Today’s Senedd roundup: Plaid Cymru fail in bid to secure support for £35-a-week payment for low-income families
Owen Donovan, Senedd Home
- Calls on the Welsh Government to introduce a £35-a-week payment for every child in low-income families in Wales.
Child Poverty: The “greatest failure” of modern politics
Tabling the motion, Plaid Cymru leader, Adam Price AM (Plaid, Carms. E. & Dinefwr), described child poverty as one of the greatest failures at the heart of modern politics. 20 years ago everyone was talking about eradicating it, but for all of that time, between 28-36% of children in Wales live in a household below the poverty line – largely driven by changes to the benefits system. Turning to his party’s proposal:
“Now, it’s not an original idea. It’s based on the Scottish child payment that will be introduced later this year of £10 to low-income families. That started as an idea actually from the coalition of anti-poverty groups in Scotland, with the Give Me Five campaign to top up child benefit by £5 a week. The modelling around that suggested that that even would lift 30,000 children out of poverty in Scotland.”
– Adam Price AM
Several Labour AMs mentioned that Scotland had the power to introduce such a programme, while Wales doesn’t. Rhianon Passmore AM (Lab, Islwyn) said the case for welfare administration devolution needs to be based on evidence, while the Chair of the Communities Committee, John Griffiths AM (Lab, Newport East) pointed to some of the challenges identified in his committee’s report on welfare devolution.
As cost was often the first thing mentioned with ideas like these, Leanne Wood AM (Plaid, Rhondda) presented an estimate of £364 million a year based on 200,000 children living in poverty. Focusing on what the Welsh Government were already doing – as requested by several Labour AMs – Sian Gwenllian AM (Plaid, Arfon) pointed towards criticisms of the free childcare scheme, which should be expanded to cover every child.
Janet Finch-Saunders AM (Con, Aberconwy) criticised the constant shifting of blame from the Welsh Government to the UK Government; large amounts of money have been spent on programmes like Communities First with little to show for it at the end.
Interesting idea; needs more detail
Whilst not rejecting the “interesting” idea out of hand, Deputy Minister for Local Government & Housing, Hannah Blythyn (Lab, Delyn), said there were several issues which require further work due to potentially unforeseen consequences.
“Of course, we could seek the competence to amend benefits, but this needs to be done with our eyes wide open to any unintended and unwanted consequences. As we’ve heard Members say today, if funding did not follow the responsibility, the resources would need to come from elsewhere and doing so, we would not want to place that burden on those least able to bear it the hardest.”
– Deputy Minister for Local Government & Housing, Hannah Blythyn
Firstly, there’s the lack of powers (as mentioned) – which are unlikely to be forthcoming as things stand. Without powers over the administration of welfare, the £35-a-week could be deemed additional income by the DWP when calculating benefits. There were also different estimates for how much the payment would cost – possibly up to £525 million a year, which would have to come from somewhere.
The motion was defeated by 41 votes to 8.
Keolis Amey/TfW Rail fined £2.3 million for poor service
AMs reject seaside and market town fund proposal
- Regrets the failure of the Communities First programme to tackle poverty in the most deprived communities of Wales.
- Recognises the need to deliver community involvement in co-designing and co-delivery of local services.
- Acknowledges the particular challenges faced by seaside and market towns with higher retail vacancy rates and higher levels of deprivation than in other parts of Wales and calls upon the Welsh Government to establish Seaside Town and Market Town funds to support regeneration.
Don’t set limits on what communities can do for themselves
Having long been a strong advocate of co-production (individuals, groups and communities having direct influence over services provided to them), Shadow Communities Minister, Mark Isherwood AM (Con, North Wales), said the Welsh Government has long been averse to using this approach in community regeneration projects.
“Labour sets limits on what the voluntary sector, social enterprises and community groups can do. Welsh Conservatives recognise that it is these social entrepreneurs and poverty fighters who can deliver the solutions for the long-term problems of our most deprived communities—they can succeed where the state alone fails.”
– Shadow Communities Minister, Mark Isherwood AM
Whilst having sympathy for arguments that Communities First failed to deliver, Leanne Wood AM (Plaid, Rhondda) was once again astonished that the Conservatives were lamenting poverty and deprivation she believes is caused by them. Poverty is caused by policy and can even be stopped with the right will; will that was sadly lacking by both Labour and Conservatives alike.
Mike Hedges AM (Lab, Swansea East) recognised that the idea that a £30 million Communities First scheme would eliminate poverty bordered on delusional, but there were plenty of examples of smaller-scale projects which made a difference including clothes recycling, credit unions and adult training.
Mohammad Asghar AM (Con, South Wales East) said thriving high streets were key to addressing deprivation and there needed to be a package of measures to support businesses – particularly cutting business rates.
Mark Reckless AM (BXP, South Wales East) was unsure seaside towns were really all that more deprived as a group than post-industrial areas; some seaside towns like Penarth are relatively prosperous. Huw Irranca-Davies AM (Lab, Ogmore) agreed with that assessment, saying deprived seaside towns shared characteristics with deprived post-industrial towns; transport was key to community regeneration.
“Minister, our aim would be – and we would like this to be your aim – to create a more level playing field around investment between our towns and our cities. We would like to give more power to local communities to take control of their local regeneration efforts. We want to adopt the community rights agenda, established by the Localism Act 2011.”
– Angela Burns AM (Con, Carms. W. & S. Pembs.)
Flexible regeneration support for over 50 towns and communities
Deputy Minister for Local Government & Housing, Hannah Blythyn AM (Lab, Delyn) said the tone of the motion implied there was little to no investment in seaside towns when many – including Rhyl, Barry and Haverfordwest – are benefiting:
“….this Government is providing significant regeneration support to over 50 towns and communities across Wales, which is unlocking £800 million of investment between 2014 and 2022. Whether it’s old chapels or neglected town halls, decaying cinemas or now-defunct bingo halls, whether it’s struggling high streets or derelict properties, our investment is helping to breathe new life into them. That may be as offices or enterprise hubs, community or care hubs or events-based and leisure facilities, improved retail offers and even new homes.”
– Deputy Minister for Local Government & Housing, Hannah Blythyn
The goal will be to consolidate existing regeneration funds (the Deputy Minister suggesting there were “too many”) and maximising their impact instead of creating brand new ones.
The motion was defeated by 38 votes to 11.
Minister renews commitment to foreign language teaching in primary schools
Responsibility for the first short debate on the new year fell to Shadow Education Minister, Suzy Davies AM (Con, South Wales West), on the subject of modern foreign languages (MFL) in schools.
Wales “at a disadvantage” in a globalised economy
Suzy Davies expressed a real worry about the decline in the population’s ability to communicate in languages other than English and Welsh. The benefits of being multilingual are both personal (improved cognitive ability) as well as economic in a globalised economy. The UK loses 3.5% of its GDP every year because of poor foreign language skills and English, whilst indispensable, will meet just 29% of future language skill demand globally.
Guidance on teaching modern foreign languages dates from 2018 and despite good work in years 7 and 8, enthusiasm often petered out in later years due to many factors including variable teaching standards, limited lesson time and too few teachers.
“I think what has leapt out at me from all the research and reports that I’ve read, and I’m sure the Minister and her officials have had the opportunity to read far more…. the message that comes through loud and clear is that languages are first and foremost means of communication. But, that’s not what it feels like when you study it at school. And yet, their purpose as a means of communication, which makes teaching them so valuable and especially valuable to Wales, is because we need to communicate with the world.”
– Suzy Davies AM
Whilst supporting greater autonomy for schools to pursue different ways of teaching MFL – and there was no reason why teaching MFL should be any different to teaching English or Welsh – there had to be a level of accountability too.
Also, there had to be a clear movement towards teaching a third language in primary schools, so it carries over into Year 7 and beyond (when MFL is usually first introduced). We had to understand why so few primary schools have taken this up to date.
Mike Hedges AM (Lab, Swansea East) expressed support for making an MFL compulsory at GCSE or a double qualification similar to GCSE science.
Darren Millar AM (Con, Clwyd West) cited the use of apps as an aid to learning new languages and making it easier in many respects; should apps like Duolinguo and Mango Languages be used in schools?
Pupils will start learning foreign languages from a younger age
Education Minister, Kirsty Williams (Lib Dem, Brecon & Radnor), said the new curriculum will ensure all pupils start learning MFL from primary school.
“I’d like to state that languages are crucial and very important for Wales’s future prosperity and our influence in the rest of the world. I recognise the challenge in the short term, and, as our changes begin to take effect, we will need to redouble our efforts with partners in this agenda, understanding some of the very real reasons why students choose not to take GCSEs….promotion of languages, and the perception that language GCSEs are hard.”
– Education Minister, Kirsty Williams
In terms of practical support, primary school teachers are being encouraged to take part in an Open University scheme to enable them to teach languages, while £2.5million has been invested to develop centres of excellence alongside a mentorship scheme to encourage MFL uptake at GCSE and A-Level.