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The case for universal essential services

January 13th 2021

As attention turns to the Senedd elections later this year, Steffan Evans sets out the case for universal essential services

A photo of a bus stop

Public services in Wales have come under enormous pressure over the last twelve months. From education, to health to transport, nearly all parts of our public services have been tested like never before. Even with hope of a rapid vaccine rollout allowing us to return to some form of normality over the course of 2021, the impact of the last year on our already overstretched public services will continue for some time to come.

The Bevan Foundation believes that now is the time for a significant investment in our public services by developing universal essential services. We believe that doing so could not only improve the services that we all benefit from but could have a significant impact on poverty in Wales, both reducing the number of people trapped in poverty and improving the lives of people in poverty.

What are universal essential services?

Everyone in Wales should be guaranteed access to the basic goods and services we need to enjoy a decent standard of living. These include access to a warm and secure home, sufficient food, decent transport and good quality healthcare and social care to only name a few. Too many people in Wales are currently denied access to such basics. Either as a result of costs or a lack of availability.

The concept of universal essential services would see the Welsh Government guarantee people access to such basics through investing in public services. This could be done through a combination of providing services for every citizen, free at the point of use, for example children’s education and most health care and by ensuring access to a and quality of service, for example by regulating provision or providing help with costs for people who cannot afford them.

How would universal essential services solve poverty?

Developing a universal essential services model would guarantee that people in Wales would not go without the basics in life. Providing such services for free or at a reduced cost would also help put money back into families’ pockets lifting many out of poverty.

People trapped in poverty are often more reliant on our public services. Ensuring that there is affordable and reliable bus provision, for example, would make it far easier for people on low income who don’t have access to a car to travel to work. Greater investment in further education on the other hand, would make it easier for young people who are growing up in poverty to stay in education, increasing their career prospects and reducing their risk of living in poverty into adulthood.

The economic impact of Covid 19 means that the number of families living in poverty is likely to have increased significantly. At the same time, the number of people relying on such services may be increasing in parallel to those services having less capacity to deliver. It has therefore never been more important to develop an approach to investing in our public services that provides for everyone.

The broader benefit to society

A universal essential services model would not only benefit the vast majority of the population who access these services but could also provide broader benefits to Welsh society. Improving and strengthening public services would create job opportunities across Wales, stimulating the economy. Most of these jobs would need to be undertaken locally, strengthening communities across the nation.

A tool to transform Wales

We believe that developing a universal essential services approach to our public services could transform Wales, lifting families out of poverty and improving access to and the quality of services that we all benefit from. Taken alongside other bold action called for by the Bevan Foundation such as establishing a Welsh Benefits System and investing in jobs we believe that Wales could be stronger, more prosperous nation.

Over the next few weeks we will be publishing a series of blogs outlining what some of these ideas may mean in practice. We will outline what public services should be invested in as part of developing a universal essential services model, and what changes should be made to support received by families trapped in poverty to establish a Welsh Benefits System. We want to see all political parties commit to these proposals in their manifestos for the upcoming Senedd elections. The pandemic has highlighted once more how stark inequalities are across communities. 2021 must the year to take action to end this.

Steffan Evans is a Policy and Research Officer at the Bevan Foundation 

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