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Women on Wales frontline feeling pressures at work and home during pandemic, says UNISON

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WOMEN in key worker positions across Wales are losing sleep, spending more on household bills, and worrying about the pandemic’s impact on their children’s education and mental health, according to a survey published today (Wednesday) by UNISON.  

The findings are based on responses from over 2,700 women including teaching assistants, nurses, council workers and police staff. They provide a comprehensive insight into the emotional, physical and financial impact of Covid on critical public services staff who are keeping Wales running.   

The report Women Working Through the Pandemic includes the experiences of those providing a wide range of essential services in Wales including education, health, social care and policing, either in their usual workplace (51%) or from home (36%).   

It shows the desperate situations key workers are facing and why they need proper time off and a pay rise, says UNISON.  The findings are released ahead of UNISON’s Empowering Women virtual conference, which opens later today with a keynote address from new general secretary Christina McAnea.

Some have described being left to pay all the bills after the death of their partner from Covid or resorting to wrapping themselves in blankets to save on electricity bills.

The results show the huge strain of working during the Covid crisis with nearly two thirds (67%) not sleeping well, more than half (51%) not taking regular breaks and a significant number (58%) feeling stressed most of the time.   

The impact of the pandemic on children is also a source of anxiety for many. Of the women who are parents, three in five (62%) are worried about the mental health of their children and more than two fifths (48%) are concerned about how their education is being affected. 

The emotional impact of not being able to see friends or colleagues face to face – or look after themselves properly – is a major issue. The vast majority (92%) miss catching up with close friends in person, and many (50%) do not have time to reflect and destress. More than a third (37%) say they are experiencing loneliness.

Women who can least afford it are paying the biggest price, according to UNISON. Of the 2,700 who took part in the survey – half (53%) – earn £18,000 a year or less, and a more than a third (38%) have an annual salary of £15,000 or less.   

More than two fifths (44%) have seen their spending increase – especially on energy, food, technology, transport and housing. Reasons include having children off school all the time, a partner working from home or being furloughed.   

Three in ten (30%) say they had to dip into savings to cope with financial difficulties. One even revealed they had bought a caravan to live in to protect their vulnerable family members from catching Covid.      

More than half (53%) said being unable to get a regular hair cut or colour is affecting how they feel about themselves. Almost half (44%) are not exercising regularly.     

UNISON is calling on the government to ensure employers offer staff more flexibility over when they work and not to take long hours for granted, fund childcare properly so it’s affordable and accessible for key workers and maintain the £20 increase to the universal credit allowance.       

UNISON Cymru Wales regional secretary Karen Loughlin said: “Public services would have come to a standstill without the vital jobs done by women in our schools, hospitals, police forces and local councils.  

“But employees are exhausted. They’re worn out from meeting work demands during Covid while caring for relatives, looking after children and dealing with debt. Those on low wages are the ones shouldering these burdens most of all.  

“All women deserve better and this country’s economic recovery depends on them. But their mental and physical health is at stake.   

“The government needs to step up by providing the funding and support to make their working lives easier.”   

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Ceredigion public transport services arrangements challenging

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WORK is ongoing to provide sustainable and affordable travel opportunities by bus.

A procurement process is currently underway to secure statutory learner transport requirements as well as opportunities for the general public to travel by bus on a number of routes in Ceredigion.

With the current arrangements coming to an end on 31 December 2022, tenders received for local bus routes are being evaluated. There is particular focus on their affordability taking into account the significant increases in tendered prices.

Unfortunately, no tender has been received for operating the 585 service, Aberystwyth-Tregaron-Lampeter. Unless a last minute contract can be negotiated, the non-school journeys on this route will not operate as of January 2023.

Opportunities for the general public to travel on some learner travel services will continue from January 2023 onwards. This is due to the integrated nature of the bus network in Ceredigion.

Councillor Keith Henson, Ceredigion County Council Cabinet Member with responsibility for Transport Services said, “It is a very difficult time for the bus industry with spiralling costs, a lack of qualified Public Service Vehicle (PSV) drivers, uncertainty around future funding arrangements and low passenger numbers. The number of people using buses in Wales has been in decline for a number of years. This has been made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic which has led to the amount of public funding required to subsidise local bus services rising dramatically on already stretched public finance budgets.

The Council will continue in its efforts to work with key stakeholders including local bus operators, Welsh Government and Transport for Wales to provide sustainable and affordable travel opportunities by bus. However, in the short term at least, it has to be recognised that the outlook is very challenging.”

Further updates will be provided in due course while officers focus their attention on providing the best level of travel opportunities possible.

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Flood warnings issued in parts of Ceredigion

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FLOOD warnings have been issued in Borth, Borth River Leri and the tidal area at Aberystwyth seafront.

The high tide is expected at 8:15pm on Thursday 24 November 2022 at Borth. Wave overtopping at the seafront is expected to occur between 7:15pm and 9:45pm. The properties closest to the sea front are most at risk.

If you are worried or experiencing flooding, call Floodline on 0345 988 1188.

You can visit Natural Resources Wales website to see the current flood warnings in force, check the river and sea levels or keep an eye on the 5-day flood risk forecast: https://naturalresources.wales/?lang=en

You can also follow Ceredigion County Council, Natural Resources Wales and the Met Office on social media for updates on the weather situation.

Any further details will be updated on this page: www.ceredigion.gov.uk/novemberfloodwarnings

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Winter Fuel Support Scheme open for applications

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ELIGIBLE households are reminded to apply to the Winter Fuel Support Scheme for support towards paying winter fuel bills.

Welsh Government has re-launched the Winter Fuel Support Scheme for 2022 – 2023 as part of a £90m support package to address immediate pressures on living costs.

To date, Ceredigion County Council has assisted over 5,000 households with these payments, and paid out in excess of £1million. So, if you are facing increased fuel bills and think that you may qualify, please submit your application as soon as possible. Eligible households can claim a one-off £200 payment to provide support towards paying their energy bills for their primary residence in Wales.

The scheme is open to households where the applicant or their partner is responsible for paying the energy bills and is in receipt of one of the following benefits (at any time between 1 September 2022 and 31 January 2023):

Income Support
Income Based Job Seekers Allowance
Income Related Employment & Support Allowance
Universal Credit
Working Tax Credits
Child Tax Credits
Pension Credit
Personal Independence Payment (PIP)
Disability Living Allowance (DLA)
Carers Allowance
Contributory Based/New Style Job Seekers Allowance
Contributory Based/New Style Employment & Support Allowance
Armed Forces Independence Payment
Constant Attendance Allowance
War Pension Mobility Supplement

If the applicant or their partner who is liable for the fuel costs does not receive any of the above qualifying benefits then they may still be eligible for a payment if a qualifying person lives with them. A qualifying person must meet all the following:

occupy the applicant’s or partner’s home as their primary residence, and
is a dependent child or an adult living with the applicant or their partner, and
is in receipt of one of the following benefits (at any time between 1 September 2022 and 31 January 2023):
Personal Independence Payment (PIP)
Disability Living Allowance (DLA)
Attendance Allowance
Armed Forces Independence Payment
Constant Attendance Allowance
War Pension Mobility Supplement

The payment will be available to all eligible households regardless of whether they pay for their energy on a pre-payment meter, by direct debit or by paying a bill quarterly. The fuel received can be on or off grid.

Councillor Gareth Davies, Cabinet Member with responsibility for Finance and Procurement Services, said: “I would encourage people facing higher fuel bills to check if they are eligible for the Winter Fuel Assistance Scheme to get invaluable help with fuel bills when it is most needed.”

Applications can be made up until 5pm on 28 February 2023 on the Council website: https://www.ceredigion.gov.uk/resident/benefits/winter-fuel-support-scheme/

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