Plaid Cymru AMs, led by shadow cabinet secretary for Communities and Poverty, Bethan Sayed, outlined a worsening picture of child poverty in Wales, as figures suggest that a third of Welsh children now live in poverty (200,000) with 700,000 overall, living in poverty across the country – by far the worst rate across the UK.
Research shows that children growing up in poverty are not only more likely to continue living in poverty in adulthood, but also to fail to reach the same levels of educational attainment and health outcomes. Plaid Cymru AMs including Llyr Gruffydd AM and Sian Gwenllian AM pointed to Labour’s two decades in power and their failure to tackle child poverty or fundamentally change the relative weakness of the Welsh economy overall.
Bethan Sayed AM said during the debate,
“Again, we have a generation of Welsh children growing up with the struggle of poverty. The difference between now and the 80’s when I grew up, is that we have a Welsh Government. But where is that Welsh Government? the sentiment and the drive – of a Government drawing on all of the levers at its disposal to tackle a national emergency – is simply lacking in Wales. Labour is acting like a regional grant distribution agency.
“Labour refuses to even try to get power over welfare administration. No Government can claim to be serious about tackling the scandal of our poverty unless they aspire to hold the levers of change which effect it. I understand that the Tories, with their mix of right wing economics and welfare changes, have had a damaging impact in the last decade. But Labour is now in its 19th year of office. Scotland and Northern Ireland have a lower child poverty rate than Wales. Wales’ economy has gone backwards relative to the rest of the UK under Labour in Wales: Where is Wales’ devolution dividend?
“I think Labour needs to ask itself a serious and heartfelt question: How does it want its era of devolution to be marked? At this point, many people will recognise the Welsh Labour era of the last decade as the era of poverty. The era of decline. The era of struggle.”
Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood pointed to damning figures which show how welfare reforms such as the rape clause, cuts to bereavement support and the ‘chaos’ of Universal Credit are a major driver of poverty, but outlined Labour’s refusal to support welfare devolution as a major roadblock.
Leanne Wood AM said during the debate,
“It is the poverty of ambition from this government that is leading to the poverty of our children. Just last week, I called on the Minister to join Plaid Cymru’s calls to devolve the administration of welfare. What was this Labour government’s rebuttal? ‘We trust the Conservatives in Westminster more than themselves to deliver benefits.’
“The transfer of powers over welfare devolution will be cost neutral and in terms of pooling welfare – every other devolved parliament has these powers. There is no “pooling” of the administration of welfare – it is Westminster and Wales and the rest.
The conclusion is, in fact, a simple one – Labour is not a party of principle, but of political expediency. Shunning responsibility in favour of helpful political ambiguity.”