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Politics

Senedd tributes to Carl Sargeant

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Andrew RT Davies: Carl Sargeant 'one of the most genuine men'

​​THE NATIONAL Assembly for Wales held a minute silence at the Senedd on Tuesday (Nov 14) in memory of former Assembly Member Carl Sargeant, who died last week.

The Llywydd, Elin Jones AM, opened Plenary by saying: “His death has shaken us to our core, and his absence from our midst pains us today. But our loss pales in comparison to that felt by his community, his friends, his staff, and especially his family.”

After a minute’s silence, Elin Jones invited party leaders and Assembly Members to speak.

A MAN OF MANY TALENTS

First up was an ashen-looking Carwyn Jones, who expressed the wish to speak of his deceased former Cabinet colleague as ‘a politician, as a colleague, and as a friend’.

The First Minister highlighted Mr Sargeant’s contribution to the Assembly: “He took more legislation through here than any other Minister. And he had a knack of turning difficult pieces of legislation into something worthwhile.

Mr Jones continued to observe that Mr Sargeant was: “A man of many talents. In all the years I knew him, we never had a cross word.

“He was ever-present in the Cabinet, and with good reason. I appointed him because he was good at legislation, he was good with people.

“Well-liked and committed, jovial but determined, firm but fun, and he will be missed by his family, by those in this Chamber, and by the nation.”

Andrew RT Davies was notably warm in his tribute: “Very often, politicians are lucky if they get one piece of legislation through in their lifetime; Carl put four pieces of legislation through. For a man to come from the factory floor and wake up each morning to put a collar and tie on and put the cufflinks in, and have that as a legacy—each piece of legislation will have a massive impact on the outcomes here in Wales about improving people’s lives.

“You speak as you find, but I have to say he is one of the most genuine men that I’ve had the privilege to meet.”

BETHAN JENKINS ‘DEVASTATED’

That warmth was noticeably absent from Leanne Wood’s brief speech. The Plaid leader described Mr Sargeant’s loss as a blow, but who left the warmth to her absent colleague Bethan Jenkins, whose words she read out.

Ms Jenkins, absent through injury, said: “’Carl Sargeant was a friend of mine from across the political divide. Despite many people telling me that I should not have friends from different parties, I’ve always been of the belief that we are human first.

“All I know was that whenever I needed support or someone to speak to about anything, Carl was at the other end of the phone. We joked after I would raise questions in Plenary with him that even though we clashed politically he still respected me, and vice versa.

“I can say for the record that I am devastated. My support rock in that place has gone. Gorwedd mewn hedd, Carl.”

After pointedly remarking on the way with which Carl Sargeant was dealt, Neil Hamilton said: “Carl and I were diametrically opposed politically, and we cheerfully hurled verbal bricks at each other across the Chamber, but he was a civilised and decent man, and big enough to recognise an opponent’s sincerity, and he didn’t allow political differences to preclude cordial relations outside the Chamber.

“I didn’t know him very well, but I liked him for his avuncular geniality, his friendliness and his authenticity—above all for his authenticity. He was a genuine man of the people, never lost touch with his roots.”

HUMOUR AND ACHIEVEMENT

Following the party leaders’ tributes, there was a succession of earnest, heartfelt, and occasionally emotional contributions from Mr Sargeant’s fellow AMs.

Many of their reminiscences were tinged with humour, describing a man who never failed to see the funny side of things but who was a committed and dedicated public servant.

Lesley Griffiths’ deeply personal tribute mentioned Mr Sargeant’s sense of mischief: “One of Carl’s most important jobs was to ensure our shared drawer always had a good supply of sweets. One day, he brought some new ones in and told me just to try one, but I in my usual style grabbed a handful, only to find on eating them they were hot chilli sweets. He could barely contain his gleefulness at my discomfort.”

That humour was made more poignant by her recollection that: “Carl was one of the most generous people I have ever met, particularly with his time, and he loved socialising with his family and friends. Behind his burly and jovial exterior was a beautiful, sensitive and vulnerable soul. He always told people how special and unique they were, because he cared how people felt. He was kind to people, and being kind to people is a wonderful legacy to leave behind.”

Her North Walian Cabinet colleague Ken Skates observed: “I think if there is to be a legacy, a lasting legacy, to Carl, it should be that we should all show a little more love and care for one another, that we should be kinder and more respectful to one another, not just in here but across our society, to change our culture for the better.”

ASSURANCE OF FAIR PLAY

Alun Davies, the newly-appointed Cabinet Secretary for Local Government, appeared on the verge of tears throughout an emotional address.

Describing Mr Sargeant as ‘a very, very decent and honourable, authentic friend and a mate of mine’, he continued: “You’d never have guessed that he had the achievements behind him that he had. But he cared deeply and all of us who worked alongside him know how deeply held his convictions were, and how deeply he cared about what he was doing and how deeply he believed in fair play and social justice.”

Mr Davies concluded his remarks by addressing them directly to Mr Sargeant’s family, present in the public gallery: “We’ll always make sure that Carl has fair play.”

Paul Davies said: “Every time I was with him, we would laugh. But he was a serious and committed politician who cared about his constituents, and he got people. He understood people. After all, politics is about people and Carl definitely got that.”

Joyce Watson remembered his contribution to clamping down on domestic violence and said: “In all the coverage of the loss of our friend Carl, one word and one word alone keeps getting repeated, and that is the word ‘authentic’. Everything about Carl rang true. It was obvious to everyone who met him that Carl was in politics for the right reasons. Intellectually, instinctively, head and heart, he understood and he cared deeply about the people and places he represented.”

GREATLY ADMIRED, GREATLY MISSED

Rebecca Evans, who worked in Mr Sargeant’s office when he was first elected to the Assembly, remembered a working atmosphere filled with humour and music, but recounted that: “ Behind the jokes and behind the laughter was a deep seriousness about making life better for his constituents and a driving passion for social justice.”

Former Finance Minister Jane Hutt said that Carl Sargeant was: “Loved and respected by us all here today, a man and a Minister who served Wales so well, greatly admired and greatly missed.”

Simon Thomas recalled Mr Sargeant’s generosity with his time and the pains he took to attend to small details. After covering Carl Sargeant’s frequently remarked upon talents at karaoke and on the dancefloor, the Mid and West AM observed that although humour was part of his success as a legislator: “He was very serious about what he was achieving, and his ability to have passed the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 is, I think, one of the crowning achievements of any legislature, and he took it through here and did that work for and on behalf of all of us.”

Nick Ramsay remarked: “We know that politics can be a cold business, but, in contrast, friendships go to the heart of what it is to be human, and Carl was one of the most human souls I’ve ever met. He was unique—a one-off. He was friendly, warm, engaging, and supportive. He was always supportive when you needed help. He was a sensitive man, and he had turned his hands to most things in his full life.”

Dafydd Elis Thomas, former Presiding Officer and recently appointed to the culture portfolio, told AMs: “I want to celebrate and thank him for what he did for the environment of Wales, and in particular for the designated landscapes, because he understood, as someone who was a proper north Walian, who loved both the industrial areas, and the rural areas and the national parks, and the areas of outstanding natural beauty, that it was important that these areas should learn to live together and share their delight.”

‘A CHAMPION OF WOMEN’S RIGHTS’

Darren Millar said: “Remembrance Sunday has just passed, and it reminded me not just of the sacrifice of the fallen, but also of what a fantastic champion the armed forces community and veterans across Wales had in Carl Sargeant, holding that portfolio, representing their views around the Cabinet table, and across the country.

“And, of course, he wasn’t just a friend to the armed forces, he was a tremendous friend of faith communities as well, across Wales. I know how greatly faith communities, faith groups—of all religions—appreciated his work and engagement through the faith communities’ forum.”

Mr Sargeant’s achievements and legacy were summed up by Rhianon Passmore, past chair of the Welsh Labour’s Women’s Committee & Policy Forum, who said: “There are many Members of this National Assembly for Wales who loved and respected Carl.

“As a proud feminist, I want it stated on the record that no other Assembly Member, in the two decades of Welsh devolution, has been as passionate to champion the progress of women’s and children’s rights and causes through legislation than Carl Sargeant. As Minister for social justice, he became known as champion of equality and women’s rights.”

A book of condolence has been opened for visitors to the Senedd.

Politics

Greens reject Welsh party

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Grenville Ham: Green Party voted down leader's plea

THE WALES G​REEN PARTY has rejected the opportunity to reconstitute itself as a Welsh Green Party, as opposed to a branch of the Green Party for England.

Members of the party rejected the proposal to strike it out on their own in a poll of members.

Current Green Party of Wales leader Grenville Ham was in favour of disentangling from the party in England.

Rather like other political parties –Conservatives, Labour, and Liberal Democrat – the prefix ‘Welsh’ does not denote any separate legal existence from parties England.

Scotland has a separate Green Party, but the Wales Green Party has decided against independence.

Last weekend, the Green Party of Wales held a vote to decide whether or not it should remain a regional outpost of the Green Party in England.

In a poll of the Party’s membership of 1,500 in Wales, 64.8% decided to remain attached to the current party structure.

That figure appears overwhelming, but is rather less impressive when the turnout for the vote is factored in.

Of 1,500 Green Party members in Wales, only 20% turned out to vote.

A turnout of 300 means that around 194 Green Party members held sway over around 106 of their fellow party members in a vote which 1,200 members could not even be bothered to cast a ballot.

Where this leaves the Green Party as a relevant political entity in Wales is open to question; the argument could be advanced that if 80% of its members did not care enough about the party’s identity in Wales to register a vote either for or against forming a party with a specific Welsh focus, there have to be doubts about its long term commitment to formulating policies which address specifically Welsh issues instead of goals shared with the party in England.

Critics of the vote’s outcome have suggested that its result represents a missed opportunity for the Greens in Wales to address two separate problems which have persistently bedevilled the party in recent years: firstly, the perception that the Green Party has a ‘Lady Bountiful’ attitude to Wales and the Welsh; secondly, it’s failure to make any meaningful electoral progress.

On the upside, at least the Greens held a vote.

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Politics

Labour’s legislative plans announced

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Final programme for departure: Carwyn Jones unveils legislative aims

DEPARTING First Minister Carwyn Jones has announced the Welsh Government’s legislative programme for the Assembly’s term following the summer recess.
The programme makes good on the Welsh Government’s policy promise of ending the physical punishment of children in Wales. The measure, which has been opposed by the campaign group ‘Be Reasonable’, is one of a package of members aimed at promoting child welfare.

Commenting on the move, an NSPCC Cymru spokesperson said: “The NSPCC has long campaigned for children in Wales to have the same protection against assault as adults so the Welsh Government’s intention to remove the defence of ‘reasonable punishment’ in the coming year is hugely welcome.

“It is a common-sense move which is about fairness and equality for children.

“It is wrong that a legal defence which does not exist in a case of assault against an adult can be used to justify striking a child.

“Closing this loophole will bring Wales in line with dozens of countries around the world and finally give our children equal protection under the law.”

A bill will also be brought forward to establish duties of quality and candour in health and social care. This will place statutory obligations on all health organisations in Wales to be open and transparent and will ensure lessons are learned and improvements made where necessary. A new independent body will be created to give people a stronger voice for their experiences of health and social care services.

The government will bring forward a local government bill, which will include reform of local authority electoral arrangements, including reducing the voting age to include 16 and 17-year-olds.

The way animals are treated is an important reflection of society and over the next 12 months, a bill will be introduced to ban the use of wild animals in travelling circuses on welfare grounds.

The government will also introduce a bill to make Welsh law more accessible. The Legislation (Wales) Bill will be the first major step towards achieving a clear and well-organised statute book.

First Minister Carwyn Jones said: “The year ahead will be one of the busiest for us in legislative terms since Wales gained primary law-making powers.

“Making our statute book ready for EU exit is a big challenge for the Welsh Government and the National Assembly but we must not let this limit our ambitions. We will keep driving forward progress and delivering for the people of Wales.”

In addition to the Welsh Government’s legislative programme, the National Assembly will be asked to undertake a substantial programme of correcting regulations under the EU (Withdrawal) Act between October and March in preparation for EU exit.

However, Carwyn Jones’ final statement on the Welsh Government’s law-making priorities for the year ahead have been branded “unambitious, last-minute scribblings of a tired administration” by the Welsh Conservatives.

One of the proposals to be brought forward is a ban on wild animals from performing in travelling circuses, something Welsh Conservatives have been calling for in recent years.

Legislation to merge councils is likely to face much contention following fierce opposition from the Welsh Local Government Association over the past few months after being told they will have to merge voluntarily, or have t imposed upon them.

Interim leader of the Welsh Conservatives, Paul Davies AM, said: “After nearly 20 years at the helm, the Welsh Labour Government have been proven to be unimaginative and tired.

The headline bills to be announced today is typical Welsh Labour: tinker at the edges, but do nothing to resolve the fundamental challenges to Welsh society and its economy.

“We have an underperforming health service, a health board in special measures for three years, and an education system that ranks bottom of the UK nations.

“It is time to be more radical with public services – not only to deliver better value for money for taxpayers, but also better outcomes for everyone in all parts of Wales in health, education, and beyond.”

And Plaid Cymru’s Leanne Wood also expressed her and her party’s disappointment at Labour’s programme.

“I congratulate the First Minister on delivering his eighth and final statement on a future legislative programme.

“However, I am saddened to say this looks like a re-hash of a legislative programme we have seen before. At a time when our democracy, our nation, is in flux, we need ambition, vision and leadership. Values I do not see demonstrated by today’s statement.

“We can agree that Westminster is failing Wales. But this Parliament – the new home of Welsh democracy – was meant to give us the opportunity to do things differently. When they cancelled plans for a tidal lagoon, legislation should have been brought forward for a new nationalised Welsh energy company. We must take our future into our hands, not allow Westminster to tie them behind our back.

“We are leaving an environment that is increasingly inhospitable. Air pollution kills tens of thousands every year and plastic waste litters our coastline and countryside. But a Clean Air Act and bottle return scheme are nowhere to be seen in this statement. There is also no proposed legislation or laws to create a feminist Welsh government a reality as promised.

“Many key decisions have also been kicked into the long-grass. The size of our parliament and who can participate in our democracy, for one.

“There is not a single piece of legislation planned for education, transport, energy, the environment, housing, social care, farming and fisheries.

“This is a legislative programme of old ideas and no ambition. The Welsh Government can do better. The National Assembly can deliver better. Wales needs better.”

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Politics

Universal Credit’s Black Hole

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A Conservative success story: Foodbanks help both those in work and unemployed

THE UK Government’s drive to cut the benefits paid to those most in need through the introduction of Universal Credit has impoverished the most vulnerable in society and removed universal support from the disabled replacing them with a patchwork of make-do-and-mend solutions which rely on councils to bail out the Westminster Government for its own failings in delivering the new benefit system in a working form.

The series of failures has prompted the National Audit Office, which scrutinises public spending for Parliament, to call on the UK Government to pause Universal Credit’s roll out until it sorts out the mess the reform has caused and is causing.

That call was rejected by the UK Government and led to allegations that the minister responsible, Esther McVey, had misled Parliament both about the NAO report’s content and the success of the Universal Credit roll out.

WELSH GOVERNMENT WARNS ON UC

Plagued by IT issues, incompetence, and the sort of ministerial short-sightedness that regarded the Council Tax as an untrammelled success, Universal Credit’s roll out across Wales has caused Welsh Government Housing and Regeneration Minister Rebecca Evans to write to Esther McVey, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, to warn about the impact Universal Credit is having on some of the most vulnerable people in Wales.

Rebecca Evans said: “Foodbank use in areas where Universal Credit has been rolled out has increased by 30% according to National Audit Office statistics, compared to a 12% increase in non-Universal Credit areas. This is extremely worrying.

“A Universal Credit claimant survey from Esther McVey’s own department shows that four in ten claimants were experiencing financial difficulties, and that 46% of new Universal Credit claimants need help to make their claim online.

“I have asked the Secretary of State to make Universal Support for people who claim Universal Credit available as widely as possible to help those people who are experiencing difficulties in managing their finances, and for those who are struggling with digital access.

“The recent National Audit Office report was clear; local authorities, housing associations and landlords are all seeing an increase in rent arrears since the introduction of Universal Credit.

“This chimes with many concerns raised and reported to me by the housing sector in Wales.

“The National Audit Office highlighted that the system is lacking in ways to identify vulnerable people, which makes it difficult to see how they are getting the right support, from the outset when they apply for Universal Credit. I have asked the Secretary of State to explain how she plans to rectify this.

“People who are more vulnerable can be offered alternative payment arrangements through Universal Credit, but we are seeing real inconsistencies in the way this is offered to claimants; the Department of Work and Pensions’ own claimant survey indicated that as many as 48% of those surveyed had to request this themselves, rather than being offered it proactively.

“I am deeply concerned about the flaws of Universal Credit, and its impact on the most vulnerable people in Wales, and I will continue to press the UK Government on addressing these.”

In Carmarthenshire, the Council has already set aside resources to help those plunged into uncertainty and financial chaos by the Tory policy, while across Wales Universal Credit recipients have experienced delays in payments and cuts to the benefits they receive leaving many in dire financial straits. In some cases, local authorities are stepping in to bridge the gap, but others are left unable to pay their rent and face eviction as a result. Some landlords are now refusing to take Universal Credit claimants owing to the defects in the payments system, penalising those in need for the incompetence of the DWP.

UNIVERSAL CREDIT FAILING

By the end of this parliament Universal Credit (UC) is expected to be fully rolled out. This new integrated benefits system for people both in- and out-of-work will shape the living standards of the lowest income families in the UK.

Part of the rationale for UC was making sure people are better off working. It is right that families should be able to better their living standards through work, yet in the UK today, the majority of people experiencing poverty live in working households.

Working poverty is highest among lone parents and couples with children with only one earner or where no one works full time.

Among households in working poverty that do not have all adults in full time work, over four in 10 have children of primary school age or below; two in 10 have children under the age of three. Some three in 10 contain a family member with a disability.

Bevan Foundation Director, Victoria Winckler, said: “Universal Credit has been in the pipeline for more than five years, but it is only now reaching all parts of Wales. The number of claimants is starting to go up quite quickly and we are beginning to see the impact of it on individuals, families and communities.”

Despite the number of people set to be affected, there’s been no up-to-date assessment of how the change will affect people in Wales.

Victoria Winckler continued: “The evidence from other parts of the UK is mixed. Some claimants cope well with the transition to monthly payments and the requirement to try to find work or increase the number of hours they work. But others struggle, getting into arrears with bills, debt and even having to rely on food banks.”

BENEFIT CHANGES HIT WORKERS HARD

Serious problems have now emerged in the treatment of the self-employed because of the way their earnings are recorded under universal credit. The issues have arisen because a “minimum income floor” (MIF), based on the national living wage, is used to calculate universal credit payments each month.

Because self-employed workers’ earnings fluctuate from month to month, they sometimes fail to meet the minimum figure and lose out compared with salaried counterparts. They are also only given a year to get their businesses off the ground before the MIF kicks in.

Ministers argue that the system has been designed to encourage people to increase their work and move into better jobs. However, the new report warns that some people have little choice other than self-employment. Ministers also ignore the fact that – for many – better jobs at higher wages are simply not available.

In addition, independent research has established that Universal Credit is – if anything – even worse value for money when it comes to administration costs than the system it replaced.

Having blown £817m on an IT infrastructure project which is unfit for purpose and now redundant, the current running costs per Universal Credit claim run at around £700. The claim made for Universal Credit was that it would reduce costs per claim to £173. There is no sign and little prospect of that target being hit.

DWP DEAF TO REASON

The National Audit Office report into Universal Credit is even more damning.

The NAO says: ‘We think that there is no practical alternative to continuing with Universal Credit. We recognise the determination and single-mindedness with which the Department has driven the programme forward to date, through many problems. However, throughout the introduction of Universal Credit local and national organisations that represent and support claimants have raised a number of issues about the way Universal Credit works in practice.

‘The Department has responded to simple ideas to improve the digital system but defended itself from those that it viewed as being opposed to the policy in principle.

‘It does not accept that Universal Credit has caused hardship among claimants, because it makes advances available, and believes that if claimants take up these opportunities hardship should not occur. This has led it to often dismiss evidence of claimants’ difficulties and hardship instead of working with these bodies to establish an evidence base for what is actually happening. The result has been a dialogue of claim and counter-claim and gives the unhelpful impression of a Department that is unsympathetic to claimants’.

The report continues: ‘The Department has now got a better grip of the programme in many areas. However, we cannot judge the value for money on the current state of programme management alone. Both we, and the Department, doubt it will ever be possible for the Department to measure whether the economic goal of increasing employment has been achieved. This, the extended timescales and the cost of running Universal Credit compared to the benefits it replaces cause us to conclude that the project is not value for money now, and that its future value for money is unproven’.

A BLEAK PICTURE FOR THE POOREST

Chief Executive of Child Poverty Action Group Alison Garnham said: “It was sobering enough to learn from the DWP’s own survey last week that four in ten people claiming universal credit have financial problems many months into their claim. Now we have an NAO report confirming just how miserable the experience of claiming universal credit is for hundreds of thousands of people who rely on it. Organisations working with claimants have been saying the same to the DWP for many, many months.

“The picture the NAO presents is justifiably bleak. On the ground, new claimants can’t even be sure they will be paid in full and on time. And how many people will be helped into work by the benefit is far from clear.

“There are clearly fundamental design and delivery problems in universal credit which must be fixed but it has also had its funding dramatically reduced so its capacity to deliver on the original aims has been compromised. The big work allowance cuts in particular have made it harder for claimants to increase the rewards from work.”

Joseph Rowntree Foundation Chief Executive Campbell Robb said: “We all want to live in a society where everyone receives support when they need it, and where there is an anchor to keep people from being swept into poverty. Universal Credit should, in principle, offer that support.

“The UK already has a problem with destitution, with more than one and a half million people in 2017 left unable to feed themselves, stay warm and dry, keep a roof over their heads and keep clean.

“There are major design flaws in the rollout of Universal Credit which have been left unfixed. Delays and sanctions leave people without enough to live on, and they struggle to pay off debt from advance payments. That’s not right. This system needs an urgent overhaul so that people’s essential needs are met without trapping them in long-term poverty.

“It is also concerning that the NAO can find no clear evidence that Universal Credit will help to boost the number of people finding work. The system needs to support people experiencing in-work poverty too, which is currently rising for families with children. By increasing work allowances, the Government can help 2.5 million working families and prevent a further 310,000 people from being pushed into poverty.”

As Labour MP, and veteran campaigner for the rationalisation of welfare benefits, Frank Field pointed out to Esther McVey in the House of Commons last week: ‘40% of claimants finding themselves in financial difficulty, 25% unable to make a claim online, and 20% overall, but two thirds of disabled claimants, not being paid on time and in full’.

Accusing Ms McVey of ‘dissembling’ to Parliament, further probing revealed that Ms McVey had not even bothered to read the NAO report which she had so assiduously rubbished and which had been signed off by her own Department.

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