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Politics

Bill to curb premium phone rates backed

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‘No reasonable argument’ for premium charges: Jonathan Edwards

PLAID CYMRU MP Jonathan Edwards is backing a parliamentary Bill aimed at curbing the premium rate costs of phone calls to government agencies such as the Department for Work and Pensions.

The Government Services (Telecommunication Charges) Bill will be presented to parliament on Tuesday, February 21.

The scope of the Bill, which started out with a purpose to reduce costs for phoning the DWP has since been expanded to cover all UK Government Departments and agencies after it was revealed the Home Office Spousal Visa helpline charges callers £1.37 a minute over and above network rates.

Carmarthenshire’s Jonathan Edwards MP, who is co-sponsoring the Bill, said the high costs of calls impacts primarily those most vulnerable in society who are seeking assistance from the state.

Commenting ahead of the Bill being presented to Parliament, Jonathan Edwards said: “It doesn’t sit right with me that those who need to seek assistance from the state are the ones primarily affected premium rate phone call charges.

“In many instances a person is contacting a government agency because their circumstances have changed or they are in need of support. Premium rate phone numbers can act as a barrier to people accessing assistance.

“The Universal Credit helpline, for example, can cost up to 50pence per minute from mobile phones. A long wait on hold, being passed from assistant to assistant or, as many have experienced, having to call back several times to get things sorted can cost people a small fortune that they simply don’t have.

“I see no reasonable argument for premium rate charges. I’m sponsoring this Bill so that calls for help from the most vulnerable in our society do not cost the earth.”

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Local coronavirus restrictions imposed to control outbreaks in South Wales

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Coronavirus laws are being tightened in four more Welsh authorities – Blaenau Gwent, Bridgend, Merthyr Tydfil and Newport – following a sharp rise in cases, Health Minister Vaughan Gething today announced.

The new measures will come into force at 6pm on Tuesday 22 September 2020, to protect people’s health and control the spread of the virus in the four local authority areas.

The new restrictions will apply to everyone living in Blaenau Gwent, Bridgend, Merthyr Tydfil and Newport:

People will not be allowed to enter or leave these areas without a reasonable excuse, such as travel for work or education;
People will only be able to meet people they don’t live with outdoors for the time being. They will not be able to form, or be in, extended households;
All licensed premises will have to close at 11pm;
Everyone over 11 will be required to wear face coverings in indoor public areas – as is the case across Wales.
From 6pm on Tuesday 22 September, the requirement for all licensed premises to close at 11pm will also be extended to Caerphilly borough.

Health Minister, Vaughan Gething, said:

“Following the decision to place additional coronavirus restrictions in place in Caerphilly and Rhondda Cynon Taf, we have seen a worrying and rapid rise in cases in four other south Wales council areas – Blaenau Gwent, Bridgend, Merthyr Tydfil and Newport.

“In many cases, this is linked to people socialising indoors without social distancing. We are seeing evidence of coronavirus spreading. We need to take action to control and, ultimately, reduce its spread and protect people’s health.

“It’s always a difficult decision to introduce restrictions but coronavirus has not gone away – it is still circulating in communities across Wales and, as we are seeing in parts of South Wales, small clusters can quickly cause real issues in local communities.

“We need everyone’s help to bring coronavirus under control. We need everyone to pull together and to follow the measures which are there to protect you and your loved ones.”

The restrictions are being introduced following a rapid increase in the number of confirmed cases in coronavirus, which have been linked to people meeting indoors, not following social distancing guidelines and returning from summer holidays overseas.

The Welsh Government will call an urgent meeting of all local authority, health board and police forces from Bridgend to the English border tomorrow to discuss the wider situation in South Wales and whether further measures are needed across the region to protect people’s health.

The new local restrictions measures will be kept under regular review. They will be enforced by local authorities and by the police.

Keep Wales safe by:

Always keeping your distance
Washing your hands regularly
Working from home wherever you can
Following any local restrictions
Following the rules about meeting people
Staying at home if you or anyone in your extended household has symptoms.

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Politics

Julie James AM attends the launch in Swansea of new research on benefits of Community Led Housing

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JULIE JAMES AM, Minister for Housing and Local Government, attended the launch at Down to Earth in Swansea of new research from the Wales Co-operative Centre, with support from the Nationwide Foundation, which found that residents who live in community led housing (CCLH) experience improved mental wellbeing and happiness, as well as improved skills development.

Over 50 residents from 22 community led housing schemes across Wales and England were interviewed. The top benefits that residents highlighted were:

Residents felt less isolated, being surrounded by a supportive network
• Improved mental wellbeing and happiness
• A better quality of life with the potential for skills development and increased levels of confidence, as well as a better financial situation
• Wider benefits to the community including a reduction in antisocial behaviour and greater community collaboration
• Derek Walker, Chief Executive of the Wales Co-operative Centre, said of the research: “We were really pleased with the research findings and the range of softer benefits that residents have seen. As well as the expected financial benefits, there is a much wider impact on mental wellbeing and skills development which is great to see.”

Minister for Housing and Local Government, Julie James AM, said: “I have been overwhelmed in hearing the benefits residents gain from living in community-led housing. The difference tenants feel in terms of improved skills, increased confidence and improved mental wellbeing to name but a few – demonstrates why community-led housing can, and should be part of the solution to the housing crisis we face here in Wales. Building more affordable housing and providing people with safe, warm and secure homes is a key priority for this Welsh Government. I’m looking forward to watching community-led housing grow and flourish – and contribute towards our commitment to building 20,000 affordable homes during this Assembly term.”

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Politics

Lib Dems slam ‘botched’ scheme

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THE WELSH Liberal Democrats have slammed the Conservative Government for their “hapless treatment” of EU citizens after the Home Office released guidance on the new EU Settlement Scheme.

The Home Office has confirmed that for the duration of the trial period, until 30 March, EU citizens applying to stay in the UK must either use an Android phone or travel to one of 13 ‘document scanning’ centres instead.

For Holyhead, the closest ‘document scanning’ centre is Trafford.

According to an analysis by the Welsh Liberal Democrats, EU citizens travelling from Holyhead would face costs of £55 on the train for at least a six and a half hour round trip. The drive would be a 224-mile round trip costing around £56 in fuel.

The only document scanning centre in Wales is in Caerphilly. Travelling from Pembroke to Caerphilly and returning the same day by rail would cost £32.10 (the cheapest available fare at the time of enquiry), the cheapest off-peak fare from Aberystwyth would be £77.10 return. By car at an average of 40mpg, the cost of travel would be at least £27 to and from Pembroke, while from Aberystwyth the cost would be at least £25. Both car journeys represent round trips of over 180 miles.

Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader Jane Dodds said: “Too many people in Wales are deeply anxious about their right to stay. Many of them fill vital roles in the health service, our schools and the tourism sector. They want to register as soon as possible, but Theresa May’s hapless treatment of EU citizens could result in a new Windrush scandal.

“For anyone who doesn’t have an android phone, this botched scheme means they will have to travel. For people in Holyhead, that means facing a 224-mile round trip and paying over £50 for the privilege. This postcode lottery is simply unacceptable.”

Liberal Democrat Home Affairs Spokesperson Ed Davey MP said: “Following significant pressure, the Prime Minister said there will be no financial barrier for any EU nationals who wish to stay. How long did that commitment last?

“It is Conservative Ministers who have made a mess of Brexit. They should either pay the cost for EU citizens or change the application system and ensure EU citizens are made to feel welcome in the UK.

“Ultimately, the best way to avoid all of this mess is by giving the people the option to remain in the EU with a final say on Brexit.”

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