A GOVERNMENT subcontractor which insisted that asylum seekers wore wristbands as a condition for receiving food announced on Monday that it would drop the practice, following public outrage over the weekend.
The controversial scheme was used at Lynx House in Cardiff to identify 200 asylum seekers staying there, so that they could claim three meals a day. Asylum seekers cannot claim UK benefits, and receive around £36 per week.
However, some claimed that the bands led to them being victimised by racists.
Clearsprings Ready Homes – the private firm contracted by the Home Office to provide accommodation in the Welsh capital – confirmed on Monday that they had abandoned the scheme. On Monday (Jan 25), a spokesman for the firm said: “Asylum seekers who spend their initial few weeks at our full board accommodation in Cardiff have been provided with wristbands since May 2015 to ensure they receive the services they are entitled to and to make sure those more vulnerable asylum seekers have access to their specific requirements.
“As in numerous such establishments where large numbers of people are being provided with services, wristbands are considered to be one of the most reliable and effective ways of guaranteeing delivery.
“We are always reviewing the way we supply our services and have decided to cease the use of wristbands as of the Monday, January 25, and will look for an alternative way of managing the fair provision of support.
“Clearsprings Ready Homes have been providing accommodation services to asylum seekers on behalf of the Home office for over 15 years and are always grateful for feedback to help improve the safety and effectiveness of their services.”
Plaid Cymru Leader Leanne Wood welcomed the move, but said that questions needed to be asked about why the scheme was implemented in the first place:
“Plaid Cymru welcomes the fact that this alarming practice of forcing asylum seekers to wear coloured wristbands will be stopped immediately,” she said.
“It is understandable that the Home Office requires asylum seekers to carry some form of identification for practical reasons such as when they collect meals.
“However, such a visible indicator is unnecessary and has left a community already under suspicion open to further harassment and distress.
“This episode raises serious questions over the Home Office’s judgement when it comes to such sensitive issues.
“I will be writing to the Home Secretary to seek assurance that this practice will not be repeated anywhere else in the UK.”
Liberal Democrat AM Eluned Parrott also called for clarity on why the practice was happening in the first place: “I was appalled to learn that people were forced to wear wristbands in order to be able to access food. If the reports are true that this practice is to stop, then this is welcome news,” she said.
“However, we need to be told whose decision it was to dish these wristbands out.
“Lynx House have apparently claimed it was a Home Office directive. If that is the case then the Home Office must reverse this decision. It would also indicate this is happening across the UK, so it is more than just an isolated incident.
“Of course it is sensible for asylum seekers to carry some form of identification. However, many of these desperate people have risked their lives to flee the most appalling conditions and it is completely inappropriate to make their lives even more difficult by singling them out in this way.”
Amelia Womack, Wales Green Party prospective lead candidate South Wales Central list and Cardiff Central, and Deputy Leader of the Green Party of England and Wales said:
“I’m shocked to hear this is happening in Cardiff, so close to where I live. It’s hard to find words to describe how deeply thoughtless this policy is, and how little respect and compassion it shows for people fleeing persecution overseas.
“Wales has a proud tradition of offering food and shelter to those in need. Refugees are people, no less than you or I. I am disgusted that public money is being handed to private companies who don’t recognise that making refugees wear a red wristband they can’t remove will make them an obvious target for cowardly racist bullying and abuse.”
Moving the Welsh Economy Forward: “A Team Wales recovery, built by all of us” – Economy Minister
THE WELSH GOVERNMENT will pursue a progressive economic policy that focuses on better jobs, narrowing the skills divide and tackling poverty, Economy Minister, Vaughan Gething, will say today.
At a hybrid Economic Summit, the Minister has invited businesses, trades unions and local government leaders to discuss how Wales can create a stronger, fairer, greener economic future.
In setting out his vision to move the Welsh economy forward, the Minister will commit to extending a Team Wales model to offer ‘as much certainty as possible’ for businesses facing a volatile recovery.
He will promise a new era of partnership to strengthen regional economic development, a delivery plan to back the everyday economy and wide ranging support for workers in a fast changing economy.
The Welsh Government will work with unions and business to develop it’s ‘something for something’ approach so that Welsh public money is wedded to action on fair work, decarbonisation and skills.
The Minister will also start a conversation about the long term demographic challenge facing the Welsh economy. The proportion of the population aged 16 to 64 years old in Wales has been decreasing year-on-year since mid-2008 – and could be just 58% of the population by 2043.
In response, Welsh Ministers’ approach will be geared towards creating an economy where more young people feel confident about planning their future in Wales thus supporting job creation and more dynamic local economies.
The Welsh Government will set out a vision of what makes Wales an attractive place to live, study, work and invest – including the quality of life in an inclusive, open and green nation.
The Welsh Government will also call on the Chancellor to demonstrate the UK Government’s ambition for Wales by honouring promises made on EU successor funds, backing major renewables such as tidal energy and investing in Welsh research and development.
Later, the Minister will visit a family-run business that’s received Welsh Government support to grow, before delivering a speech to a predominantly virtual audience of business, trades unions and local government leaders and other partners at Transport for Wales’ new HQ in Pontypridd.
Speaking ahead of the summit, Economy Minister, Vaughan Gething said: “The Welsh Government is taking bold action to build a stronger, fairer, greener Welsh economy. It has taken a Team Wales effort to keep Wales safe and we will deliver a Team Wales Recovery, built by all of us.
“A strong Welsh recovery will be based on the principles of fair work and sustainability as we invest in the industries and services of the future.
“As we face the headwinds of Brexit, I am determined that our credible plans will offer as much certainty as possible to help businesses plan ahead.
“A new era of partnership for stronger regions, a young person’s guarantee, a plan to back our everyday economy and collaboration with world leading, advanced manufacturing. This is the cause for optimism for the future we are building in Wales.
“My ambition is to make Wales a place where more young people feel confident in planning their future here. You don’t have to get out to get on, make your future here in Wales.”
The Welsh Government’s approach includes:
- Investing in our people – through the Young Person’s Guarantee and a strong employability and skills offer, including Apprenticeships;
- Supporting those furthest away from the Labour market to find work. The upcoming Employability Strategy will highlight the support available for individuals, particularly those most impacted by the pandemic and furthest away from the labour market;
- Accelerating the adaptation to new skills which are required for skilled, secure jobs, not least in the area of low carbon. The current recruitment challenge has also shown there is a need for some quick action on skills in certain sectors;
- Exploring how we retain our graduates and talent in Wales by building strong linkages with universities, and between universities and businesses;
- Support start-ups, including graduate start-ups, with possible incentives in some areas;
- Ensure we have firms grounded in Wales who can provide future opportunities;
- Wales can also benefit from the opportunities for far greater remote working and flexible commuting options.
Welsh Conservatives pay tribute to murdered MP, Sir David Amess
THE WELSH CONSERVATIVES have released a statement following the murder of serving Member of Parliament, Sir David Amess on Friday (Oct 15).
Paul Davies MS said: “We are horrified by the death of Sir David Amess.
“Sir David was a much-respected and well-liked MP who cared deeply about serving his constituents, something he had done with distinction for nearly four decades.
“One of the longest-serving Members of Parliament, his contribution to public life was vast and he will be sorely missed by those in Southend and in the Conservative Party.
“Sadly, this shocking and abhorrent incident once again highlights the dangers that public servants can face, all of whom should be able to conduct such duties helping those they represent in safety.
“Our thoughts are with his family and friends. May he rest in peace.”
Stephen Crabb MP said on Facebook: “Love and prayers for the family of Sir David Amess MP this afternoon. Just devastating. Funny, wise, compassionate, and such a good friend to so many of us.
“It was a delight to interview Sir David Amess back in May for a virtual book launch for his autobiography. So much warmth, humanity and love of the job he did so assiduously for almost 40 years. Parliament has lost one of its finest today.”
The MP for Southend West was stabbed at Belfairs Methodist Church in Leigh-on-Sea, in Essex. He was there for one of his regular Friday meetings with his constituents.
Just 15 minutes before the attack, the 69-year-old was standing on the church steps, chatting and laughing with locals.
At around 12:05 PM, Sir David walked into the church alongside two female members of his staff to meet some more constituents.
Local councillor John Lamb said that it was then that the attacker emerged from a small group of waiting constituents and attacked Sir David, stabbing him several times.
“I’m told that when he went in for his surgery there were people waiting to see him, and one of them literally got a knife out and just began stabbing him,” Mr Lamb said.
Police arrived at the scene in Eastwood Road North within minutes where they found the MP with multiple injuries and arrested a man.
“We knew it must be very serious because the paramedics had been working on Sir David for over two and a half hours and they hadn’t got him on the way to hospital,” Mr Lamb told the PA news agency.
At 14:13 an air ambulance arrived at a nearby sports ground to move him to hospital. However, members of his team began to fear the worst as paramedics remained at the scene.
Shortly before 15:00, Essex Police said Sir David had died.
At a press conference later Chief Constable BJ Harrington said officers and paramedics had worked extremely hard to save the MP.
Questions are now being raised about security arrangements for politicians working in their constituencies.
Online abuse motion goes before Council
“I’M UNDOUBTEDLY the most abused councillor in Britain.”
That’s the claim made by Pembroke Dock Central County Councillor Paul Dowson in an interview with The Herald about a notice of motion due for debate by the Full Council next Thursday (Oct 14).
In a revealing interview, Cllr Dowson said he regretted becoming embroiled in a series of social media spats and acknowledged mistakes in how he dealt with them.
Paul Dowson was not, however, wholly contrite.
He told us that, while he thought social media’ pile-ons’ had gone too far, he felt justified in standing up for what he thought was right.
Since his unexpected election in 2017, Cllr Dowson has courted publicity. He was vocal about issues affecting his ward and his hometown of Pembroke Dock. He rubbed up plenty of people the wrong way, especially council officers and his fellow members, with his use of social media to communicate about the issues he felt – and still feels – affect Pembroke Dock.
He is notably disparaging about councillors he thinks do little apart from striking poses about issues remote from everyday life as it’s lived in Pembroke Dock.
I pointed out that a friend of mine had described him as ’a typical Dock boy’ of his age and background.
He enthusiastically agreed.
SOCIAL AND ANTISOCIAL MEDIA
He told The Herald that the turning point in his relationship with social media and controversy came following his outspoken condemnation of a Council statement that supported the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020.
“I’m not a racist,” he told The Herald.
“People who know me know I’m not a racist. I stand against racism, and I have no problem with saying ‘Black Lives Matter.’ Of course, they do.
“I said what I said about lighting up County Hall because I opposed the violent protests [following the murder of George Floyd in the USA]. The political agenda behind how those protests developed is something I couldn’t agree with – it was jumped on by people with a violent agenda I just couldn’t support. The cause is fine, but violent protests are not.
“So, I said what I said. ‘All lives matter.’ I didn’t know it was a term used offensively in America. Why would I? I’m not from America.
“And so the pile on started, with people being invited to complain about me being a racist to the Ombudsman by another County Councillor [Joshua Beynon].”
And what about his involvement at Penally, we asked.
Things got confrontational there.
“When the protests got violent, I knew the protestors against the unjust use of the camp without public consultation had lost. The night it kicked off, I made a point of speaking to the Police afterwards and thanking them for doing their job.”
He told us: “I sent Josh a message around Christmas last year saying everything had gone too far and we should both back off. I didn’t get an answer.”
We asked about the complaints made to the Ombudsman about his words regarding Black Lives Matter.
“Yes, people did complain. Some of those complaints lied about what I’d said, so they were dismissed. Some came from fake accounts, so they were dismissed. There’s one last one to go to the Council’s Standards Committee. I will insist that is heard in public, so people can hear everything and make their own judgements.”
We asked him whether he’d ever used an account under a phoney name to argue with others on social media, as he mentioned fake accounts.
“Yes, I have. I’d rather not have done it, but I think it’s justified when people are abusing you, bullying you, and stopping you from responding and carrying on targeting you, your business, and your family. And I’m always pretty obvious about it.
“In the heat of the moment, I’ve said things online that I’ve regretted. I don’t pretend to be a saint, but I don’t like being told what to think and do. When people push me, I push back.”
We asked Paul Dowson about comments made by those who apparently support some of his social media posts and respond aggressively to those who disagree with them.
His response was immediate: “Some people who’ve commented on social media have gone way too far in what they’ve said on some of my posts. When it’s been drawn to my attention by those who’ve been targeted, I delete the comments. I can’t do that 24/7 and I can’t stop people saying what they feel.”
A SIMPLE PROPOSAL
Although some will attack it because of its source, Cllr Dowson’s Notice of Motion should be uncontroversial.
Strip away the exposition from the text, and it’s a straightforward proposition.
Potentially good councillors are not coming forward for election thanks to social media trolling.
The Council needs to be more proactive with how it supports members.
The Council should be more modern in its approach to tackling the abuse of elected members.
The Council – and councils – should do more to halt the tide of abuse directed at elected members and candidates.
To illustrate his point, Paul Dowson told us former Monitoring Officer Claire Jones had advised him not to use social media.
He scoffed at the advice.
“That’s so out of date, it’s unreal. How does she think people communicate with each other, these days? You don’t go knocking door-to-door or wait for them to come to you, you make yourself available to people who get in touch on social media!”
On the wider issue of whether social media companies do enough to prevent abuse, harassment, and trolling, Cllr Dowson was clear.
“No. It’s ridiculous that you can open an account without any identification or verification of who you are or that you are who you claim to be.
“I’ve had fake accounts pretend to be me, and I’ve had fake accounts make bogus complaints against me. If there was a system of verifying identity that all social media companies use, that’d be a start.
“Look, they can trace an IP address and locate you, but it takes too much time. If you have verification, that’s avoided, and things can be dealt with quickly and finally by social media companies.”
If it appears bitterly ironic to his detractors that Cllr Dowson has brought forward a motion to tackle online abuse, suppose it passes when councillors vote on it.
In that case, it will go before a committee chaired by Cllr Joshua Beynon.
When we pointed that out, Paul Dowson grinned.
Before we left, we asked Councillor Dowson whether he would seek re-election.
“Damn right, I am. In Pembroke Dock: Bush.”
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