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Solving Poverty in Wales: party leadership candidates special with Suzy Davies AM

September 1st 2018

In the second in our series of articles by party leader candidates on poverty, Suzy Davies AM, contender for the Welsh Conservative leadership, outlines her views.


It’s been many years now since Iain Duncan Smith made his visit to Easterhouse and saw what devastating intergenerational poverty can look like.  The gap between his response to that visit – a deep desire to change what he saw – and the banal limitations of government have been under the most severe of spotlights ever since.  Cross-party support for Universal Credit has been undermined by scrappy delivery.  The inflexible target-driven undertones of benefit sanctions have diluted, polluted even, the narrative of fair work, fair play which chimed with all the nations of Britain in 2010.  A policy which was more about cultural change than budget cuts became another casualty of the crash.

Every splutter of outrage the letters IDS provoke will be matched by a similar response to Welsh Labour’s thin and predictable response to the same problem.  There is still bafflement as to why we still score pretty badly on most of the poverty indicators in the UK despite receiving, by far, the greatest amount of Eurocash intended to support resilient, prosperous communities.  The default chant of “austerity” doesn’t answer the question either as other post-industrial parts of the UK, with the same essential challenges, have responded differently.

The City Deal or City Region Deal – growth deal models of economic regeneration – have much to commend them.  It’s about time that our centres of innovation worked harder at becoming centres of wealth generation.  The exclusion of our small and medium enterprises from any meaningful strategic development over the last two decades has left them disconnected not just from influence but meaningful relationships with the communities in which they are situated. It’s a mistake which seems to be filtering through to the Deals; these have to be about more than councils and universities.

If they meet all their objectives, these models will drive economic growth but they will still leave some of the historical and geographical coldspots we already recognise.  Higher productivity doesn’t necessarily resolve the social breakdown which underpins resistant poverty; wealth and poverty remain neighbours.  However, the number of people involved in increasing productivity does matter, whether it’s an employer, an employee or someone who enables others to play a part.

Being part of an improving picture, where your contribution is recognised – being valued – is such an important part of national wellbeing, and national wellbeing is a necessary precursor to national confidence. While not everyone can participate to the same extent, building a society where more and more of us feel that responsibility to contribute to our communities is at the heart of Wales’s potential to tackle poverty.

Personal responsibility is a keystone of Conservative thinking.  Unfairly considered a synonym for selfishness, it’s far from it: the word is “responsibility”, for ourselves and for those around us, our communities.

The growth in poor mental health, educationally ill-equipped young people and pockets of long-term unemployment are symptoms not just of lack of money but disconnection with the sense of control over our individual and collective lives.  In a time when we are finally talking about co-production (pretty much Big Society) as the most effective way of making decisions, we need to be sure all parties are informed and confident enough to be party to those decisions.

And yes, that begins with education.  The determination to send everyone to university regardless of aptitude (I absolutely don’t mean background) has diverted attention from other skills we need: more creative ways of thinking; the ability to apply ideas to solve problems; the relevance of face to face communication in building relationships, personal and business; how to find out what we’re good at; how to accept responsibility; how to build resilience, to take risks, to fight back, to fail and rise again.  Just a couple of simple example – basic financial skills mainstreamed in primary school and basic business skills as part of every vocational course.

It means an end to the demonisation of the private sector, replaced with an expectation that they contribute to raising their next generation of workers – not just at a local strategic level working with their local authorities, but directly with schools and colleges. Incentivise business to make this part of what they are responsible for leading, rather than land it on the schools and colleges to sort.  By the way, let’s not forget that our SMES include mutuals, co-ops and third sector businesses – but your small family business is just as much a part of the community as these are.

These two steps won’t “solve” poverty, it won’t fix Easterhouse.  But it is not the sole responsibility of government which will always be limited by a thousand competing demands. The great underused capital lies in society, in all members of our communities.  Let’s raise our children to be ready to take control and take responsibility, a nation of participants.

Suzy Davies is Assembly Member for South Wales West and Spokesperson for Social Services, Broadcasting and Welsh Language




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