Solving Poverty in Wales: Party Leadership Candidates Special with Leanne Wood AM

ViewsSeptember 10th, 2018

Today it is the turn of those standing to be leader of Plaid Cymru to share their views on poverty in Wales. The third candidate is Leanne Wood AM. Here is her vision on solving poverty in Wales.

Poverty is not inevitable. It is the consequence of political decisions. Political decisions which have perpetuated an economic system that benefits some at the expense of others. In Wales, our poverty as a nation has been the result of hundreds of years of exploitation and neglect by Westminster, and in recent decades, neoliberal policies which have impoverished our communities, weakened workers’ rights and exacerbated climate change. If we want to solve poverty, we can, but we need to rethink how we structure our economy and society. In my pamphlet The Change we Need, published earlier this year, I outlined an approach to transform our economy from the ground up, reframing it to focus on how it benefits communities, rather than chasing unsustainable, outdated measures of growth at all costs. Rather than paying Welsh Government grants to multinational companies to come to Wales to create insecure jobs, before leaving a few years later, we should focus on creating wealth within our communities. This should involve support for community ownership of natural resources, co-operatives and local enterprises. Not for profit ownership of our infrastructure and transport system could enable investment to spread wealth to all parts of the country, rather than focusing on corporate investment in one part alone. We also need to be realistic about the changing nature of work and adapt to it, quickly. Creating retraining programmes for workers whose jobs are at risk of automation, strengthening support for the self-employed and tackling insecure employment practices are all crucial.

Our housing system also needs a radical overhaul if we want to tackle poverty. Wales has thousands of empty houses which could be taken into public or co-operative ownership and turned into high quality homes. We should strengthen regulation of the private rented sector to end rip-off rents and strengthen tenants’ rights. And we could end homelessness tomorrow through introducing a housing first policy – a guarantee of housing to anyone who becomes homeless. The evidence shows that providing a home to rough sleepers not only solves the immediate crisis and enables them to more effectively access support for their other needs, but it also makes financial sense. It costs less to house people than it does to deal with the complex long-term health and social problems caused by homelessness – so why wouldn’t we do it?

As First Minister, I would introduce a package of urgent measures to tackle child poverty specifically. This would include universal free childcare; a ‘baby box’ given to every child born in Wales containing the essentials for a healthy start to life; greater investment in our education system and extending the provision of free school meals. As an immediate measure, we should seek the devolution of the administration of welfare. The Tories’ Universal Credit is going to be disastrous for the many families and individuals who depend on it. With devolution, we could create a much fairer system of payments. We should also put in place measures to mitigate some of the effects of Tory welfare reforms, such as countering the bedroom tax, as the SNP have done in Scotland. Labour in Wales have so far refused to do any of this.

If we keep doing the same things we will keep getting the same results. Poverty in Wales – or anywhere, for that matter – will not be eliminated through tinkering around the edges of an economic system that has proven it does not work in the best interests of people. In government, Plaid Cymru could make Wales an example to the world of another way of doing things. Poverty isn’t inevitable – nothing about our current situation is. We can, and I believe we will, build a society based on economic justice and fairness for all.

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