FROM David Cameron’s focus on life-chances to Theresa May’s burning injustices and now Boris’s vision for levelling up, building a fairer society has been a central theme for my party over the past decade.
But, as last week’s row over free school meals illustrated, we are not always comfortable speaking in direct terms about poverty and hardship.
Some Conservatives prefer the aspirational language of opportunity and social mobility; others choose broader phrases such as social justice or the banner of One Nation. There is a lot of overlap of course.
But when it comes to discussing the problem of families not having enough money to get by, we sometimes struggle to find the vocabulary. Language matters and if we can’t find the words, we probably won’t find the solutions.
The UK has yet to feel the full force of the economic storm that Covid-19 has unleashed but there are already signs it will cause lasting damage to vulnerable communities, undoing much of the progress achieved in cutting unemployment over the past decade.
The speed and scale of the government’s intervention to protect workers during the lockdown has been unprecedented. But paying the wages of nine million people is not sustainable. As the furlough scheme begins to unwind, unemployment will rise with potentially millions of people losing jobs – pulled into poverty through no fault of their own.
Many have already been forced to turn to the benefits system. The most recent figures show a staggering 2.3 million new universal credit claimants. This will grow further.
The system itself has handled the increased caseload remarkably well. But many families will find the change from the emergency parachute of furlough to the longer-term safety net of universal credit a very hard landing indeed.
Worryingly, areas that were already struggling before the pandemic, such as ex-industrial and coastal towns, are likely to be the places hardest hit. These are the very communities at the heart of the levelling-up vision. But the full gains from increasing investment in poorer regions won’t be seen for years. It is not the answer to the question of how we support those families being pushed into poverty right now.
Even before the virus struck there were signs that too many families were struggling to make ends meet, including large numbers of working families also living in poverty.
Research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation shows that nearly two-thirds of families on universal credit have been forced to borrow money since the start of this crisis. As the economic fallout from coronavirus grows, many families will be plunged deeper into debt. In April the government increased the universal credit standard allowance by £20 a week, recognising the extra pressures millions are now facing.
But to prevent further hardship, as more people fall out of work and for longer periods, there is a case for strengthening our system of social security. The political choices of the past decade that saw working-age benefits squeezed while the state pension was boosted by the triple lock are not the ones for this new period we are entering.
So, what steps can we take? Firstly, we could implement the recommendation of the work and pensions committee this week and uprate the legacy benefits.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation is also calling for a temporary increase of £20 per week in the child element of universal credit and child tax credits to prevent families being pulled further into poverty. Compared with the eye-watering costs of the furlough scheme, this measure could represent a reasonable price to pay to hold families steady during this crisis.
As the government turns its attention to a growth strategy to fire up the economy, with a focus on jobs, apprenticeships and infrastructure, we should not forget our mission to support families facing hardship at this time.
This would reflect the best of all Conservative traditions.
This article was first published in The Times on Thursday, June 25 and is reproduced by kind permission of Stephen Crabb MP
The Welsh Government launches Basic Income pilot scheme
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.”
Boris Johnson, his wife and chancellor Rishi Sunak to be fined for breaking lockdown rules
THE PRIME MINISTER Boris Johnson and his wife Carrie, and chancellor Rishi Sunak, have been notified that they will be issued with fines for breaking lockdown rules.
The fixed penalty notices are the result of a Metropolitan Police investigation into parties in Downing Street and Whitehall in 2020 and 2021.
Mr Johnson will become the first sitting prime minister to receive a punishment for breaking the law.
Labour immediately called for both the PM and chancellor to resign while Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey called for parliament to be recalled for a vote of confidence in Mr Johnson.
Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon also demanded that they should quit.
Those calls have been echoed this week by Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader Jane Dodds has called on the Welsh Conservative Leader Andrew RT Davies and Welsh Secretary Simon Hart to “show a backbone” and call for Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak to resign following the news that both men are to be fined over lockdown parties.
Commenting Jane Dodds MS told The Herald: “Boris Johnson & Rishi Sunak have broken the law & repeatedly lied, they must resign from their positions at once.
“While people in Wales were playing by the rules at great personal expense, those in charge thought they were above the law.
“This also will come as a painful blow to all those covid bereaved families in Wales. The behavior of Johnson and Sunak
“The Welsh public deserves much better. For the sake of the country, both Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak must resign immediately.
“If the Conservative Party is to have any legitimacy in Wales Andrew RT Davies and Simon Hart need to show some backbone and be calling for resignations immediately. No Welsh Conservative MP should be backing the Chancellor or Prime Minister staying in post.”
Plaid sets out its economic vision for Llanelli ahead of County Council election
PLAID CYMRU has set out its vision for economic regeneration in Llanelli ahead of the county council elections next month. The party’s priorities for Llanelli, include:
- Delivery of a new £27m Leisure Centre for Llanelli, as part of the first phase of Pentre Awel
- Ensuring supply chain opportunities for local businesses, and local recruitment arising from the multi-million-pound Pentre Awel scheme
- Plans to enhance and redesign Spring Gardens and Central Square
- Developing retail sites in the town centre
- Commission a feasibility study for a Skateboard Park of national significance and BMX Pumptrack in Llanelli
- Tackling empty buildings, and promote residential uses in the town – as is being done with the YMCA building
- Delivery of the £9.3m Tyisha Project
- Champion reform of business rates for town centre traders
- Support more businesses with their online offering to support sales
The pledges build on actions already taken by Plaid over recent years, such as the £4.5million Market Street North project, which saw the Council buy up empty shop units from private ownership, to renovate and bring them back in to use, and the investment and revamp of the Grade II-listed Llanelli Goods Shed.
Plaid Cymru’s Hengoed ward candidate Susan Phillips stated: “Plaid Cymru is committed to doing all that we can to ensure that Llanelli has a bright future. Our manifesto sets clear ambitions for Llanelli, and places town centre regeneration at the heart.
“After decades of under-investment by Labour, the Plaid-led Council has already started the work of regenerating the town centre – leading on the YMCA building, and have also approved the development of Y Linc – the new £3.5m Arcade connecting Eastgate with the town centre. Developments such as this will breathe new life into the town, and we want to do more.
“Plaid Cymru has led on the development of Pentre Awel in Llanelli and we are committed to ensuring that as well as providing health and wellbeing benefits, that the businesses of Llanelli benefit through the construction stage, and that it will deliver employment and training opportunities to local people.
Tyisha candidate Terry Davies added: “Work has already started on the £9.3million Tyisha regeneration project, with the demolition of outdated flats already underway and we are committed to further investment in order to provide quality housing in the ward and improvements to the local environment, and now the town.
“Tackling the deprivation and decades of Labour neglect in Llanelli is a top priority for Plaid Cymru and this can be seen in the money that the party has channelled into the town. It is a breath of fresh air for Llanelli to see Plaid delivering on its promises.”
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