of the budget on children and young people, which is, obviously, a huge area around social justice and equality, obviously appreciating that that's the responsibility of another committee. But just those two issues there around could you give us an example, and just thinking about children and young people and the effect of poverty and social justice issues on them, as well, in the budget. Thank you.

Thank you very much, Jane. It's interesting, because in some ways these are questions for the Minister for Finance and Local Government, because, clearly, Ministers have to ensure that they are using the strategic integrated impact assessment in terms of their draft budget proposals that are coming through to them, and it's for the Minister for finance and ultimately the Cabinet to decide is this fit for purpose for the draft budget process and to make sure that planned investments are going to impact positively on tackling inequality, poverty and all the aims and objectives of the Welsh Government. Particularly, this budget has been influenced, obviously, by the impact of the pandemic, the impact, for example, of the £20 universal credit cut, and now we're moving into the horrors of the cost-of-living crisis that are with us.

The impact assessment is not just about equalities, it's across the board, so climate change and biodiversity are all key. I haven't got any evidence about specific lines that have been withdrawn. I think we've got more evidence in terms of the papers that were produced, again, on the strategic integrated impact assessment and about the case studies that we used to try and illustrate. It goes back to the Chair's question about why haven't we got hundreds of pages of what this means. It's actually time to be more clear, for scrutiny and transparency, about what this means.

On children's rights, transparency for children and young people, I think you can look at those case studies helpfully. For example, I've mentioned the fact that the case studies include free schools meals. Thanks to the fact that we can build on our Government's commitment to early intervention, prevention and tackling child poverty—my responsibilities for tackling child poverty—we now have a new policy direction that's reflected in the draft budget with this increase of funding going in for free school meals, which is going to make such a difference. We anticipate, as a result of assessment, that this will make a huge difference to our impact on tackling child poverty, but also, looking at this in terms of the preventative approach. 

I haven't mentioned the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 yet, which is, of course, a key goal for a more equal Wales, and also using prevention as a key way forward, which is part of impact assessments. So, in those case studies, you'll see how we're testing that preventative approach, and I'm just looking at—for example, it mentions fostering services—ways in which we're investing in ways to improve foster care services and parenting. This is not my portfolio agenda, but I'm very concerned to look at these issues and how they can accord with my objectives as Minister for Social Justice in terms of children and young people's rights. Also, we're looking at the impact on children and young people, reducing the number of children going into care and improved life chances. And I'm sure you'll be interested as well in what we're looking to in terms of the basic income pilot, as well.

Another case study is the young person's guarantee. Now, I think I would say right from the word 'go', not just with the strategic integrated impact assessment, that you can say that we have looked at tackling child poverty, which is clearly my responsibility in this budget. I've mentioned the fact that this has been assisted through the co-operation agreement—extending free school meals and extending childcare—but also extending funding for Families First and Flying Start, and the young person's guarantee. So, all of this is evidence, I think, in terms of how we're seeking to tackle child poverty and inequality and improve children's rights in terms of this budget. But clearly, there are other Ministers as well, all of whom would probably be echoing that—or, I'm echoing what they would say—in coming to scrutinise this budget. Because, for me, it's about equality, social justice and tackling poverty. We have got the tools; I've got some funding, but the majority of powers, levers and budgets are in the portfolios of my colleagues in the Welsh Government, and we need to ensure that that strategic integrated impact assessment and the budget improvement plan actually deliver what I'm seeking and what the Welsh Government is seeking in terms of social justice.

13:45

Yes. I think that's covered all of the areas that I wanted to ask. Thank you.

Diolch, Gadeirydd. Prynhawn da, Weinidog a Dirprwy Weinidog. Cwestiwn cyffredinol sydd gen i. Un thema a wnaeth ddod trwyddo'n gyson iawn ac yn gryf iawn yn nifer o'r ymatebion i'r ymgynghoriad ar y gyllideb ddrafft oedd cynaliadwyedd cyllido. Mae adolygiad gwariant y Deyrnas Gyfunol, wrth gwrs, wedi arwain at setliad aml-flwyddyn. Felly, eisiau holi ydw i, o ystyried y rôl sylweddol sydd gan y trydydd sector yn ymateb i'r pandemig a'r argyfwng sydd nawr yn ein hwynebu ni gyda'r argyfwng costau byw, sut mae'r dyraniadau cyllideb yn cydnabod rôl allweddol y sector wrth gefnogi gwasanaethau statudol? A sut ydych chi'n mynd i barhau gyda'r modd yna o sicrhau cynaliadwyedd i'r sector yn ystod oes y gyllideb yma a thu hwnt?

Thank you, Chair. Good afternoon, Minister and Deputy Minister. I have a general question. One theme that emerged consistently and very strongly in several of the responses to the consultation on the draft budget was the sustainability of funding. The UK spending review has, of course, resulted in a multi-year settlement. So, I just wanted to ask, given the significant role played by the third sector in the response to the pandemic and the crisis that we're currently facing with regard to cost of living, how do budget allocations recognise the key role that the sector plays in supporting statutory services? And how are you going to continue with that method of ensuring the sustainability of the sector during the lifetime of this budget and beyond?

Diolch yn fawr, Sioned. Of course, the third sector is critical to the lifeblood of Wales in terms of delivering services directly themselves, but also, as you say, in relation to supporting statutory services, and hasn't this come out so strongly and vividly in terms of the pandemic? I mean, there's always been—in terms of the third sector and having come from the third sector myself—the sort of feeling that they haven't always been recognised as being so fundamental to the delivery of services, particularly for vulnerable people, and for many of the questions that we've just been discussing about tackling inequality, poverty, community development and action. So, the third sector has been calling for multi-year, three-year settlements for years—for years and years and years. And, of course, you know we have a third sector partnership council, which I chair, and then all Ministers meet regularly with their particular sectors as well, annually or biannually. So, health and social services meet with the health and social services Ministers, and also the housing sector, and I think they will see this is, for them, the three-year budget, crucially important. They've wanted multi-year funding. It will mean that there's much more opportunity for integrated funding arrangements with local authorities, with health boards particularly. But also, obviously, they're very pleased that we as the Welsh Government have been able to offer a multi-year funding proposal agreement in principle. Obviously, this is a draft budget, but that would be over the next three years—Third Sector Support Wales—and they'd receive just under £7 million per annum, and that would be a new baseline of support. So, for many, we've retained baseline uplifts from the two previous financial years.

Also, we've been able to look at things like volunteering. So, that came out strongly in the pandemic as well. So, we've got a more strategic approach to the volunteering Wales grant as a result of this—formal and informal—and that, of course, enables the third sector to work more closely with the private and public sectors in terms of their volunteering base. But also, I think there's some real importance here about—. Well, you've talked about sustainability, which is crucial, but it's about resilience for those organisations who are at the sharp end, providing support, doing volunteering, innovation.

Increasingly, the third sector's involved in digital infrastructure development, because of the digital divide and the fact that there are still so many people who have been left out because of the digital world that we live in. So, better integration and the multi-year settlement are vital, and it will help with those working relationships. And I think those working relationships have strengthened nationally, regionally and locally through the pandemic with the third sector and local authorities and health boards, and also other public bodies and the private sector as well. So, it will have a good impact, I think, in terms of the third sector response.

13:50

Okay. That's fine. Can I just summarise, though, and ask how are you going to ensure that, at the end of this three-year period, with this extra three-year funding, that the voluntary sector is less dependent on Welsh Government money than it is at the moment?

Well, the third sector, of course, nationally, regionally and locally—. Local organisations, as you know, Chair and colleagues, are very much dependent on local sources of funding, not just local authorities and health boards, but their own income generation as well, and trusts and lottery. The lottery is a key funder for the third sector, as you know. But I think the three-year funding will actually help those local funding relationships as well.

As far as the national funding is concerned, capital is—. The only route that we can help the third sector nationally is through—and that goes to local groups—the community facilities programme, which is a vital source of capital funding for community and third sector projects. So, we are funding the key national infrastructure organisation—the Wales Council for Voluntary Action, the county voluntary councils—to enable them to grow the third sector in resilience and sustainability. Income generation, whether it be from other sources, of trusts and other public bodies, has been challenged over the last two years because of the pandemic, and we know charities have suffered from loss of income generation. But we know that we are actually—. I mean, the Welsh Government needs to be there to help provide a strong, enduring, resilient infrastructure for our third sector. We are the only ones who had a third sector volunteering platform in the UK when the pandemic hit us so hard.

But I would say one thing, Chair, which is that because of this three-year funding, we're going to be able to increase our change—we've got a change fund to get more innovation into the third sector. I've mentioned the digital change. So, I'm not going to say that there will be less dependence on Welsh Government funding, but it's more innovative and it can help regionally and locally, I think, in terms of those local partnerships. 

13:55

Thank you, Chair. Can I begin by asking the Minister, basically, how relevant allocations in the draft budget reflect equality and social justice commitments in the co-operation agreement? 

Thank you very much, Ken. The co-operation agreement has had a major impact, and particularly it's the impacts on social justice in my portfolio, rather than on my budget itself in terms of the outcomes from that agreement. And I think what is important about it, and I've mentioned it already, is that it was tackling those areas where we knew that if we want to tackle poverty and inequality, then we needed to have more income, we needed to have a budget that would enable us to do things that would really make a difference. I think the fact that we've got that extra £30 million in early years and childcare, and also I've mentioned the fact that, obviously, there's extra funding into free school meals, is going to have a huge impact and make a difference for children in terms of tackling poverty. The Plaid Cymru agreement in terms of extending free school meals is an extra £90 million by 2024-25, with 196,000 children becoming eligible to take up the offer of a free school meal in Wales. So, it's tackling deprivation. Obviously, with all of this, then, we're looking at the impacts of that on household incomes, particularly when you look at the cost-of-living crisis that we're facing. So, I'm particularly looking at those areas where I feel they are tackling poverty and inequality, but there are so many other areas that are for other ministerial portfolios that are also very important.

But I think, also, for me, reflecting equality and social justice commitments, the support for the race equality action plan, the disability equality rights taskforce and LGBTQ+ plan are all significant. They don't all need money; some of this is about commitment to actually moving forward in terms of promoting equality and tackling poverty, but it will have a radical and progressive impact on our budget and delivery for social justice.

Brilliant. Thank you, Minister. I'm going to come back in a moment, if I may, Chair, just to ask about the architecture of Government and how that contributes towards tackling poverty, but, first of all, can I just ask the Deputy Minister how allocations for social partnerships cover all of the costs associated with implementing the forthcoming Bill and whether additional funding is going to be needed if these costs can't be covered?

Thanks. I think, just perhaps to give a bit of overview, first of all, in terms of what allocations are for in the budget with regard to the social partnership and fair work allocation, the aim is to support a wide range of activity and support the implementation of the legislation as we bring it forward and through the Senedd, hopefully. It includes the development of guidance alongside it, provision of training, communications and campaigns activity, looking at things around best practice and how we can share those, so that people can have a better understanding of what social partnership is and how they could implement it themselves, and the tools and resources we need to go alongside it. As you would expect and as is standard, the Bill, when introduced, will be accompanied by a regulatory impact assessment, and the draft Bill that was introduced just shortly before the Senedd elections did have a draft RIA with it, and we consulted with stakeholders and have continued to carry on those conversations with stakeholders, but also across Government as well. So, at the moment, officials have been in regular conversation with colleagues across Government on the potential impact and cost of the Bill. Whilst the details of the draft legislation are still being finalised, we're pretty confident that the costs can be fully accommodated within current budget plans. So, for example, where there may be additional costs as a consequence of the legislation, they won't need additional funding because there's scope to cover that under existing budget allocations, and that won't be strictly just within this main expenditure group, but in other portfolio areas as well.

14:00

That's really helpful. Thank you.

If I can just go back to the Minister and just say that I recall from the time that I had the pleasure of being able to work with you, you were always holding everybody's feet to the fire for cross-Government working on areas where you were taking a lead. Can you tell us just a little bit about the architecture within Government concerning tackling poverty and whether you have regular meetings with other Ministers, whether there are any cross-Government working groups, and whether there's any form of cross-Government working groups established for officials, just to demonstrate that this is a matter that you're not just leading on, but you are making sure that everybody is contributing to and reporting to you on a regular basis?

Thanks very much, Ken. Yes, it's vital, if you have a role like the Minister for Social Justice and equalities, that you speak up at every possible moment on those issues because they're very cross-cutting, aren't they? We've got a mainstreaming equality pilot, but you have to ensure that you provide the evidence as well and that you look at what are the areas where you can make the most difference in terms of tackling poverty. Some of this is very basic stuff, which you always did as well and always responded to in your former role.

For example, we work bilaterally with Ministers and then we come together as a Cabinet to look at particular themes. So, when I became Minister for Social Justice back in May, I met first of all with ministerial colleagues who I thought could perhaps have most impact on tackling poverty and inequality. I met with the Minister for education, for example, very early on to say, 'What about extending free school meals?' I met with the Deputy Minister for Social Services about childcare, because we always wanted to look at ways in which we could improve access to childcare, because that was the real barrier in terms of tackling poverty.

But then, as you will have been involved in, we had cross-Government, thematic discussions about areas that were crucial to the budget: climate change, obviously, being one, but tackling poverty. And when you have all the Ministers together talking about, 'Well, what do you all think?', well, of course, there are issues for economy, like the employability strategy, the code of conduct in terms of procurement, but also the economic contact. But, actually, I can say that when we came together, tackling inequality and early intervention into early years were really very much all Ministers saying, 'Yes, if we could do more in terms of reaching the early years, we know, through evidence, that that will help to tackle poverty.' So, it is a question about leadership in that you need to strike those policy accords with your colleagues in Government, you have to look at the evidence, and then you have the opportunity as a cross-Government opportunity to look at this.

Now, I'm very pleased that we've commissioned work. As you will know, we commissioned work from the Wales Centre for Public Policy who've been doing work, for example, on international comparators about tackling poverty and the best way to achieve this. We've got the outcome of that paper coming through. We're going to discuss this in March about taking us forward in terms of tackling poverty. I've already mentioned the fact that we've now got an equality evidence unit. The race equality action plan has shown the adverse socioeconomic impacts of COVID on black, Asian and minority ethnic people. We've got the 'Locked Out' report on the impact on disabled people as well, so this is all coming in to inform us.

And finally, I suppose, we've got the fact that we've got all the Ministers, the whole Government, having to abide by the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, the key goals. As you know, in every Cabinet paper, 'What is the equality and well-being of future generations impact of this budget, of this Cabinet paper?' So, that guides us in terms of the architecture of the Government, and the way in which officials work to advise Ministers to ensure that this is at the heart of decision making, and has to be then at the heart of a draft budget of this kind.

I'll just finally, quickly if I can, say that I'm also responsible directly not just for the budget heads, and tackling inequalities, but also—and the discretionary assistance from the discretionary assistance fund to VAWDASV—we have our commitment to the child poverty strategy, which I'm responsible for. I met with the child poverty action group last week, and I wanted to mention that to you earlier on, but I meet with external stakeholders as well—the Bevan Foundation, for example. I met them before Christmas, after their report that they produced about the growing impact of poverty on people's lives just leading up to that Christmas point. Their report—'A snapshot of poverty in Winter 2021', it was called—that was when we had the 'heat or eat' kind of message from them. So, we have to look outside as well as inside in terms of the architecture of Government in terms of tackling poverty.

14:05

Diolch, Gadeirydd. Cwestiwn am daclo tlodi: sut mae'r penderfyniadau cyllidebol i daclo tlodi yn cael eu mesur a'u gwerthuso o ran sut maen nhw'n cyflawni'r nod yna o leihau anghydraddoldeb? Er eich bod chi wedi bod yn rhestru nifer o gynlluniau a strategaethau newydd, ac mae'r rheini wrth gwrs i'w croesawu, dwi'n gweld bod Sefydliad Bevan, er enghraifft, yn eu hymateb nhw i'r ymgynghoriad ar y gyllideb, yn sôn am yr angen yma i integreiddio yn well o ran gweinyddu, o ran hyrwyddo, ac o ran cymhwyster ar gyfer y pethau sydd ar gael i gefnogi pobl mewn tlodi. Beth yw'ch ymateb chi i hynny? Ac oni fyddai hyn yn sicrhau bod y gwariant yma yn fwy effeithiol wrth daclo tlodi?

Thank you, Chair. A question on tackling poverty now. How have budgetary decisions to tackle poverty been measured and evaluated in terms of whether they achieve that aim of reducing inequality? You've listed a number of new plans and strategies, and those are of course to be welcomed, but I saw that the Bevan Foundation, for example, in their response to the consultation on the budget, were talking about this need to integrate better in terms of administration, promotion and in terms of eligibility for these schemes to support those in poverty. What's your response to that? Wouldn't that ensure that this expenditure is more effective in tackling poverty?

Diolch yn fawr, Sioned. It's crucial that we're doing the right things, that we get it right. It's interesting how there was a time when research bodies were looking at even having a 'what works' kind of work stream in terms of Government policy. We've got to get it right in terms of—. Back to the impact question, that is through measurement, evaluation, transparency and monitoring. Are we reducing inequality? Are we reducing poverty as a result of our intervention? There are some things where you can very clearly show that, for example, our income maximisation programmes, the money that we've been putting in to the single advice fund—. I won't repeat all the figures, but the amount of money that you can get back from councils, from take-up campaigns, actually into people's, households' and communities' pockets is vitally important, particularly now we're at such a sharp end of the cost-of-living crisis.

But we also have to formally, through legislation, report back. We have the Children and Families (Wales) Measure 2010 and that's a duty on Welsh Government to report on progress in achieving child poverty objectives, and that has to be every three years, ready and open for your scrutiny. It looks at the objectives, and we've actually got the next progress report due at the end of this year. We've talked about the impact assessments that we have to undertake, but also we have to look at monitoring and evaluation and the delivery of all of the aspects that will come through with our co-operation agreement as well, and look at the impacts of all of the spend that we have across Welsh Government.

I think it's also very important that we do look at people's lived experience. For me, I've mentioned meeting with other organisations as well as internally with Ministers, but during the pandemic, the arrangements that we had to meet with the disability equality forum, the race equality forum, the women's equality network and the third sector partnership council, all of those opportunities provided evidence to me—and we met regularly—on the impacts of policies that are coming through. And you need the lived experience to really show what is happening. But I think we'll have a much more robust way of taking responsibility for monitoring and evaluation with our equality evidence unit, which is now in place, and we will be able to see then what the outcome is.

Ultimately, in terms of child poverty, we want to see those figures coming down, not going up, but they are going up at the moment because of the appalling impact of the cost-of-living crisis, where we hear the headlines, 'I only put the heating on when my grandkids visit', with the inflation of prices being pushed up to a 30-year high. We are in a very difficult place and so we've got to have the here-and-now response as well as the long-term measurement of our policies at this point in time.

14:10

O ran yr uned data anghydraddoldebau newydd yma a'r dystiolaeth bydd honno'n ei rhoi i ni, sut ydych chi'n credu bydd hwnna'n bwydo i mewn i'r broses o osod y gyllideb?

Turning to that new inequality data unit that you mentioned and the evidence that that will give us, how do you believe that that will feed into the process of setting the budget?

Well, I think it will provide—. Well, obviously, there's already a huge range of evidence that we have to feed into the budget, and that's not just for my benefit, it's for all Ministers. It is an equality evidence unit, which is part of our monitoring and analytical services—a very mainstream corporate provision in the Welsh Government. I am going to ask Claire Bennett if she would like—. I'll put Claire Bennett on the spot here and ask, as a senior official, how she feels that this will make a difference.

Thank you, Minister. I think one of the things, for example, as we've been working on the race equality action plan, that's become really clear is that a lack of data is holding services and policy areas back from actually making what might be quite simple changes and having that much more direct collation of the evidence, whether that's lived experience or data, to enable people to make changes much more rapidly. Because one of the really strong pieces of feedback we had through the engagement on the race equality action plan was people feeling that they'd articulated the challenges they were facing, they'd described the things that weren't working, but there wasn't a response to that. And the data unit is a really key thing to cut through some of that.

And then the other really important role it can play, and something that the accountability group for the race equality action plan will be focused on, is seeing whether we're making progress and coming back and holding us to account as to whether there has been a change and a positive impact and, if not, what we need to do about it. So, just having that additional capacity and expertise in those areas, whether it's on race or on disability or across the other protected characteristics within equality, I think will make a really big difference to professionalising, I suppose, our use of data and evidence to drive change, rather than just reflecting on that as being very interesting. But it's, 'What are we going to do about it? What effect does that have, and what do we now need to do next?'

Diolch. Roedd hwnna'n ddefnyddiol iawn. Diolch yn fawr. Rwy'n siŵr y byddwn ni'n dod nôl at hwnna yn y dyfodol.

Cwestiwn yn benodol ynglŷn â'r gronfa cymorth dewisol. Er bod y dyraniad £7 miliwn yn uwch na'r rhai blynyddol cyn y pandemig, mae e'n is na'r dyraniadau ar gyfer pob un o'r ddwy flynedd ariannol flaenorol, ac rwy'n gwybod, wrth gwrs, fod hwnna'n ymwneud â'r arian ychwanegol sydd wedi dod o Lywodraeth y Deyrnas Gyfunol yn sgil y pandemig. Ond o ystyried bod adroddiad diweddar ein pwyllgor ni ar ddyled wedi canfod, ac rŷch chi wedi sôn am y storm berffaith yma o ddyledion sydd yn ein hwynebu ni oherwydd, wrth gwrs, yr argyfwng costau byw—. Ydych chi'n teimlo bod yr arian sydd wedi cael ei ddynodi i'r gronfa yn ddigonol i wynebu'r hyn rŷn ni'n gwybod sy'n mynd i alw enfawr arno fe, yr un fath, os nad yn fwy, na'r hyn rŷn ni wedi'i weld yn ystod y pandemig? A hefyd, ydych chi wedi ystyried parhau gyda'r mesurau dros dro sydd wedi bod, o ran gadael i bobl gael mwy o gyfleon i wneud cais i'r gronfa? Mae hynny'n dod i ben, onid yw e, ym mis Mawrth?

Thank you. That was very useful. Thank you. I'm sure we'll be returning to that in future.

A question specifically now with regard to the discretionary assistance fund. Even though the allocation is £7 million higher than in pre-pandemic years, it is lower than the allocations for each of the past two financial years, and I know that, of course, that is related to the additional funding that has been received from the United Kingdom Government as a result of the pandemic. But bearing in mind that a recent report by our committee on debt had found, and you've talked about this perfect storm of debt that is facing us at the moment, and the crisis in terms of costs of living—. Do you feel that the funding that has been allocated to the assistance fund is sufficient to meet what is going to be huge demand on it, the same, if not greater, than the demand that we've seen during the pandemic? And also, have you considered continuing with the temporary measures that have been implemented in terms of allowing people to receive greater opportunities to apply for the fund? That is coming to an end, isn't it, in March? 

14:15

Thank you, Sioned, for that crucially important question in terms of what we've been discussing about the particular circumstances we're in now. The circumstances we're in now in terms of the cost-of-living crisis, it wasn't anticipated to this extent, was it, until relatively recently? And now we've just got report after report demonstrating the incredible adverse impact this is already having on people with lower incomes, whether they're on universal credit lower incomes, and, indeed, on benefits, in every possible respect. It has been important that the discretionary assistance fund has been available. It is demand led. It has enabled us, particularly through the pandemic, and then, as a result of the £20 universal credit cut, we continued with the flexibility, and the number and frequency of payments being made to those who were severely affected by COVID-19 pandemic. It's very difficult in terms of the current crisis, isn't it? It is demand led. We're constantly reviewing the financial impact because that isn't within our budget to just have demand-led arrangements of this kind. But we need to look at this carefully in terms of the future, and I responded in that spirit, didn't I, to your very important report on debt, that we need to look at this in terms of the impact of that flexibility, and the pressure on the budget?

I think it's important that we link this to the single advice fund, where we've put a lot of money into advice givers. They have a role to play, giving advice to vulnerable people, as you will know in your constituencies. But they also give advice to people so that if they do have access to discretionary assistance emergency payment, they would also check their other benefit entitlements, give them further advice in terms of other causes of financial problems to help them. So, I think that link is very important.

But can I just also say that, last week, I wrote to the Secretary of State for the Department for Work and Pensions, and I hope the committee would back me in this, because we had that evidence from the Institute for Fiscal Studies just last week as well, saying that we need to uplift benefits by 6 per cent in April? In fact, the IFS basically said that it wasn't going to be enough, the uplift, which was 3.1 per cent in line with inflation, recorded last September. It's not going to be enough with the soaring prices. So, my letter did go in last week and I will share it with the committee. IFS said that this, in terms of the 6 per cent uplift—we got that—it would save our lowest income households from facing a £290 real-terms year-on-year fall on benefit income. So, it helps slightly, but, you see, this is it. It's the responsibility of the UK Government, isn't it, the level of welfare benefits? And we are trying to provide some kind of shield, some kind of support, with the discretionary assistance fund at this point in time, and it is a real pressure for the budget.

14:20

Sioned, have you completed your scrutiny of this part? Great. I wonder if we can now move on to a discussion about the basic income pilot. Jane, if you could start off, and then I'll bring in Altaf.

Thank you so much. So, you mentioned the basic income pilot—thank you very much, Minister—earlier, and I guess the question is around the budget and how the plan is to budget for this particular pilot, which as we know is going to care leavers. You'll know that the Petitions Committee has recommended that it be widened, but at this point in time the plan is that it's going to be for the cohort of care-experienced young people. We are also basing this on the assumption that it is an additional payment—that is, it's not going to affect the payments to young people from the Department for Work and Pensions, for example. Perhaps you can help us out by clarifying that. But I guess we're interested in how you've determined this level of funding and how the impact will be measured. Thank you.

Thank you very much, Jane, and I know that you particularly have got a very keen interest in this, as have other Members of the Equality and Social Justice Committee. I am imminently going to be providing more detail about this in a statement to the Senedd, but if I could just very quickly recap on where we are at the moment, as you say. We are developing this basic income trial involving the cohort of young people leaving care, ensuring that those young people get all the support they need for them to have the best possible chance to make their way in life. And actually enabling us, on your point about evaluation of what this will mean—. This pilot, we hope, will enable us to test some of the claims being made for universal basic income. It's about new prospects, new confidence, new opportunities in these young people's lives, which isn't about—. It's about day-to-day survival living, low expectation, low esteem, disadvantage as a result of many of their experiences. So, we're approaching this to reduce the challenges care leavers face. We've looked at the appropriate levels of funding, with advice, obviously, on this. We've actually got a technical advisory group that we've set up and they're meeting on Wednesday this week, so they're some of the key people who are involved in UBI, in terms of not just in Wales but further afield. So, they're going to be very helpful in advising. We're already working very closely with young people's organisations working with care leavers. So, in terms of the pilot, we need to have a clear understanding of the impact, value for money, quantitative and qualitative methods in terms of research and evaluation, and looking at it for longer term impacts—that will take some time to manifest. We're talking about the three-year evaluation. We're scoping that three-year project, three-year evaluation, and we'll get some more detail, but you will, very imminently, get further details about the pilot. I want to meet with the external advisory group this week in order to get their expertise in terms of the project, the pilot, and the evaluation, and then I'll come to you with full details.

Thank you, Minister. I just wonder if you could just clarify and just confirm for us that the basic income pilot paid to care-experienced young people is in addition to their current benefit level—that is, this is not replacing DWP payments. This is an additional payment from the Welsh Government for the pilot. Thank you.

Yes. We have done our best to try and seek co-operation with the Department for Work and Pensions, and we want to do this to give a decent basic income to our care leavers, so that's why it is a decent allocation for those young people to actually make this pilot worth while for them.

14:25

It doesn't quite cut it for me. Are we in danger of relieving the DWP of their responsibility for giving benefits to anybody who is unemployed in doing this, and therefore have less money circulating in Wales?

I think, Chair, it would be helpful, because we're very much at the sort of cutting edge in terms of finalising details, if I could say that I'll come back to you as soon as possible. There will be a written statement in the next week or so on the actual details, so I don't want to either undermine what we're doing or not be transparent, but it is crucial that we get the details over to you as to how we're approaching this. And also, I'll then perhaps come back for scrutiny in terms of the way forward for the pilot.

Okay, very good. Altaf, did you want to put any questions about the basic income?

No, I will clarify a few things, and the Minister will be coming back to us. Does she refute the claim that the UBI pilot is too small to give any accurate information of its effectiveness? I can put these together, then I have a few more. Can the Minister explain how she settled on the money needed for this pilot? How many care leavers will be supported, and how much will they receive in each of the years for which this is budgeted? I'll come to the other question later.

Thank you very much, Altaf, and these details will be given in my forthcoming statement. Can I just say, I was very pleased to see the fact that the Petitions Committee undertook this inquiry? And also, I haven't responded to it formally, but I just want to welcome the fact that the report of the committee does recognise that there'll be valuable feedback in terms of the potential of the scheme, and I think there are some very important recommendations there, and all of this is being fed into our consideration. But I don't think at this stage, and Claire Bennett is the senior official engaged with this, but I don't think that really there's any more that we need to say today in relation to the draft budget discussion. I think it's more that you want the policy, the justification, and we're moving forward with monitoring and evaluation and our technical team. So, you've given us a good preparation for my statement.

Yes, but, Minister, let me ask you about the committee of the Senedd chaired by the Labour MS Jack Sargeant, which has questioned if focusing on care leavers would provide enough robust information. He said the Welsh Government should investigate increasing the number of proposed recipients and include care leavers from as diverse as possible a range of backgrounds, locations and circumstances, to give us the evidence we need to properly evaluate this scheme. Has the Minister scoped out the cost of doing what the committee has suggested?

—in brief at this stage. So, all of the evidence that comes before us, of course, we consider very carefully. And I think that's probably, Chair, as much as I think will be valuable today.

I think we should stick with the budget we've got. I think, Altaf, you made your point then, but I think the answer is 'no'. 

To start the pilot, you're using Welsh Government reserves to pay for it. What considerations have you given to the principle of value for money in deciding to use financial reserves for what is essentially a pilot scheme, and one that even your own colleagues are now calling into question? Thank you.

14:30

Well, I have answered these points. This is in the draft budget and it's an important commitment from the Welsh Government. All of the points about value for money evaluation are all going to be part of the consideration, and you'll get a statement very shortly. We do have an external technical advisory group and I will be, obviously, publishing their names et cetera. I don't think there's anything more, really, we need to say, Claire, is there at this stage, really, that relates to the budget? 

Have you published how much you're taking out of reserves for specifically funding this pilot?

Well, the draft budget allocates—. It allocates—. It's part of the draft budget, so it's a priority of the Welsh Government.

Fine. Okay. Altaf, could you now go on to your questions you had about the spending allocations for how it affects specific groups?

The equality and community cohesion budget will increase from £12.7 million in 2022-23 to £20.8 million in 2024-25. This represents the main increase in the social justice main expenditure group. Can the Minister provide further details of the allocations and give examples of how it will impact specific groups, particularly those with protected characteristics?

Thank you very much, Altaf, for that question, because this is where my responsibilities for equalities, which are very much about tackling inequalities, are crucial, particularly for people with protected characteristics. We've already mentioned the adverse impact of the pandemic on black, Asian and minority ethnic people, and also on disabled people and women. We've got all of the evidence. But we also already, very clearly, support those equality areas and the organisations that have been leading—national organisations—us and providing that policy support and areas.

You'll know that we actually did have a consultation about the future of the equality and inclusion grant, which is now going to be a new multi-year equality and inclusion grant. Already—. And I think, hopefully, you will have seen some of the allocations that have been made. I issued a statement in January of some of the allocations we're making for the first year for organisations like Disability Wales, the Women's Equality Network Wales and Stonewall Cymru et cetera. They're going to be specifically supporting those specific groups with protected characteristics. We've already got now the race equality action plan—£26 million in the budget for that [correction: over £20 million in the budget for that]. We're looking at the funding needs in terms of disability rights. But also I have already announced money for, for example, the Wales hate crime support centre, victim support and the Welsh Refugee Council as well. These are all areas where we are addressing those points that you've raised, Altaf. 

Also, just to say that this is an area where we also have to look at socioeconomic needs, because this is very intersectional. We have the socioeconomic duty, which is also having an impact in terms of all of the ways in which we spend our funding across the Welsh Government, and very intersectional as well.

Minister, I welcome that. Let me ask you: how much of the allocation in 2022-23 to the equalities and community cohesion budget expenditure line will be used to specifically fund actions arising from the disability rights taskforce? 

Thank you very much. I've mentioned the disability rights taskforce. It's interesting, that came out of a report called 'Locked Out: Liberating disabled people's rights and lives in Wales beyond Covid-19'. And actually the disability taskforce has only just got going in the last few weeks and months and we foresee that some of the decisions coming out of that disability rights taskforce, like the race equality action plan, will result in budget allocations for other ministerial departments, not just for my own, because, obviously, it covers every aspect of life, with the social model of disability. But—

14:35

I'll just say that I have, actually—. In terms of the sum of money, Altaf, we've got £1.2 million available in the first phase of responding to the disability rights taskforce in the coming financial year. So, we've got some means of being able to respond to priorities.

That's great. The last point I want to ask you, Minister, is the citizen engagement report in December 2021 highlighted a number of key issues, including how disabled groups were identified as an important group to focus on for support with housing needs. Whilst accepting that your budget is more constrained, what steps do you have to leverage for the resources within other Government departments to support the actions arising from the taskforce?

Thank you. I think I did partly answer that by saying that this is for other Ministers. For example, just in terms of the work that we've been doing over the past year, we've had disabled employment champions employed, and that funding doesn't come through my budget, it's come through the economy Minister's budget. They've made a huge impact on employers, particularly in the private sector, because we actually—and Ken Skates was involved in this—employ disabled people to be those employment champions.

We've also done a lot of work on transport. And so the transport budget as well, in terms of accessible transport, it has to be about the social model of disability, co-production with disabled people, working across every Government department. And it's interesting, you mentioned sports; sports, culture and art is all part of that. Disability Arts Cymru, I met recently; they've done a very, very strong report about disabled people and culture. So, this needs to impact on all aspects of the whole budget. But I think you'll be pleased that we've got a bit of money to start it going in terms of responding to the disability rights taskforce.

Thank you. Sioned, I know you had a question on this area.

Diolch, Cadeirydd. Ie, fel dangoswyd gan adroddiad Chwarae Teg ar effaith economaidd y cyfnod clo ar fenywod, mae'r pandemig, wrth gwrs, wedi dadlennu a dyfnhau anghydraddoldebau, ac felly roedd yn dda gweld bod yna gynnydd yn y gyllideb i daclo anghydraddoldebau. Ond hoffwn ofyn ble yn y gyllideb ddrafft y gallwn ni ddod o hyd i ddyraniadau ar gyfer gweithredu'r argymhellion a wnaed yn yr adolygiad o gydraddoldeb rhywiol gan Chwarae Teg, sef, yn benodol, yr adroddiad yna, 'Gwneud Nid Dweud'.

Thank you, Chair. Yes, as demonstrated by the Chwarae Teg report on the economic impact of the lockdown period on women, the pandemic has, of course, revealed and exacerbated those inequalities, and so it was good to see an increase in the budget to tackle inequalities. But I would like to ask where in the draft budget we can find allocations for taking forward the recommendations made in the review of gender inequality by Chwarae Teg, namely the 'Deeds Not Words' report.

Diolch, Sioned. Well, the 'Deeds Not Words' report steered our investments in terms of gender equality. I mentioned earlier on, of course, the investment that's been made in a number of gender budgeting pilots, not just the personal accounts gender budget, but also now active travel and the young person's guarantee, because I want to try and ensure that this is—. It's back to the point about mainstreaming. This isn't just about my budget; it's important that you can track it across all of the other ministerial budgets as well. So, within the equality and inclusion grant allocation—we've just been discussing that—we've got £250,000 in place over three years to implement sections of the gender equality action plan. So, that's in my portfolio. There are areas, for example, like the allocation I've got for period dignity, which is very much part of—. It wasn't necessarily in the 'Deeds not Words' report and review, but it's what we've been developing in terms of a response to gender impacts. And also that's £6.8 million, in fact, over the three years, to provide free period products in schools. So, we've got various things to take stock of where we're going on this. We've got some work on the gender equality action plan, which I know the committee will want to see.

But I think, just in terms of mainstreaming and looking across the whole of Welsh Government, the improved investment into funding childcare is going to make a huge difference in terms of gender equality and the gender equality action plan. The childcare offer, the extension of childcare for two-year-olds as part of our agreement, the offer to those who are going back from training and education into work, is crucially important. So, I hope that gives you a bit of a flavour of some specific allocations, but also across the board of Welsh Government, what all Ministers are doing in terms of the gender equality action plan.

You know, we haven't mentioned yet the national milestones—and the well-being of future generations have published them a few weeks ago—in terms of just pay disparity, race, pay and disability. And, actually, I might just ask whether the Deputy Minister might like to come in here to save my voice for a moment. Hannah, and yours, listening to me. But, Hannah, I know that you've looked at this in terms of pay disparity, didn't you?

14:40

Yes, absolutely. So, how that commitment to the national milestones sit alongside the ambitions for a fair work Wales. Because, actually, when we talk about fair work, it's not just—. It's about what you get paid, your terms and conditions, but it's actually how we address that inequality in the workplace as well, which I think is absolutely right within this larger portfolio of social justice. What I would see as those economic justice policy levers around fair work, living wage, social partnership sit alongside. The two go hand in hand, and we're never going to have social justice without having economic justice too. So, in terms of actually how we can work to the milestones and how they can deliver across a wide range of cross-Government interventions, such as the work Jane Hutt's doing around advancing the gender equality Wales action plan, or the cross-Government work around the employability strategy, which will, hopefully, be published later this spring, and the work around, as I said before, fair work Wales, and actually looking now again at those recommendations of the fair work commission, perhaps, as we, hopefully, come out of the pandemic, through the prism of the pandemic, which I think has exacerbated some of those inequalities that we already knew were there bubbling under the surface, but, actually, it means that we have to redouble our efforts in terms of how we tackle them—. So, I hope—perhaps it's not for this, as Jane said, this committee now, not for a budget discussion, but—further in the future there'd be scope for the policy scrutiny of how we can address that and use all the levers that we do have to make a difference within Wales.

This relates to the questions that Sarah Murphy had. Sarah.

Yes. Brilliant. Thank you very much. Thank you, Ministers, for being here today. So, I just wanted to talk about the commitment to pay social care workers the real living wage. We can see in the budget that that money is there to go to the local authorities, but, as it hasn't been hypothecated, how will you ensure that that money does go towards paying the real living wage of social care workers, and how will you track that?

Can I thank the Member for her question? I think, just to touch on the whole of the real living wage, whilst, as you say, it's been allocated in the draft budget in terms of—[Inaudible.]—£33 million [correction: £43 million], whilst that doesn't come out of our portfolio budget, so to speak, actually, the policy drive is to get that done and get that actioned six months into this new Welsh Government Senedd term. That's because we're able to work in social partnerships, and social partnership acts as the driver to deliver some of the policy outcomes, but then the budgets often sit elsewhere. That is just—. We've discussed this before, Sarah, in terms of this has been the starting point not the end point in terms of investing in those wider challenges and terms and conditions within the social care sector. But also the fact that we have the social care fair work forum will enable us to make sure that we're able to continue to progress those objectives around the sector as a whole, but also to make sure we maintain and work with colleagues in local government to ensure that all the mechanisms are making sure those payments are reaching the people they're intended to, as well.

14:45

But what will happen if they don't pay that, though? What if they choose not to use that money to pay the real living wage, or they put it into another pot? What's to stop them from doing that and how will you talk to each of the local authorities and ensure that?

I think it goes back to actually having that shared objective and that shared commitment to ensuring that this does happen, and we know that that commitment is there from our local authority colleagues, and I know that they are committed to doing that as well. Clearly, when we have such a high-level policy intervention, it's really important that we continue those conversations to make sure it does happen, and I'm more than happy to follow up with the committee in terms of how we're tracking their progress as well. Clearly, outside of the levers we have in terms of those that are directly employed through local authorities, the social care fair work forum will look further at how we can strengthen what we do in terms of the power of the public purse and procurement to ensure that happens further in the future.

Thank you. And that's not to say, either, that—. I think it's just the way things are with local authorities at the moment, it's not necessarily from—. It's just that things get moved around, trying to make everything work.

And then, my second question about this is that the UK Government are planning on raising national insurance by 1.25 per cent. Is that right? Yes, 1.25 per cent in April, specifically, though, for social care in England. Ideally, of course, we would then get the money that would come for Wales, but if that doesn't happen, has there been a contingency plan put in place for that and how would that impact the real living wage and the budgets around this?

If I can, I may bring Sian in on this, if that's possible, just because, obviously, it's a cross-Government commitment and it comes from a different budget MEG.

I think that's probably a question for the Minister for Finance and Local Government, to be honest, in terms of that engagement with the UK Government and how that budget has fed into our own Welsh Government budget. So, we could take that back and provide some advice, if that's okay.

Okay, Sarah, did you want to now go on to the housing and homelessness budget? Sarah, I think you are—

I can't seem to unmute myself. Sorry about that. So, yes, on to the housing and—. Well, it's housing and the health, actually, because, as you know, we've done—. Is that right, Chair? 

It's housing and health, really, because I think, as we've seen—and this has come through some of the inquiries that we've already done so far—we know that health equality and housing are very much linked. So, just to start, to what extent has the action plan to end homelessness in Wales and its focus on prevention and rapid rehousing shaped the draft budget allocations?

Well, thank you very much, Sarah. Of course, as you say, this goes back to the ever-resounding theme of this budget scrutiny, which is that so many of the investments in the draft budget, not within our portfolio, are key to other ministerial objectives to tackle poverty and inequality. And homelessness is at the sharp end, isn't it? Homelessness and health inequalities are at the sharp end of that. And that's why I work very closely, of course, with the Minister for Climate Change. To give you one example, when I launched the household living grant—the £51 million grant—this was a fund that was a one-off. This was funding that we got within this financial year, not next. I asked every Minister what they felt could be most useful in terms of tackling poverty and inequality with a one-off injection of funding, and it came back from the housing Minister that supporting them with winter fuel but also with homelessness prevention were their the key areas that they wanted to invest in. So, there is an allocation of funding within the household living grant, which is in my portfolio, but then allocated to the Minister for tackling homelessness.

But also, she is equally interested as I am in terms of fuel poverty, which very much relates to housing and health, doesn't it—the winter fuel payment—but also with the funding for retrofit in terms of the tackling fuel poverty refurbishment programme and the Warm Homes programme. I'm very glad you're going to be doing an inquiry into all of this in the committee, as well. Energy efficiency, we know, is crucial in terms of tackling poverty and fuel poverty, which I'm responsible for as well. So, it's all of the aspects of policy in housing and tackling homelessness—it's all about prevention, it's all generations, it's also about protecting health as well. So, there's very close cross-Government working there, and also for me to back the housing Minister, wherever I can, financially or on a policy level.

14:50

Brilliant, thank you. Just in terms of measuring, then, the spending decisions, I understand it is quite difficult, as you said, because there are lots of decisions on spending that can contribute to health equality, but how can Welsh Government try at least to measure whether this money is actually reducing health inequalities?

This is again very much reflected across all portfolios, but particularly in terms of reducing health inequalities because it's not just about quality housing that we've mentioned, but it's also about the environment, access to employment, and decent, well-paid, fair work employment. So, I think it is quite challenging to look at how we can measure the outcomes of reducing health inequalities, but it's very much a commitment to prevention, and population health is a top priority.

But there are other aspects within it that you can very clearly measure. You can measure through children's health—healthy children's lives. That does a regular—. I can't even remember the full name of what it is, but it does a regular assessment of a child's health. Claire might remember that name. Actually, also, things like the obesity programme, smoking—. You can see some areas where you can measure. I was very interested, for example, when I met with the children's commissioner and Bevan Foundation, in how they said we should be increasing the uptake of Healthy Start vouchers, and that's UK Government-wide, so I met with the Deputy Minister to discuss that.

But I think this will be very helpful for the equality evidence unit that we've set up. The equality evidence unit will then be able to have more of an impact in terms of looking at the impact of our decisions on outcomes of all areas, reducing social, health, environmental and economic inequalities. I think that's going to really bring Government together in a very clear way to monitor impacts. That's where also, just finally, we've got these national indicators. Data is available there. We will be tested on, 'Are we making a change to those milestones? Are you any different where you were from what we've set up now?' So, I think that will all be very helpful as well.

That's brilliant. Thank you so much, Minister. Back to you, Chair. 

Just on the equality and data evidence unit and this £1.7 million allocation in this year's budget, is that mainly for creating new staff, or is it for IT that you need to, obviously, collate a large amount of data?

Do you, Claire or Sian, want to answer that question?

I can answer it, Minister. It's primarily for staff and also starting to think about some of the survey or other kind of data requirements. And then there will be an opportunity to think about further kinds of commissioning. But we're not at present anticipating significant additional IT requirements.

Okay, thank you. We're down to the last five minutes. Is there anybody else who wanted to ask a question, briefly? Please raise your hand if you do. Sarah.

Whilst you're here, I suppose, I might just throw in one about the future generations commissioner, if that's okay, Chair. We did hear evidence from the future generations commissioner. I have to say I learned quite a lot just in terms of the fact that I didn't realise exactly what the different commissioners do. So, for example, the children's commissioner can take on casework, but that is not something the future generations commissioner has the capacity to do at the moment. I think that's something that their office would like to be able to do, but in order to do that they would need additional funding. So, I just wanted to ask, Minister, what discussions you've had with the future generations commissioner's office and what your thoughts are on that. 

14:55

Thank you very much, Sarah. I'm responsible for all of this—oversight of all of the commissioners and their work and budgets. The well-being of future generations commissioner has an impact on every aspect of Welsh Government and Cabinet engagement, as well as with the First Minister, of course, in that key role. We regularly meet and have discussions about the impact of all of the work they're doing, and we've had debates about it recently, haven't we, as a result of audit reports? I'm grateful to this committee, as well, for playing a role in that way.

But I think there are issues in terms of culture change and implementation gaps and how we can address some of the discussion points we've had in the scrutiny, helping to make sure that the Welsh Government is futureproofed in terms of innovation and culture change and continuous improvement. This is also about how you do things as well, not just needing money in terms of budgets. So, we have to find ways, and particularly in a constrained budget, for how we can manage this. 

But I hope that just gives you comfort that we are meeting, we discuss, we hear the priorities, and I'm very pleased that we've actually got some work going, particularly with our funding of Academi Wales, on leadership in public services.

Lastly from me, I just want to ask you about the allocation for Gypsy and Traveller sites, because you've put £3.7 million into this coming budget for the next year, and then a slightly reduced amount for the following. I do recall that, in previous years, you've allocated a budget or the Government's allocated a budget for this, and there's been an underspend. So, I just wondered if you could tell us what the underspend was in the last available year and whether you think that the take-up for this £3.7 million will increase now.

Thank you very much, Chair, and chair of the cross-party group as well on this crucial issue. Can I send it back to you in writing, how much the underspend was for this financial year? This is something—and we discussed it last week, didn't we, in debate?—where we have got to ensure that local authorities across Wales implement the provisions of the Housing Act in terms of permanent and transitory accommodations for Gypsy, Traveller and Roma communities and people in communities in Wales. So, I always regret when there's an underspend, and it goes somewhere else, inevitably, to meet other needs, because the budgets have been made available in terms of capital, but our budget for the revenue support is robust in terms of supporting Travelling Ahead and Tros Gynnal Plant and the important work that they do. There's no change in that, but I will get you the figures for this year, and I think it is now about a new push in terms of the accommodation assessment needs across all local authorities in Wales, knowing that there's some very good practice out there in many of our local authorities. It's those outliers that we've got to now ensure that we target and address. 

Thank you very much, Minister. I'd like to thank you both, and your officials, for coming to this budget scrutiny meeting. I think we've covered a lot of ground and you've given some precise and concise answers to complement your written paper. So, I'd like to thank you all. I remind you that, of course, you'll get a transcript of your evidence, which you obviously will be able to correct if there's anything that's been recorded incorrectly. So, thank you very much indeed for your time, and we'll continue this discussion.

15:00
3. Papurau i'w nodi
3. Papers to note

So, I'd just like to ask Members if you're happy to note the eight papers that are listed on the agenda, and whether there's anything you want to raise in public session before we go into private session. I'll take that as a 'no'.

4. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42(iv) a (ix) i wahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod
4. Motion under Standing Order 17.42(iv) and (ix) to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting

Cynnig:

bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(iv) a (ix).

Motion:

that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(iv) and (ix).

Cynigiwyd y cynnig.

Motion moved.

And I just want to ask if you agree for us to move now into excluding the public and going into private session for the rest of today's meeting. I see no dissent, so I hope the sound recordist can tell us when we're in private session. 

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 15:01.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 15:01.