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09 May 2014

Life on the breadline for Assembly Member

An AM has pledged to spend a week living off benefits as part of a wider campaign looking at the impact of benefit changes on communities across Wales.

Rebecca Evans AM, Labour Assembly Member for Mid and West Wales, will live off the average job seekers allowance payment of £72.40 to raise awareness of the ongoing cost of living for welfare claimants.

From May 11th, Mrs Evans will pay for priority payments and everyday items such as bills, transport and meals with her allowance. Based on the average weekly spend of somebody living off benefits, she will have under £2 a day to spend on food and essential items.

The exercise forms part of Community Housing Cymru's 'Your Benefits Are Changing (YBAC)’ campaign, set up to communicate the raft of changes to the welfare system as Wales moves towards the eventual introduction of Universal Credit.

Universal Credit, which has already been introduced in Shotton, Flintshire, will replace six existing benefits with a single monthly payment that claimants will financially manage themselves.

With plans set to be in place by 2016, there is a concern among housing associations that tenants may not be equipped to deal with the impact of Universal Credit and that this may intensify existing issues caused by policies such as the ‘Bedroom Tax’.

Mrs Evans’ exercise coincides with the one-year anniversary of the introduction of the ‘Bedroom Tax’, which has affected over 40,000 tenants in Wales, leading to an average £13 weekly loss in housing benefit.

During the week, Mrs Evans will record a series of video diaries that will be posted on her own social media accounts and website.

The videos will provide a daily summary of her experience, including footage from a visit to a food bank, a meeting with a tenant affected by the ‘Bedroom Tax’ and cooking a budget meal.

She will also visit the home of a job seeker and meet with a Your Benefits Are Changing money advisor to discuss the impact changes to the welfare system have had on Welsh communities.

Mrs Evans said:

“The stringent welfare cuts have significantly impacted communities across Wales, leading to an increase in rent arrears, empty houses and homelessness.

“Now, after priority payments and essential items, most job seekers have less than £14 a week to live off. This, combined with the rising cost of living, means thousands of people are living in poverty.

“Spending seven days living on the poverty line will enable me to support Community Housing Cymru in communicating the impact of welfare reform. It will give me the opportunity to meet with people who have to deal with these issues daily, from a food bank manager to a tenant facing homelessness as a result of the ‘Bedroom Tax’.

“Your Benefits Are Changing is playing a crucial role in helping tenants prepare for changes, including helping to reduce water billing by £50,000 and managing over £1.2 million of non-priority debt. Campaigns like this are essential, and I will continue to support it once my exercise is over.

Edwina O’Hart, Head of Communications at Community Housing Cymru said:

“We are delighted Rebecca Evans AM has agreed to live off the average job seekers allowance payment in support of the Your Benefits Are Changing campaign.

“The YBAC advice team has given advice to over 4,000 people as a result of the campaign; however, communicating the changes to welfare reform continues to be a challenge, particularly when job seekers are already feeling dejected.

“People have had their lives turned upside down by welfare reform. Only 3% of people affected by the ‘Bedroom Tax’ have successfully downsized to a smaller property, and there is a serious shortage of suitable housing for those hardest hit by this tax.

“By taking part in this exercise, Ms Evans will highlight the daily difficulties faced by job seekers and other people dependent on the welfare state to survive.”