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Politics

Significant concerns for EU citizens in Wales

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THE UK Government’s EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) is causing significant problems for EU citizens currently living and working in Wales.

LOW REGISTRATION IN WALES
Wales has the lowest rates of registration in the UK.
Only 41% of those eligible to apply for EUSS to stay in Wales after Brexit have done so.
The rhetoric surrounding EU migration since the referendum has taken its toll on people’s emotional wellbeing, meaning they no longer feel welcome to live here.
The UK Government has proposed a £30,000 salary threshold for EU residents to qualify for a work visa after Brexit. This could damage the Welsh economy and leave Wales short of key health professionals, say Welsh employers.
The National Assembly for Wales’ External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee, which focuses on the implications of Brexit for Wales, is today publishing a report looking at the impact of changes to ‘freedom of movement’ after Brexit. As well as the impact on services and employers, the Committee has looked at the effect on individual EU citizens currently living and working in Wales – there are currently an estimated 80,000.
The Committee heard evidence from a range of health professionals, employers and individuals who would be affected by the proposals to change the immigration system after Brexit.
Organisations representing employers and key workers including the Welsh NHS Confederation, the Royal College of Nursing Wales, Airbus, Universities Wales, Wales TUC and the Arts Council for Wales have voiced serious concerns to the Committee. The UK Government’s proposals for EU citizens after Brexit cause concern to health services and businesses. Under the UK Government’s proposals almost two-thirds of EU workers currently in Wales would not be eligible under the proposed system with the £30,000 salary threshold, and the threshold would lead to a 57% reduction in EU immigration to Wales over 10 years.

EU SETTLEMENT SCHEME – DIGITAL BY DEFAULT
As part of the Committee’s inquiry, it heard evidence from people directly affected by the changes to freedom of movement after Brexit.
The EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) was established by the UK Government because, in most cases, EU citizens living in the UK will no longer have a legal right to reside in the UK once it leaves the EU and free movement ends.
EU citizens living in the UK must register for the EUSS.
The Committee heard many concerns about the system to register. The UK Government has adopted a ‘digital by default’ approach and there have been issues with the technology. The current system only allows the use of Android phones or tablets, not iPhones.

£30,000 THRESHOLD – TOO HIGH FOR WALES
The Welsh NHS Confederation, the membership body representing all NHS organisations in Wales, told the Committee that the proposals to include EU citizens in its £30,000 salary threshold for a visa would “exacerbate current staffing shortages”. It highlighted that 53% of EU NHS staff currently earn below that.
The Bevan Foundation highlighted that the average salary in Wales for full-time workers is £26,000, significantly below the proposed threshold. Airbus, a large employer in Wales, added that the threshold is “too high for key sectors” which could have implications for many services and industries. They argued that the proposals from the UK Government could “leave gaps in the requirements of Wales which can’t be filled in the short term.”
The Committee believes that a salary threshold set at this level will not meet the needs and requirements of the Welsh economy. It is calling on the UK Government to lower the salary threshold requirements and is recommending that the Welsh Government uses all the means at its disposal to ensure that the currently proposed salary threshold is reduced.

FEELING UNWELCOME
The Committee heard evidence from people affected directly and how many people felt that they were no longer welcome in the UK following the EU referendum.
Some argued that the policy pursued by the UK Government since the referendum has exacerbated this.
Several people said that some of the rhetoric relating to the issue of EU migration had hardened and described the toll that this had had on their emotional wellbeing, and that of friends and family members.
One participant emphasised that it is not simply an administrative process, but that real people are involved and that it was important to remember how the process affects them.
Michal Poreba from Swansea, an EU citizen originally from Poland, who gave evidence to the Committee’s inquiry, said: “The EU settlement scheme and the UK Government’s immigration proposals after Brexit are not simply about administrative processes, they are about people’s lives. Real people are involved and it is important to consider how the process affects them and their families. Yet the debate appears to be all about the practicalities of the implementation.
“Questions are asked why so few people have registered so far and how to increase the uptake. But what does it offer? Why would anybody apply? The facts are that the scheme significantly reduces the rights of the applicants. Going through the process, while technically quite easy and straightforward, feels debilitating and comes with no legal guarantees. It feels like an act of political self-harm. No wonder there are no queues to do it.
“The message repeated by politicians appears to be the same – You will be allowed to stay. We want you to stay. Of course, economically speaking they need us to stay, at least for the short term. But there is a big difference between being allowed to stay, and being welcomed. There is a big difference between a legal right and permission.”

SHORTAGE OCCUPATION LIST
Wales has specific needs. The Shortage Occupation List is an official list of occupations for which there are not enough resident workers (including EU nationals) to fill vacancies. The UK list is supplemented by a separate list for Scotland.
The majority of those who gave evidence to the Committee supported the creation of a Wales-specific Shortage Occupation List to meet the specific needs of Wales. The Committee is calling on the UK Government to establish this, which the Welsh Government would be able to amend according to Welsh needs.
David Rees AM, Chair of the External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee said: “We have significant concerns about the implications of Brexit on our workforce in Wales. The ending of freedom of movement will have consequences for business and our economy if we lose vital workers. What’s more worrying is the impact that the loss of EU citizens could have on our NHS. We rely on EU citizens who work as nurses and carers.
“We heard some very concerning and emotional evidence from EU citizens and their families living and working in Wales. We must not forget the human impact that the ending of freedom of movement will have.
“We are calling on the Welsh Government to do all it can to get the UK Government to reduce its proposed salary threshold of £30,000 in order to better reflect average earnings here in Wales. Under these proposals, almost two-thirds of EU workers currently in Wales would not be eligible to live here. This could mean that we would not be able to recruit key workers such as nurses and carers from abroad.
“The EU Settlement Scheme for those who already live and work in Wales is full of problems, with an online-only application process and limited access on smartphones, these problems must be addressed urgently.
“Wales’ economy has specific needs and changing demographics within Wales, including an ageing population, are likely to pose new challenges in the future. These challenges within the economy of Wales are likely to be exacerbated by an overly restrictive immigration regime after Brexit.
“Today we’re calling on the Welsh Government to show real leadership and send out a strong message that EU citizens are welcome, valued, and needed in Wales and we’re calling on the UK Government to rethink its proposals and take into account the needs of the Welsh economy and public services.”

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Politics

Labour AM urges mass participation in Labour leadership contest

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MID AND WEST WALES AM Eluned Morgan has urged those who share Labour’s vision of a fairer, equal and greener society to come together and join the Labour movement either as a registered supporter or a full member of the Party.

The experienced Labour politician made her call as the deadline to sign up to the Party neared for the contest to elect a new Leader and Deputy Leader to replace Jeremy Corbyn and former MP Tom Watson, who stood down at the last General Election.

At a time of continuing uncertainty over the performance of the UK economy, Britain’s departure from the European Union and rising international tensions, Eluned Morgan who is also Labour’s Minister for International Affairs and the Welsh Language in the Welsh Government said it was more important than ever that the Labour Party continues to be a welcoming and open political movement, ready to champion the causes and concerns of ordinary people across Wales and the whole of the United Kingdom.

Eluned Morgan said: “The message since the General Election has been clear. The country needs a strong and effective opposition to the new Tory government led by Boris Johnson. The leadership election will give the Party an opportunity to reflect on that dreadful result in December and to look ahead to how we can rebuild, regain trust and win for those communities that have been and will continue to be tossed aside by the Government in Westminster.”

Citing the divergence between political priorities in Westminster and Cardiff Bay, Eluned Morgan highlighted how Welsh Labour has put investment and sustainability at the heart of its delivery plan for the people of Wales: “Despite savage cuts to our budget, as a Government, we have continued to invest and take innovative steps to sustain public services. It hasn’t been easy, but importantly we have shown that we can do things differently in Wales, we can do things better – especially when we work together to make real change happen.”

“As we start a new decade, Wales needs a renewed sense of optimism because we have already proven that we are different. Wales has been resilient in dealing with yet another Tory government that has ignored the needs of the Celtic nations – and it continues to do so at its peril” continued the AM who through her links with Parliamentarians across the British Isles senses a growing unease at the One Nation Conservatism that puts only England first.

“Whatever the reason for voting Conservative last December, devolution means that Wales is always one step removed from the most extreme Tory policies outside of the cruel changes to welfare system, that has exacerbated poverty across Wales.”

Different policies have set Wales apart from the rest of the UK, with some of Welsh Labour’s leading achievements recognised in the UK Labour manifesto too.

As a recognisable face in front line politics in Wales, the UK and the EU, Eluned Morgan knows that it is at a grass roots level where real change is made and the policies of tomorrow are tested and developed.

“Since the election on December 12th, Labour membership has grown across all constituencies in Wales. For all the doomsday commentary and predictions about the end of the Labour Party, not winning the election has reinforced our membership support, the message that the Tories in government must and can only be opposed by a strong Labour Party is clear. For longstanding and new members alike, those who are increasingly frustrated with British politics, it is the start of a new beginning. So if you vote Labour and want us to rebuild our communities for the future now is the time to take your vote one step further. We are about to have a whole new conversation in our movement and I am looking forward to being part of that.”

Members of the public are being given two opportunities to take part in the leadership election contest. A 48 hour window to vote for a one off fee of £25 closes on Thursday 16th January at 5pm. New members to the political party, who join before Monday 20th January will also be able to participate in the election which will take place in early spring. The new leader and deputy leader will be announced on April 4th.

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Politics

Opposition slate WG Budget

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FINANCE MINISTER Rebecca Evans unveiled the Welsh Government’s draft Budget with plans to invest more than £8bn for the Welsh NHS alongside ambitious projects to help combat climate change.

In the first Budget following the declaration of a climate emergency in Wales, there is significant new funding for low carbon transport and housing and support to restore Wales’ natural environment. This budget also protects major ongoing funding for renewable energy, the development of zero-carbon technologies and access to nature.


The 2020-21 draft Budget will see the Welsh NHS receive an inflation-busting increase of £342m next year, alongside an almost £200m boost for local government. Core funding for local authorities will grow to almost £4.5bn, boosting resources for schools, social care and other local services.


There will also be additional funding to tackle poverty, including extra support for disadvantaged pupils, and investment for town centre regeneration in a budget that delivers real-term increases for all Welsh Government departments.


This Budget also confirms that Welsh rates of income tax will be unchanged for next year, maintaining the pledge not to raise tax rates this Assembly term. It also focuses on longer-term, preventative measures to promote the wellbeing of future generations.


The UK government’s September 2019 spending round provided funding allocations for one year only. Following this announcement, like-for-like funding for Wales next year will be £300m lower compared with 2010-11.


Finance Minister Rebecca Evans said: “This draft Budget delivers on our promises to the people of Wales and invests for the future of our planet.“Despite a decade of austerity, we have consistently prioritised our NHS. Our plans will confirm a £37bn investment in the Welsh NHS since 2016.

“As we take on the climate emergency, I am protecting our existing investment and delivering a new £140m package with support for low carbon transport and a National Forest for Wales.
“Funding increases for other vital public services, such as schools and local government have also been secured in this year’s Budget. Ministers have also worked across government to focus on long-term, preventative measures such as mental health investment in line with the Well-being of Future Generations Act.

“Even though our like for like funding remains below 2010 levels, this Budget strives for a greener, equal and prosperous Wales.”

Responding for the Conservatives, Darren Millar AM tore into the Draft Budget 2020-21.

Speaking in the Senedd on Tuesday (Jan 7), he said it was “…an opportunity the Finance Minister has missed…”, and full of policies that are “…tried, tested, and failed”.

From the M4 Relief Road, to Cardiff Airport, and from health and education to the economy, Mr Millar said that the Finance Minister had a golden opportunity to invest in the people’s priorities, drive a more dynamic economy, and build on the opportunities for Wales outside the European Union.

“But,” he began, “where there was the opportunity to be imaginative you’ve opted for the mundane. Where there was the opportunity to rise to the challenge and be ambitious for our economy, you sat back. Where there was the opportunity to be radical you’ve stuck to the tried, tested and failed.”

Mr Millar continued his passionate critique of the Draft Budget, calling the lack of investment in Welsh roads – including the M4 Relief Road rejected by the Welsh Labour Government following a £144-million investigation – “… one of the biggest barriers to growth and investment in South Wales” and calling for investment in the A55 and A40.

“But ironically, when we look at where the Welsh Government is investing in transport – it’s actually in the most polluting form – air travel.

“This year, we’ve seen a further £4.8 million for the state-owned Cardiff Airport, on top of a loan above £21m announced in October.”

Just last week, pre-tax losses at the airport trebled from the previous year to some £18.5m, far more than the modest £1m loss during the airport’s last full year in private ownership in 2012.

Specifically on the environment, Mr Millar – who represents Clywd West – said: “This was proclaimed as a ‘green’ budget, but the reality is that the Welsh Government’s response to its climate change emergency declaration has been slow, vague and uncosted. We need to see more investment in cleaner technology in line with the drive to phase out diesel and petrol vehicles.

“Many Welsh counties have the poorest network of electric vehicle charging stations in Britain. Why isn’t this budget doing more to invest in these? It’s a missed opportunity to invest in clean technology and encourage consumers to make greener choices.”

Speaking later, Mr Millar said: “There are elements of this Draft Budget I have welcomed, as have my Welsh Conservative colleagues, but overall its one failed opportunity after another from a failing Welsh Labour Government.”

Plaid Cymru shadow minister for the economy and finance Rhun ap Iorwerth AM said: “This is a budget that delivers only in its lack of ambition.

“Twenty years of Labour rule in Wales has shown us that more money for our NHS doesn’t in itself mean better services. What we need to see from this Labour government is a strategic plan on how this extra funding will be spent on preventative measures instead of the continued mismanagement of our NHS and health boards that are still in special measures. Meanwhile, local government is still not being given the level of funding it so desperately needs to deliver crucial front line public services.

“The £140m package for low carbon transport is not nearly ambitious enough and such a small package in the face of such a colossal global climate crisis shows that this Labour government isn’t taking the issue seriously enough.”

Rhun ap Iorwerth added: “To compound the problem of Labour mismanagement, the truth is, that the Welsh Government’s budget will be tied to the priorities of whatever government is sitting in Westminster, and we know that UK Governments – of whichever colour – care little about addressing Wales’ needs.”

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Politics

Plaid: ‘Poverty is a political choice’

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INTRODUCING a £ 35 a week payment for every child in low-income families in Wales could lift 50,000 children out of poverty, says Plaid Cymru.
Speaking ahead of a Plaid Cymru debate in the Senedd on Wednesday, January 8, Plaid Cymru Leader Adam Price said children born today are at the “highest risk of poverty” in sixty years and parents have to choose between “feeding themselves and feeding their children.”

One of Plaid Cymru’s main policies during the general election in December last year was to “eradicate child poverty in Wales” and Mr Price said that had not changed.

The Leader of Plaid Cymru said a newly-elected Plaid Cymru government in 2021 would make eradicating child poverty in Wales one of its “priorities” and said a direct payment to all children in low-income families would be one possible option in doing this.

He added that a payment of £ 35 a week could “radically transform the lives of young people across Wales” giving them “the best start in life they deserve”.
Mr Price said that while the current Welsh government lacks a “specific strategy” to tackle poverty, Plaid Cymru would deliver a program of government with the eradication of child poverty a priority.

Mr Price said Plaid Cymru would not only “manage problems” but “solve” them.

Adam Price said: “Children born today are now at the highest risk of poverty in sixty years. Parents have to choose between feeding themselves and feeding their children. Growing up and living in poverty is no longer the exception in Wales. It’s the norm.

“One of Plaid Cymru’s main policies during last year’s general election was to eradicate child poverty in Wales. That has not changed.

“Plaid Cymru would make eradicating child poverty one of its top priorities. One of the ways we could do this is by introducing a new direct payment for low-income families. A payment of £ 35 per week for each child could radically transform the lives of young people across Wales and give them the best start in the life they deserve.

“Although Labour in Wales does not have a specific strategy to tackle poverty or even a basic definition of poverty, the Plaid Cymru government will introduce a competent government program that prioritises the eradication of child poverty.

“We won’t just manage problems. We will solve them. Poverty is a political choice. Plaid Cymru will ensure that Wales chooses differently.”

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