What does the Co-operation Agreement mean for poverty?

Poverty Outside of Senedd
Photo by Jonny Gios on Unsplash
ViewsNovember 22nd, 2021

The Bevan Foundation’s Head of Policy, Steffan Evans, takes a detailed look at the Labour/ Plaid Cymru Co-operation Agreement

After a weekend of speculation, the full details behind the Labour Party’s deal with Plaid Cymru have finally been published. The Co-operation Agreement will shape the Welsh political landscape for at least the next three years, so what impact could the policies set out in the agreement have on poverty and what more could be done?

Welcome commitments  

There is no doubt that the Co-Operation Agreement includes commitments that will improve the lives of thousands of people across Wales who are trapped in poverty.

Perhaps the most eye-catching commitment in the Agreement is the pledge to roll out free school meals to all primary school pupils over the next three years. The Bevan Foundation, alongside partner organisations, has long campaigned for the present free school meals system to be reformed. Today’s announcement could see nearly 200,000 more children benefitting from free school meals within the next three years.

It’s not just with regards to free school meals where there are signs of positive action. The Welsh Government’s proposals to expand its childcare offer to two year olds is welcome too, whilst the Bevan Foundation called on all parties to commit to reforming Council Tax in the run up to this year’s Senedd election.

The commitments made in the document on housing are also positive. The proposals to tighten regulation on second homes and to explore the possibility of introducing rent controls suggest that housing affordability is an issue that will be central to the political agenda over the coming Senedd term. This may present new opportunities to reshape the housing market in Wales to ensure it meets the needs of everyone.

The devil will be in the detail

Despite the positive commitments made in the Co-operation Agreement, it is a document that is light on detail. How will the childcare offer be expanded to two-year-olds for example? Will it be a simple case of extending the current offer to cover two-year-olds, or are there proposals to review its eligibility criteria to ensure that children from low income families who are currently locked out also benefit? We look forward to hearing more on this commitment and others over the next few weeks and months.

The forgotten areas

Whilst the document may be light in detail in some areas, there are others which seem to have been overlooked in their entirety.

The Co-operation Agreement has little to offer older children and young people. The Welsh Government’s decision to expand free school meals to all primary school children offers little comfort to the families of the nearly 10,000 children who are denied free school meals in secondary school despite living in poverty. The Education Maintenance Allowance is also conspicuous by its absence, suggesting that the support available to young adults from low-income households who want to continue in education and training will be frozen for a further three years. By the time that the Co-Operation Agreement comes to an end, EMA will have been frozen in real terms for 20 years.

Perhaps the biggest gap in the Co-operation Agreement however, is the lack of proposals on the economy and fair work. The word ‘economy’ only appears in the document twice, once in relation to the Agreement’s ambitions on net zero and once in the context of educational qualifications. Ideas surrounding fair work also only appear in the document twice, once in relation to care workers and once in relation to supply teachers.

There are pledges in the Welsh Government’s Programme for Government on fair work. Indeed the Programme for Government specifically states that the Welsh Government will take forward the Fair Work Commission’s proposals. The absence of any such focus from the Co-operation Agreement therefore seems a little surprising.

Time for action

Despite some reservations, there is plenty to welcome in the Co-operation Agreement reached between Labour and Plaid Cymru. We look forward to monitoring progress over the next three years, holding both parties to account and to continue making the case for action to solve poverty.

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