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Welsh Health Minister defends retail restrictions

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THE WELSH Health Minister, Vaughan Gething, faced stiff today (Monday, Oct 26) questioning over retail restrictions during the current ‘firebreak lockdown’.

The Minister ducked a question from ITV Wales’ Adrian Masters.

That question asked whether trust in the Welsh Government’s handling of COVID-19 had been harmed by the row over supermarket chains sectioning off areas of ‘non-essential’ goods in their stores.

Instead of answering directly, Mr Gething carefully set out what he termed ‘a balance of harms’.

Vaughan Gething explained that the Welsh Government accepted the lockdown would cause some harm to Wales, to Welsh businesses, and individuals. However, he said, those harms had to be offset against the harm to public health and longer-term more adverse economic outcomes if the Welsh Government did nothing.

The BBC’s Dan Davies tackled Vaughan Gething again on the topic. In response, Mr Gething claimed that ending the rules on non-essential retail would both penalise small retailers and lead to greater community transmission of the virus.

Asked about remarks made by Lee Waters MS, Wales’ Deputy Economy Minister, that a further lockdown was ‘likely’ in the New Year, Mr Gething could not guarantee that one would not happen.

He said: “Measures are possible for the future but that depends on how successful we are in coming together as a nation to act in a way which means coronavirus is less likely to spread in the future.”

The Minister next received direct questions about the Government’s communications and messaging following a row over what were essential and non-essential goods.

This morning, Andrew RT Davies capitalised on a mistake by Tesco, which claimed the Welsh Government classified period products as non-essential. By the time Mr Davies tweeted his outrage and released a statement to the media, Tesco confirmed it was in the wrong and deleted its tweet. As Tesco has since acknowledged, period products – which are for sale in pharmacies – are classed as essential goods.

However, by then the damage had been done to the Welsh Government’s image.

Mr Gething said meetings had taken place with major retailers last Thursday, between ministers over the weekend, and there would be a further meeting this afternoon.

“The conversation we’re having with supermarkets today [about non-essential retail],” said the Minister, “will discuss limited circumstances [in which sales can take place].”

However, Vaughan Gething continued: “Much of what we have seen over the weekend is about the ‘what-if scenarios’ unlikely to come up over the next two weeks.”

Mr Gething continued to try and get the message over about a balance of harms and tried to explain why the Welsh Government imposed the retail restrictions it chose.

He stressed the Welsh Government decided to stop supermarkets selling goods otherwise available in small retailers who were compelled to close during the current lockdown.

The Welsh Conservative Shadow Economy Minister, Russell George AM, asked Mark Drakeford for a specific reassurance on that point – to protect small businesses compelled to close – last Thursday (Oct 22).

Loud Conservative voices, particularly those of Simon Hart and Andrew RT Davies, have condemned the Welsh Government for doing what their own Shadow Economy Minister asked.

The impression, however – of a ban on the sale of books and baby clothes – does not look good for the Welsh Government.

And neither does the confusion among large retailers.

That criticism was the subject of further direct questioning by journalists who asked Mr Gething how, if major businesses could misinterpret the guidance, how the public could possibly interpret it.

Vaughan Gething remained adamant guidance was clear but would be further clarified with major retailers.

Plaid Cymru Leader Adam Price MS said: “The important thing for the Welsh Government to acknowledge is that they have made a complete mess of the messaging. Humility is important in admitting that you have got it wrong. They should have focused very clearly and very simply on the public health message.

“The objective of closing non-essential retail for this period is to try to limit the number of contacts so they can limit the number of infections – and that’s somehow got completely lost in the messaging which has then eroded public trust over the weekend.”

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We need to ‘mobilise for war’ says head of British Army – ‘this is our 1937 moment’

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THE NEW head of the British Army has said it must ‘mobilise’ in response to the threat posed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, invoking memories the Allies’ struggle against Nazi Germany in the 1940’s.

Patrick Sanders, a general who became the army’s top officer this month, said Moscow’s attack on its neighbor represented “a clear and present danger” to Western “principles of sovereignty and democracy.”

In a wide-ranging speech to mark taking over the role, he argued Britain’s armed forces must react by accelerating modernization plans and immediately increasing battle readiness alongside NATO allies.

“This is our 1937 moment,” Sanders told an audience at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) military think-tank, referring to Western allies’’ struggle to subdue Nazi Germany’s aggression in the run-up to World War II.

“We’re not at war. We must act rapidly so that we aren’t drawn into one through a failure to contain territorial expansion.”

Adding it is “dangerous” to assume Russian aggression will end with Ukraine, he predicted Moscow will pose “an even greater threat to European security after Ukraine than it has before.”

“The Russian invasion has reminded us of that time-honored maxim that if you want to avert conflict, you better be prepared to fight,” Sanders said.

His comments come as NATO members begin to meet in Madrid Tuesday for a summit, and follow the military alliance announcing it will boost its high-readiness force from 40,000 to 300,000 troops.

Its chief Jens Stoltenberg has called the move “the biggest overhaul of our collective defense and deterrence since the Cold War.”

Sanders said the gathering in the Spanish capital was an opportunity for Britain to demonstrate its “enduring commitment to our allies” and “lead by example” in mobilizing the army.

He noted mobilisation would now be the army’s “main effort” over the coming years, “to help prevent war in Europe by being ready to fight and win alongside our NATO allies.”

“It will be hard work, a generational effort and I expect all ranks to get ready, train hard and engage,” he added.

The army head also backed the US and UK governments’ stance of aggressively arming Ukraine in its fight against Russia.

“This is the moment to defend the democratic values that define us,” Sanders said.

“This is the moment to help our brave Ukrainian allies in their gallant struggle. This is the moment we stand with our friends and partners to maintain peace throughout the rest of Europe.”

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The Welsh Government launches Basic Income pilot scheme

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FROM 1 July 2022, more than 500 people leaving care in Wales will be offered £1600 each month (before tax) for two years to support them as they make the transition to adult life.

Launched by First Minister Mark Drakeford, it is hoped the pilot will set care leavers on a path to live healthy, happy and fulfilling lives.

The radical approach has trust, autonomy and respect at its centre. It will provide independence and security to people who have faced immense challenges during their childhood, giving them greater control and empowering them to make decisions about their future.

The £20 million pilot, which will run for three years, will be evaluated to carefully examine its effect on the lives of those involved

Social Justice Minister Jane Hutt said the scheme is a direct investment in the lives and futures of some of Wales’ most vulnerable young people.

Those taking part in the pilot will also receive individual advice and support to help them manage their finances and develop their financial and budgeting skills.

Local authorities will play a key role in supporting them throughout the pilot. Voices from Care Cymru will also work with the young people to give them advice on wellbeing, education, employment and help them plan their future after the pilot.

To launch the scheme, First Minister Mark Drakeford, Social Justice Minister Jane Hutt and Deputy Minister for Social Services Julie Morgan met with people taking part in the pilot, and young people who themselves have been in care, to talk about the impact this support will have on peoples’ lives.

They discussed how they hope the financial stability will give people the opportunity to make positive life choices as they leave care and provide a more solid foundation from which to build their adult lives.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said:

“We want all our young people to have the best possible chance in life and fulfil their full potential. The state is the guardian of people leaving care and so has a real obligation to support them as they start their adult life.

“Our focus will be on opening up their world to all its possibilities and create an independence from services as their lives develop.

“Many of those involved in this pilot don’t have the support lots of people – myself included – have been lucky enough to enjoy as we started out on our path to adulthood.

“Our radical initiative will not only improve the lives of those taking part in the pilot, but will reap rewards for the rest of Welsh society. If we succeed in what we are attempting today this will be just the first step in what could be a journey that benefits generations to come.”

Minister for Social Justice Jane Hutt said:

“We’re in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis like no other and we therefore need new ways of supporting people who are most in need.

“Our Basic Income pilot is an incredibly exciting project giving financial stability to a generation of young people. Too many people leaving care face huge barriers to achieving their hopes and ambitions; such as problems with getting a safe and stable home, to securing a job and building a fulfilling career. This scheme will help people live a life free of such barriers and limitations.

“We will carefully evaluate the lessons learnt from the pilot. Listening to everyone who takes part will be crucial in determining the success of this globally ambitious project. We will examine whether Basic Income is an efficient way to support society’s most vulnerable and not only benefit the individual, but wider society too.”

Tiff Evans of Voices from Care Cymru, speaking on behalf of young people who have experienced care, said:

“This is a brilliant opportunity for care leavers in Wales. It is good to see that care leavers in Wales are being thought of and Welsh Government are providing this opportunity for them as young people to become responsible, control some parts of their lives and have a chance to thrive and be financially independent.

“We thank Welsh Government for investing in them and their future and we look forward to other changes and developments for care experienced young people in Wales in order for them to reach life aspirations.”

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WASPI women call on Simon Hart MP for help with compensation package

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PENSIONS Minister Guy Opperman, like Simon Hart, Secretary of State for Wales have said that they have no plans to meet with WASPI campaigners.

In the latest twist for these women, Labour MP Dr Rupa Huq questioned the Government on when the last meeting between a minister and the women of WASPI was held, and when the Government next intends to schedule one.

Guy Opperman, minister for pensions, stated there had been a meeting between a minister and representatives of WASPI.

However, he acknowledged this had occurred years ago on June 29, 2016.

Jackie Gilderdale said that “The Ombudsman has been clear that the Department could be pro-active on compensation”.

“All we are asking is that Ministers meet with us to discuss a fair, fast compensation package now before more women die waiting for justice. We have lost over 220,000 women during this campaign including members of the local 1950s WASPI Women of Wales.

“The MPs refusal is ignorant. They need to remember they’re paid from the public purse, to represent their constituents”.

Rupa Huq MP, who posed the original question in Parliament, has described the Government’s response as “shocking”.

She has called for the Government to take further action on the matter for women affected.

Ms Huq added: “The DWP has already been found guilty by the Ombudsman of maladministration”.

On Saturday some 1950s women joined over 115,000 people in London at the TUC rally, demanding justice now.

Simon Hart MP/Secretary of State responded recently to one of his 1950s WASPI Women of Wales constituents who asked for his help. His opening paragraph in his response was as follows:-

“Thank you for your recent email regarding pensions and the cost of living. I’m sorry to hear that you are struggling with the increase in heating and electricity bills; I appreciate the stress it is causing in households across the country”.

Local 1950s WASPI Women of Wales Organiser, Jackie Gilderdale said: “It’s all very well that Simon Hart responded, but what does he intend to do to help the 1950s women and others during an economic crises caused by his Party, and the fat cats who profit through Tory Policies? His responses continue to be cut, copy and pasted from websites, rather than from himself”.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies stated today that as a result of increasing the state pension age from 65 to 66 the income poverty rate of single people aged 65 rose by 22 percentage points, from 16% to 38%; the income poverty rate of 65-year-olds with at most GCSE-level education rose by 21 percentage points, from 14% to 35%; the income poverty rate of 65-year-old renters rose by 24 percentage points, from 22% to 46%.

The rise in the state pension age from 65 to 66 led to larger increases in income poverty rates among those affected than the increases in poverty rates seen following earlier rises in the female state pension age. This is due to a growing gap in state support over time for those just above and just below the state pension age, together with the fact that people are more reliant on state support at older ages as fewer people are in paid work.

With lower state benefits and higher tax revenues from employment, the increase in state pension age from 65 to 66 boosted the public finances by £4.9 billion per year, equivalent to around a quarter of 1% of national income, or 5% of annual government spending on state pensions. The benefit to the exchequer is the key counterpart to the reductions in household incomes caused by the reform.

Jackie said that “just to make it clear, the national insurance fund has a surplus of approximately £30 billion and that surplus has been generated by the women who have paid national insurance. All we ask is that the 1950s women are given what they are entitled too – after all they’ve paid into the system for decades. The state pension should be seen as a right, but the Government have changed the terms and conditions of that right without consulting the 3.6 million women affected! 12 months ago the Government and DWP were found guilty of maladministration and now we await the findings of stages 2 and 3, so these women can be rightfully compensated”.

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