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Solving Poverty in Wales: Party Candidate Special with Eluned Morgan AM

October 23rd 2018

After a busy summer at the National Assembly with three parties electing new leaders, attention has turned this autumn to the Labour Party. Three candidates are on the ballot to succeed Carwyn Jones AM as leader of the party in Wales. To complete our series of articles by party leader candidates on poverty, this week, we provide an opportunity for these three candidates to set out how they would solve poverty if they were victorious.

First up is Eluned Morgan, Assembly Member for Mid and West Wales

What would you do as a leader to solve poverty in Wales?

My Government would pursue a relentless attack on poverty. I know full well that the people of Wales are as able and as intelligent as any others in the Western world and yet too many people are still disadvantaged by poverty. This is not the fault of the Welsh Government – it is the hangover from the impact of decades of deindustrialisation which has knocked the confidence out so many Welsh people. In Wales we have generation after generation who have been living with poverty and many have come to the conclusion that this is simply the way it will always be. Earlier this year, the Joseph Rowntree foundation published its report on poverty in Wales, finding that almost a quarter of people in Wales still live in poverty. If we think it is tough now, then we have to understand that more Tory austerity, more Tory welfare cuts and a Tory hard Brexit will exacerbate the situation.  It is essential that we have a clear plan on how to address this issue which has plagued Wales for generations.

The first thing I would do as First Minister would be to establish a permanent Poverty and Inequality Commission to help set a long-term direction and suggest practical solutions for tackling poverty in Wales. This would build on the work identified in the Welsh Governments Anti- Poverty Action Plan 2012-16 and revise and revisit its priorities in light of Brexit and welfare reform. It would also build on the work of the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee to promote fair pay and tackle low pay across Wales. This Commission would report within 6 months of me taking up my position.

But there are some obvious areas for us to focus on whilst this commission is undertaking its work. The only real antidote to poverty is the creation and redistribution of wealth. Historically the Labour Party is good at redistribution to the poorest in our society, and we should be proud of our record– but we must focus equally on the creation of wealth – especially in our poorest communities.

As a Socialist I believe that we need to see a radical redistribution of wealth across the UK. But, we need to acknowledge that in Wales, we have relatively few rich people. Only around 5,000 people pay the top rate of tax. Redistributing wealth from poor people to really poor people is simply not sustainable in the long term.

I would therefore focus on growing the Welsh economy as the primary means of tackling poverty. In 2009 I deliberately left politics in order to learn how and why companies invest or don’t invest in Wales. It is this first-hand experience that I will bring to the table which will help drive economic growth in our poorest communities.

My number one priority as First Minister would be to drive a radical new approach to the economy in Wales, to provide not just good quality jobs, but also to ensure the sustainability of our public services. I want us to start seeing the big challenges our communities face – an ageing population, climate change, automation – as opportunities.  We must allow our skilled and experienced older people to help build strong and active communities, and to build a new green economy using the latest technologies. But alongside the recommendations of the Poverty and Inequality Commission there are some fundamentals that we can start with, to launch a more immediate attack on poverty.

Tackling youth poverty

There is a real danger for young people that if they do not get into the habit of working from an early age, they can be stuck in a life of desperation for a very long time. We need to get young people to train in areas where we know there will be a chance of getting a good job in the end and an opportunity to progress in work. We train too many people on courses which may not help them to escape poverty nor offer them a realistic chance of landing a job. We will restrict the number of people able to access courses where there is little hope of a long-term well paid job prospects and encourage them to study courses where we know there are skills gaps and a career path. We will give more support to young people when it comes to careers advice. Young people making the wrong decisions is costly for the Welsh taxpayer and demoralising for the young people.

On top of the initiatives already in place – under 25 year olds who are unemployed will be offered a one off payment of £1,000 subject to an acceptable business plan being introduced to start their own business.

Increasing skills levels

Whilst our unemployment rates in Wales are low, we need to acknowledge that over half of the people who are in receipt of state benefits now are in work. Many have not had a pay rise in ten years. It is acknowledged that one of the key mechanisms to increase pay is through improving skills levels. Our skills levels are lower than those of England, so as a very minimum we need to drive up qualification levels to those of England. To do this we need money.

Wales now has a chance to borrow money. I would push to ensure that we can invest this borrowed money in people as well as in infrastructure projects. But it is important that the Welsh Government doesn’t do this alone, we would need to work with employers and individuals and each will need to contribute. We will pilot Individual Learning Accounts which will support people financially to allow people to train in areas where we know that there are skills shortages. This will become increasingly important as jobs are lost as a result of automation. We will focus this first pilot on people who are most at risk of losing their jobs as a result of digitalisation.

Tackling poverty amongst older people

Living in a cold, damp home has a devastating effect on the health and happiness of our older people. They are having to spend a huge amount of money on heating their homes. One of my proudest political achievements was to ensure that every country in the European Union now in law has to present a strategy to tackle the issue of fuel poverty. We will ensure that measures to insulate homes are rolled out across Wales. We will work with energy companies to identify those who are in most need. We will also do what it takes to ensure older people get the practical help they need to clear their attics to enable insulation to be placed in cold homes through working with local voluntary organisations.

Tackling child poverty

I was proud that previous Labour governments had made a firm commitment to ending child poverty.  Under Labour, child poverty was falling in Wales. But it is now on the rise as a result of Tory austerity measures.  Around 1 in 3 children in Wales live in poverty. My government would use all of its powers to reduce child poverty and also minimise the impacts it has on children and their families. Too many families in Wales face a cost of living crisis and are struggling to make ends meet.  As well as the wider changes to reduce poverty and inequality, I would offer practical help to children and families. For a start, I would do everything in the Welsh Government’s powers to make sure that no child in Wales goes hungry. We’ve already made great strides during school term.  But there are still children going hungry during the school breaks. My government would work with schools, GPs and voluntary organisations to ensure that every child has access to healthy food and a full belly throughout the year.

Debt and Mental Health

Half of people in unintentional debt also suffer from mental health problems, and these people are twice as likely to develop major depression. Currently only 14% of Welsh Health Boards collect data on financial difficulties to shape their local needs assessments. Guidance must be issued for all to do this. Mental health services should routinely screen all service users for financial difficulty, and refer them on to help in both primary and secondary care.

Training must be provided to mental health practitioners to help them understand the link between money and mental health, and how best to support this.

My Government would fund a trial of debt and money advice in mental health settings. This would supply a clinical evidence base to assess the impact on mental health recovery rates.

Furthermore, pressure should be put on the UK Government to investigate further bailiff reform: and the possibility of an independent regulator should be explored, also ways and means of setting up affordable payment schemes to avoid debt spiralling out of control under these circumstances.

Pilot a Universal Basic Income trial

Jobs will become increasingly more precarious as machines, digitalisation and automation will replace jobs which require repetitive action. Young people today will be expected to change jobs at least 14 times in their life time. The introduction of a Universal Basic Income acknowledges that we are all likely to confront the situation of periods without work. Whilst it would be extremely difficult to introduce in Wales without the financial support of the UK Department of Work and Pension, we will work with local representatives to find an appropriate community and ask the Dept of Work and Pensions if they would be interested in using this community as a test bed where this could be trialled.

An ambition to mandate the Living Wage to the public sector in Wales

The Welsh Government should be rightfully proud of the fact that all people working in the NHS are now in receipt of the Living Wage, but we now need to go further and work towards ensuring that all Welsh Public sector employees and contracts funded by the Welsh Government must respect the living wage. This cannot happen overnight, but we must have this as a medium term ambition.

Working with Police Commissioners and the HMRC to priorities enforcing the minimum wage laws

Not one employer by July 2017 in Wales had been prosecuted for non- enforcement of the minimum wage laws, and yet we know it is happening. We will work with the HMRC the Crown Prosecution Service and our Police Commissioners in Wales to increase enforcement and prosecution of minimum wage laws. A failure to enforce the minimum wage leads not just to illegal poverty pay, but also brings a lack of respect for the law more generally.

Tackling poverty amongst disabled people

Whist 76% of people in Wales are in work, this figure drops to 46% amongst disabled people and 7% amongst people with learning difficulties. Many disabled people are highly skilled but are not given the opportunities to work by employers. We will work with the DWP to offer packages of support to employers to take on disabled people. We will write requirements into Welsh Government contracts above a certain threshold that there will be a need to employ disabled people. We will ask Health Boards and Local Government to reserve some positions for people with learning disabilities.

Tackling poverty amongst women and protected groups

On the whole, it is women who bear the majority of caring responsibilities. My government will continue to support childcare in Wales and will look to develop systems to give further relief to those who care for the elderly, disabled and sick.

Period poverty is an issue which needs to be addressed, and whilst the Welsh government has made progress on this issue, allocating £1m to address period poverty in communities and improve facilities in schools, we must do more; women must not suffer as a result of being unable to afford basic sanitary products.

Discrimination can be both a cause and hurdle in alleviating poverty.

We must work to tackle inequality amongst protected groups and work to address the social and economic needs of the most marginalised and discriminated members of society.

Promoting fairness would be at the heart of my Government’s values and policies – I would ensure that this agenda is overseen by a dedicated Equalities Minister.

Homelessness

We will work towards delivering the policy of ending youth homelessness in Wales by 2027. We will ask the End Youth Homelessness Cymru steering group to look at a national abandoned homes plan. We will increase the supply of land available for social landlords through ensuring that social value is recognised by local authorities when estimating the value of the land. We will work with Social Housing Associations to support Welsh SMEs in the housing construction area to break the stranglehold by large housing developers.

Funerals are becoming much more expensive at the same time as support from the government is drying up.

In Wales the average funeral costs £3,461.Costs have risen almost 40% since 2011. This financial burden, which occurs when people are at their most vulnerable, can be devastating to the less well off.

There is a massive disparity in the amounts people are paying. We know that some alternative funerals can be under £1000 – a third of average cost. We want to make sure those are available to all who want them. We will do more to eliminate the stigma of “shopping around” for funerals.

We will establish a ‘Fair Funerals Commission’ that will look at making the cheaper alternatives more available and working with funeral providers to ensure that everyone can have a dignified, fair funeral.

Relieving poverty in Wales will not be achieved overnight. But I believe with energy and drive and working with people in our poorest communities we can deliver huge change and give hope to those who have been living in a deprived situation for too long.  

 

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