Labour in Wales: Standing up for… Swindon
Leanne Wood AM
On Wednesday we saw Labour vote with UKIP and the Tories on the EU (Withdrawal) Bill to hand powers back to Westminster.
The following day we witnessed something almost equally as shocking – a Labour government arguing that they were happy to allow the Conservatives in Westminster to continue to impose disastrous welfare policies on Wales.
Plaid Cymru is leading calls for the devolution of welfare administration. This means the power over how we implement welfare policies would be under the remit of the Welsh Government.
In practical terms taking control of welfare would mean small, but significant changes.
Wales would be able change when and how Universal Credit is paid – enabling the monthly payments under the current system to be paid fortnightly or weekly, helping households with low and fluctuating incomes with budgets.
Benefits could also be changed so they are paid to an individual not households. This protects individuals against financial abuse and people being trapped in abusive relationships.
And amongst many other life-changing deviations we could make from the Tories policy in Westminster, the Welsh Government could ensure closer working between a Welsh ‘Social Security Department’ and Skills Department.
In turn this enabling a more functional welfare-to-work programme that genuinely helped people gain employment and live a better life.
Of course, in an ideal world Wales would have its own, unique social security system. Taking control of its administration, however, is the first and well-trodden step on this journey.
I say well-trodden as the devolution of welfare administration is something that has already happened in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Our parliament, the National Assembly for Wales, is the only parliament without any control over benefits.
If devolved the Labour Welsh Government could make tangible changes to mitigate the worst of the Conservative’s cruel welfare cuts. Instead they choose to write letters to Westminster Ministers who simply ignore them.
The reason Labour gave for their approach in yesterday’s debate – if it were devolved, people in Swindon would be treated differently to people in Wales. Yes, you read that correctly.
The Welsh Government is arguing that if Swindon doesn’t get the same treatment from Westminster as Wales, then why should they bother.
The parallel with their approach to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill is striking. In Scotland, Labour’s spokesperson on social security has criticised his counterpart in the Scottish Government for not ensuring enough powers over welfare are devolved. In our nation, we have a Labour party standing up for Wiltshire, not Wales.
In fact, a cross-party committee of Assembly Members – including Labour members – support the proposal. So does the Bevan Foundation, the Trussell Trust and almost every other organisation that is involved in the issue.
Plaid Cymru is a radical party, seeking radical change. The oddity of Labour’s response is that it is the least radical of all options.
Parity with every other nation in the UK seems too nationalist for a Labour party that has re-discovered its love for Westminster.
The conclusion is, in fact, a simple one – Labour is not a party of principle, but of political expediency. Shunning responsibility in favour of helpful political ambiguity.