Minister ‘still commited to 1m Welsh speakers’ after second census in a row shows a fall in numbers
The Minister for the Welsh language has said that he remains “committed” to the Welsh Government’s target of 1m Welsh speakers after a second census in a row showed a fall in numbers.
The number of Welsh speakers had risen in the 20 years before devolution but has now declined in the two decades since, census figures published by the ONS showed today.
There are 24,000 fewer Welsh speakers in Wales than there were at the dawn of devolution in 2021, a fall from 582,000 (20.8%) to 538,000 (17.8%) today.
Education minister Jeremy Miles however said that there were “good reasons to be optimistic about the next decade”.
“Today’s census figures are of course disappointing and not what we wanted to see,” he said.
“Census 2021 shows us one snapshot of what’s happened over the last ten years. We’ll look at those results in detail alongside all the other statistics and research that’s available to us.
“I’ve often said that Welsh isn’t just something I speak, it’s something I feel, and I feel more and more people feel that the language belongs to them. The key is changing those feelings into language use.
“We’ll take time to examine the data carefully, in particular the figures relating to 3-15-year-olds. COVID-19 meant that 2021 was an extremely uncertain time, with many people concerned about their children’s Welsh language abilities, children were out of school, and it may be that we are seeing this concern reflected in the way they reported their children’s use of Welsh.
“The National Survey for Wales shows an increase in people saying they speak some Welsh. This contrasts with the census figures released today. This is also something we will look at carefully.
“I’ve previously said that I’ll review our statistical trajectory in light of the census data to look at what more we can do to support people to speak more Welsh in their daily lives. As part of this, I’ll want to talk with people all over Wales in the New Year. But we remain absolutely committed to our aim of a million Welsh speakers and doubling the number of us who use Welsh every day by 2050.
“The census shows us what has happened over the last ten years up to 2021. Cymraeg 2050 has been in place for less than four years of that period, and much of that time was affected by COVID-19. We’ve got good reasons to be optimistic about the next decade. Cymraeg belongs to us all in Wales.
“Today, we see more children in Welsh-medium education, more opportunities to learn Welsh, and greater pride in our language and our identity than ever before.”
Plaid Cymru however said that the Welsh language was dying on Labour’s watch.
Responding to the latest Census data on Welsh language skills, Heledd Fychan MS, Plaid Cymru’s spokesperson for children, young people and the Welsh Language, said that the target needed “to be backed up by action”.
“The reality is we’re now further away from Labour’s goal of one million speakers by 2050 than we were ten years ago,” she said.
“While it’s encouraging to see an increase in the number of young adults reporting being able to speak Welsh, it’s extremely concerning to see such a fall in the number of children. This shows how critical the role of teachers with Welsh language abilities is, as well as investment in Welsh medium schools – we don’t have enough of either, so if Welsh Government are serious about reaching their target, they must ensure further investment in these areas.
“The decrease in adults being able to speak Welsh in those areas of Wales which have also seen a large rise in second homes shows the impact on the language when communities are torn apart in this way.
“Plaid Cymru has long campaigned to ensure that access to learning and using Welsh is available to everyone in Wales and it is seriously concerning to see this demise in Welsh speakers under Labour’s watch. Cymraeg belongs to everyone in Wales, but we need more than warm words to ensure our language survives – we need radical action.”
Shadow Welsh Language Minister Samuel Kurtz said the published census figures showed that the Welsh Government was out of ideas when it came to supporting the Welsh language.
“This is a deeply disappointing statistic that shows the Labour Government is further off meeting its Cymraeg 2050 ambition than it was when it set the target of reaching a million speakers in 30 years’ time,” he said.
“What lies behind this? Self-reporting is a flawed model of measurement, and with such a long-term strategy, with responsibility being handed from Minister to Minister as we approach 2050, there is little accountability around decisions impacting the language.
“While we fully support the ambitions of the Cymraeg 2050 target, the Census’ data shows the stark reality of a tired Government, in power for too long and out of ideas.
“Positivity around the language, showing that it is cool, modern and useable in day-to-day life is that way we can ensure the most beautiful language on Earth can flourish in its homeland.”
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