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Minister ‘still commited to 1m Welsh speakers’ after second census in a row shows a fall in numbers

06 Dec 2022 5 minute read
Education Minister Jeremy Miles speaking in the Senedd

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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1 year ago

Its a Losing battle because they aren’t going 100%. You can’t teach your population the native language and expect it to be used if all the Media they consume comes from a nation who doesn’t speak your language. They need to address that! Which is the real Problem.

Mike Flynn
Mike Flynn
1 year ago
Reply to  Riki

How do you propose to force non English media on the population Rikki? Radio Wales is an English BBC service but 95% of the country don’t listen to it.

Dai Rob
Dai Rob
1 year ago

Without Devolution, todays numbers would be a far sight worse! 🙁

Radian Price
1 year ago
Reply to  Dai Rob

I was forced to leave Wales as my Welsh partner did not speak Welsh. We were both teachers trained in a Welsh teacher training college. Hated having to move to England but had no choice.

1 year ago

Much of the fault lies at the feet 👣 of certain mostly Labour and some mixed authorities who see bilingual education in a political way. As Eduction lead JM needs to call in the likes of Swansea, Wrexham, Flintshire, Monmouthshire, Bridgend and Newport etc for a serious chat. In my days on the WJEC it was easy to spot the anti Welsh elected members who were open in their hostility but today they play a more furtive game hiding behind planning, threats to non bilingual schools and blaming the Welsh Gvt in private

Last edited 1 year ago by Richard
Mike Flynn
Mike Flynn
1 year ago
Reply to  Richard

You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink. Coming from Wrexham I can tell you few in the town use Welsh apart from those who frequent the old Seven Stars pub in Chester Street. Nothing will stop the movement of people across the UK and make them speak Welsh.

1 year ago
Reply to  Mike Flynn

As one who worked in Wrexham for over 15 years I must say I rejoiced at the increasingly pro language view of many of the locals whether via the growth of the few bilingual schools, the welcome for the national Eisteddfod or the then Marcher Sounds input plus MYF the play groups growth. My disappointment was always the quiet hostility to Cardiff by some of the leading elected members who equated devolution and Welsh as not being positive for their power base. The loss of Welsh in the old mining areas around Wrexham can be balanced however with the warm… Read more »

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
1 year ago

With Scarlet Fever tearing through our junior schools when will we hear from Mr Miles or the Baroness of Health about it ?

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