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09 July 2014

Budget Bus tour to take to Welsh roads

A bus tour to prepare Welsh communities for the wide-ranging impact of welfare reform will be launched this week.

It forms part of the ‘Your Benefits Are Changing’ campaign, set up by Community Housing Cymru to communicate the raft of changes to the welfare system as Wales moves towards the introduction of Universal Credit. The policy, due to be implemented across Wales by 2016, will replace six existing benefits with a single monthly payment.

The tour will launch on The Hayes located in central Cardiff on 11th July, before visiting towns across Wales, including Pontypool, Barry and Newcastle Emlyn.

At the launch, cookery heroine Boudicca Stretton-Brown – who offers free meals every Monday to families living on benefits – will provide an hour-long cookery demonstration. The dishes, ranging from tuna fishcakes to fried pork belly with tortilla wraps, each cost up to £1.20 per head to make, which is the average amount of money a person living off job seekers’ allowance has for a meal. Recipe cards will be given out, in order to help people cook healthy meals on a limited budget. Homelessness charity, Llamau, which provides support to young people and women, will entertain with songs from its choir, The Big Sing.

Throughout the tour, ‘Your Benefits Are Changing’ money advisors will offer budgeting workshops to people affected by welfare changes and hold one-to-one advice sessions teaching people how to budget.

As Universal Credit applications will be made online, the workshops will also help those who may find the application process difficult. An Office for National Statistics report shows 7.6 million people do not know how to use the internet, and so the workshops will show them how to correctly apply for benefits.

The tour has been launched in response to concerns among housing associations that communities in Wales are not prepared for the changes to welfare. Community Housing Cymru has found welfare reforms have already had a significant impact. It estimates the ‘Bedroom Tax’ has affected 40,000 tenants in the social housing sector including 3,500 disabled households, leading to £2.5 million worth of arrears.

Paul Langley, Senior Money Advisor at Community Housing Cymru said:

“The move to monthly payments is going to be incredibly challenging for people already struggling to make ends meet. The budget planning workshops will play a crucial role in helping welfare claimants learn how to budget their sole payments, and ensure money can stretch further.

“With the average Welsh household expecting to lose 4.1 per cent of their income due to welfare reform, support is fundamental – particularly for those affected by the ‘Bedroom Tax’, which has already made a significant impact on tight budgets.

“Receiving sole payments will be new to welfare claimants and we need to ensure they know how to budget successfully. We will provide budget planners to people throughout the tour, as without this support, there is a risk they may feel tempted to apply to payday lenders if funds are low.

“This tour will help us reach more people across Wales and teach them how to budget in order to adjust to the imminent changes.”