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Politics

20 years since Wales said ‘yes’

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Carwyn Jones: 'We must rely on the abilities of all'

TWO decades since Wales said ‘yes’ in the referendum to create the National Assembly, a group of young people for whom the institution has always been a feature of their lives, visited the Senedd on Monday (Sept 18) and met the Llywydd, Elin Jones AM.

Representatives of the ‘devolution generation’ took part in a Question and Answer session with the presiding officer and were given a tour of the National Assembly building in Cardiff Bay.

SUPPORT FOR DEVOLUTION GROWS

In 1997 Wales went to the polls and voted to establish the National Assembly for Wales.

Since then the Assembly gained primary law-making powers through the Government of Wales Act 2006 before Wales voted again in 2011 to unlock further powers from Westminster.

Wales Acts in 2014 and 2017 have seen the Assembly’s responsibilities widen further to include tax-raising powers for the first time in almost 800 years.

Landmark laws passed by the Assembly include adopting a system of presumed consent for organ donation and minimum staffing levels on hospital wards, while a petition calling for a ban on single-use carrier bags led to a 5p charge which has greatly reduced their use and been adopted across the UK.

To mark the occasion around 70 young people took part in a question and answer session with the Llywydd of the National Assembly, Elin Jones AM, where topics including voting age, a youth parliament and the future of the Assembly were discussed.

Elin Jones AM said: “Support for devolution and the National Assembly has grown significantly in Wales. In 1997 the vote in favour was very close, but a BBC Wales St David’s Day poll in 2017 had 73% of people either saying the Assembly’s powers should be increased or were sufficient.

“Our priority for the future is to ensure that we have a parliament that is well-equipped to represent the interests of Wales and its people, make laws for Wales and hold the Welsh Government to account; a parliament that is an equal of its counterparts across the UK.”

How Assembly legislation has changed Wales and the UK:

  • Wales was the first UK nation to restrict smoking in enclosed public places
  • Wales was the first UK nation to have a national conversation about changing organ donation law and to pass legislation bringing in the soft-opt-out system. Now Scotland and England are looking to follow
  • The Nurse Staffing Act, introduced by Kirsty Williams AM was the first legislation of its kind in the UK and Europe, requiring the NHS to take steps to calculate and maintain nurse staffing levels in adult acute medical and surgical inpatient wards
  • A member-proposed measure by Ann Jones AM, now Deputy Presiding Officer, required all new homes built in Wales to be fitted with a sprinkler system
  • The 5p charge on single use carrier bags was originally proposed via the Petitions Committee process and went on to become legislation through the Assembly. Wales went on to become the first country in the UK to introduce a charge on single use carrier bags in October 2011. Others have followed
  • At a time when public confidence in politicians was at its lowest, the Assembly took the radical step in 2008 to review its arrangements for determining Members’ pay and allowances. The independent Remuneration Board was established in 2010 to determine the remuneration and allowances for Members of the National Assembly for Wales
  • In 2013 the Assembly passed a law that cemented both English and Welsh as the Assembly’s official languages placing a statutory duty on itself to provide services to Members and the public in the official language of their choice

20 YEARS AND 20 QUOTES

“Devolution is about harnessing the power of community – the diverse community that is the United Kingdom, and the national communities that through devolution can take their futures in their own hands.”

A quote from Tony Blair who in 1997 led Labour back to power for the first time since 1979 in a landslide victory. The Labour manifesto included a commitment to holding a referendum on the creation of a Welsh Assembly.

“There are some variations across social groups in Wales. Women clearly support a Welsh Assembly – by 37 to 29 – while men oppose one by 43 to 38.

“There is strong majority support for devolution among those aged 18 to 34, while a majority of those voters aged over 65 oppose an assembly.”
An extract from the results of a Guardian/ICM poll taken a week before the referendum vote.

“Good morning, and it is a very good morning in Wales.”

This is how Ron Davies, Secretary of State for Wales in 1997 and leader of the Yes campaign started his speech when the result was announced.
“When you win a national campaign by less than seven thousand votes it makes every last leaflet, every last foot-step, every last door knocked, worthwhile.”

Leighton Andrews, former Assembly Member and Welsh Government Minister, reflects on the Yes Campaign in a recent blog for the IWA. 50.3% of those who voted in the referendum supported devolution – a narrow majority in favour of 6,721 votes.

Following the referendum, the UK Parliament passed the Government of Wales Act 1998. The Act established the National Assembly as a corporate body – with the executive (the Government) and the legislature (the Assembly) operating as one. The first Assembly elections were then held on 6 May, 1999.

“The people of Anglesey in the slate quarries of Caernarfonshire used to be known as Pobol y Medra, because their answer to the question, ‘Can you do this?’ was ‘Medra’—‘I can. That must be our message throughout Wales. Let the whole of Wales become Pobol y Medra.”

Alun Michael, having just become the First Secretary of Wales on 12 May 1999.

“It is now the only legislature in the world that is perfectly balanced between men and women. We should note that. It is a message that should ring around the world.”

Rhodri Morgan, then First Secretary, following the 2003 Assembly elections when a world record was set by the Assembly through becoming the first legislative body with equal numbers of men and women.

“We popped in to admire the architecture and have a look around but were pleased to find that we could enter the public gallery and watch a live debate taking place. It was really interesting and enhanced our understanding of the place and the people working there. Definitely worth a visit.”

A review of the Senedd on TripAdvisor. The Senedd became the home of the National Assembly for Wales in 2006 and since then has welcomed more than one million visitors.

“We are moving into a new era, with new powers, and we have a wonderful opportunity to attempt to take the constitution of Wales forward in a new stage of devolution.”

Dafydd Elis-Thomas AM, then Presiding Officer, speaking in 2007 following the legal separation of the National Assembly for Wales and the Welsh Government as the Government of Wales Act (2006) came into force.

The 2006 Act also gave a way for the National Assembly to gain powers to make laws without the need for the UK Parliament’s approval, through a yes vote in a referendum.

“The rest of the world can now sit up and take notice of the fact that our small nation, here on the western edge of the continent of Europe, has demonstrated pride in who we are, and what we all stand for.”

Ieuan Wyn Jones, then Deputy First Minister and leader of Plaid Cymru, following the 2011 referendum where the Welsh electorate voted in favour of further powers to the National Assembly.

“Just fifteen years ago, it would have been unthinkable for politicians, elected by Welsh voters, to draft such legislation and put it on the statute books within such a short space of time.”

Dame Rosemary Butler, then Presiding Officer, comments on the first Assembly act to become law following the new powers granted by the 2011 referendum. The law, introduced by the National Assembly’s Commission, officially recognised both the Welsh and English languages as the official languages of Assembly proceedings.

“Good laws need to be formed through contributions and opinions from the people of Wales if they are to be truly democratic, transparent and accountable.”

David Melding AM, then Deputy Presiding Officer and Chair of the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee. Just like Select Committees in Westminster, Assembly Committees are an integral aspect of how the Assembly holds the Welsh Government to account.

“An impressive feature of this Chamber has always been your commitment to accountability and transparency through electronic communication and the broadcasting of your proceedings. I know that the way you have addressed this commitment has stimulated interest in other and older parliaments.”

HM The Queen Elizabeth II commenting on the technology of the Siambr during one of the five official opening ceremonies. The Siambr is a fully electronic debating chamber. Every Member has an individual computer terminal, to enable them to research subjects for debate and to undertake work when not being called to speak. They also have access to headphones to amplify the sound in the Siambr or to use the simultaneous interpretation services provided.

“It’s modern democracy. There aren’t traditions, we’re not bound by anything that’s gone before but we’re trying to create the right processes that suit a modern democracy – getting the business done, making things happen.”

Dame Claire Clancy, who was the Clerk and Chief Executive of the Assembly from 2007 to 2017.

“It is vitally important that people with autism are able to participate fully in civic life and in their communities. Training and awareness can make a huge difference and I hope that the Assembly’s example inspires more public buildings and other organisations in Wales to work with us to become more autism friendly.”

Mark Lever, Chief Executive for the National Autistic Society, on the Assembly’s work to make its work and buildings autism-friendly.
“We’ve got to be world class and we mustn’t settle for anything else.”

Peter Hain, a Welsh Officer Minister at the time of the 1997 referendum, comments on the progress of Welsh devolution in 2014.

“You don’t come out the one time, you have to do it over and over again because there is still that assumption you are straight. Like somebody once said about devolution, coming out is more of a process than an event.”

Hannah Blythyn AM is the first openly lesbian woman to be elected to the National Assembly for Wales. The 2016 Assembly election saw also saw two gay men elected – Jeremy Miles AM and Adam Price AM.

As an employer, the Assembly has been included in the top five of Stonewall’s UK-wide LGBT Workplace Equality Index for the last three years.
“Now is the time for Wales to unite and to think clearly about our future. Even before yesterday’s vote I said that no one party had the monopoly on good ideas, and now more than ever, we must rely on the abilities of all.”

Carwyn Jones AM, the current First Minister, following the result of the Brexit referendum in June 2016.

“I think young people should be involved in democracy, it will make so much difference to our country. We need to be progressive in our society, we need to make changes for the better – we can’t stay stuck in the past.”

Tooba Naqvi talking about why she believes there should be a Youth Parliament for Wales that works alongside the National Assembly.

Youth engagement has been a priority for the Assembly with 30,000 young people reached through school visits, outreach programmes and other activities.

“We are entering a period when fundamental changes will be made to the constitutional arrangements of the UK, the place of the devolved nations within it, and the ability of the Assembly to deliver for the people of Wales. As that process unfolds, I am determined to demonstrate and secure the Assembly’s role as a strong, effective Parliament for Wales.”

The current Llywydd, Elin Jones AM reacting to the UK Government triggering Article 50.

Let ‘difficult’ become simple, and ‘challenging’ become fun; and let us each day repeat the maxim: that ‘two men will come together sooner than two mountains.

An extract from ‘Y tŷ hwn’ (‘This House’) a poem by Ifor Ap Glyn commissioned by the National Assembly for Wales for the Official Opening of the Fifth Assembly.

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Politics

Disabled people hit hardest by changes to benefits

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CHANGES to the welfare system over the past ten years have left disabled adults four times worse off financially than non-disabled adults, according to new research commissioned by the Disability Benefit Consortium, a coalition of over 80 UK disability organisations.

While many people who receive welfare support have experienced cuts of an average of £300 as a result of changes to the welfare system, disabled people have typically lost around £1,200 per year.

. The research, funded by the Three Guineas Trust, is the first comprehensive study looking specifically at the cumulative impact of welfare changes on disabled people, and conducted by the University of East Anglia, the University of Glasgow and Landman Economics.
The research also found:

. The more disabilities you have the more you lose out, for example someone who has six or more    disabilities loses over £2,100 each year on average, whereas someone with one disability loses around £700 each year.

Households with one disabled adult and one disabled child lose out the most, with average losses of over £4,300 per year.

Today’s report by the Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC), ‘Has welfare become unfair – the impact of changes on disabled people’, which is based on this research, looks at the financial impact and lived experiences of welfare reform on disabled people over the past ten years.

As part of the research, 50 people living with a variety of conditions and disabilities were interviewed about their experiences. People said that they found the application and assessment processes highly stressful, and that they did not feel trusted, and constantly challenged.

The DBC also state that the current system has become so complex and dysfunctional, that many disabled people have found it has had a devastating impact on their wider health and wellbeing.

Pam McGee, 48, from Kent, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 1994, which severely impacts her mobility. After a PIP assessment in 2017 she lost the higher rates for both the mobility and daily living components, which means her support was cut by £290 a month and she no longer qualifies for a Motability car. She’s now appealing the decision and says the stress caused by this process has impacted her health. She said: “If I lost my car, I don’t know how I’d carry on. I’m terrified I’ll be out of a job because without the car I won’t be able to get anywhere. If I can’t work at the age of 48, I would lose all of my pride. People always ask ‘What’s your name and what do you do?’ My job is what defines me.

“In the last 10 weeks I’ve had a massive relapse. I went dizzy and lost all feeling in my left leg. When I spoke to my neurologist he said the relapse was probably caused by stress. I’ve also been depressed and eating less.

“PIP has caused me and my family a lot of anxiety and stress. It’s caused my MS symptoms to worsen, which has reduced my mobility, confidence, and ability to take care of myself physically as well as mentally.”

The DBC say that the failure to include disability premiums as part of Universal Credit, and poorly designed assessment criteria are just two examples of the problems that are leaving disabled people worse off and is calling on the Government to make urgent improvements to the welfare system to ensure it works for everyone.

Michael Griffin, Research Lead for the DBC and Senior Policy Adviser at Parkinson’s UK, said: “For the first time, our research has shown just how much disabled people are bearing the brunt of the disastrous changes to welfare.

“Many disabled people have not yet even experienced the full extent of the cuts because they are still waiting to be moved over to Universal Credit. However, when this happens there will be a surge in poverty among those who are already at a crisis point.

“This is simply disgraceful and cannot be allowed to continue. The Government must make urgent improvements to the application processes and assessment criteria, and resolve the flaws in Universal Credit before more people are denied the support they desperately need to live independently.”

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Politics

Carers Week: Eluned Morgan AM says thanks to carers everywhere

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by Eluned Morgan AM

WE’VE just celebrated ‘Carers Week’; an opportunity to say a massive ‘Thank You’ to all carers everywhere. No matter what age you are, who you care for and support, where you live or how much time it takes, every act of caring matters and deserves to be recognised.

Every day, people start caring for the first time. Carers are often hidden from view – putting their own health and wellbeing to the back of the queue. Many can become socially isolated, and some face financial pressures as a result of juggling work life with caring responsibilities.

We know that there are at least 370,000 carers in Wales (that’s more than the population of Cardiff) and that three in five of us will undertaking a caring role at some point in our lives. The latest census revealed that there were at least 15,000 carers in Pembrokeshire, a figure that probably underestimates reality.

I had the opportunity to meet carers from across the region in an event organised by Carers UK at the National Assembly. It became apparent from my conversations that, for many, it is a challenge to know how or where to get help. Caring can creep up unnoticed: for many, it begins with parents suddenly being unable to manage alone, or a partner’s health gradually becoming worse.

But it is important to know that there is support available and people shouldn’t put off asking for help. Organisations like Carers UK are there to listen, to give expert information and advice, tailored to your situation, to champion your rights and support you in finding new ways to manage at home, at work, or wherever you are.

If you know someone who could benefit from some help, please spread the word. We can all play our part in recognising and celebrating the essential contributions carers make, sharing information about caring support services within our local communities.

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News

Pembrokeshire Liberal Democrats wants more pensioners to keep their free TV Licences

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Pembrokeshire Liberal Democrats have expressed their concern at the decision taken by the BBC to save £450m a year from 2020, to remove the free TV licence for those over 75 years of age from those pensioners not in receipt of Pension Credit.

This could see 3.7m pensioners currently benefitting from a TV licence, having to start paying from 2020. The decision was made by the BBC following the government’s decision to transfer the funding of licences from the government to the BBC.

Liberal Democrat Department of Culture, Media and Sport spokesperson Jane Bonham-Carter said “Concessions for over 75’s are a social cost which should not be paid from the licence fee, but from central Government funding.

Government, not the BBC should be responsible and accountable for their social policies. If the Conservative Government does not want to pay for free licences for over 75’s then they should be upfront about their policy. However, passing the buck onto the BBC is underhand and risks undermining the BBC’s financial viability to provide what the license fee payer expects.”

Age UK have said that 1 in 4 over the age of 65 say that TV is their main form of companionship.

Alistair Cameron, the Welsh Liberal Democrat Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Carmarthen West & South Pembrokeshire said “There has been much coverage of this issue on TV and social media since the BBC made the announcement that it was withdrawing free TV licences from all pensioners except those on Pension Credit.

Many pensioners over the age of 75 are not able to get out a lot. For them, the TV is a really important part of their lives.

A lot of pensioners have to survive on a low income, including those who do not claim pension credit. Having to pay for a TV licence will be very hard on them.”

Andrew Lye, the Chair of Pembrokeshire Liberal Democrats said “Many people are annoyed at the decision and rightly so.

I can appreciate that the wealthy over 75 currently receive a free TV licence as do those on a basic state pension. We must remember that there are many pensioners not in receipt of pension credit and struggle to manage on their pension. MP’s need to remember that the Conservative 2017 Manifesto committed them to free TV licenses for the over 75’s for the duration of this Parliament, and the ‘grey vote’ will remember this broken promise at the next General Election.”

Andrew Lye went on to say, “Of course with the latest released figures showing £3.1bn of unclaimed Pension Credit in the UK, I would call upon pensioners in Pembrokeshire to phone 0800-991234 as the website https://www.gov.uk/pension-credit/how-to-claim states that phoning them is the quickest way to find out if you qualify. Who knows, you may get money that you are entitled to”.

Andrew Lye added, “We call upon the Government to resolve this issue as it is unfair that it will affect millions of pensioners and we hope that Pembrokeshire MP’s, Stephen Crabb and Simon Hart will make representations to the Prime Minister. Just because you do not claim or get Pension Credit, you cannot automatically assume that they are all well off on their pension. With the growing problem of loneliness in the elderly, especially where a partner has died, the TV is a vital lifeline and we should treat our pensioners better”.

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