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Welsh Government Ukraine Response
The Welsh Government is a Homes for Ukraine super-sponsor.
Wales will sponsor up to 1,000 people from Ukraine and provide them with sanctuary.
The Welsh Government will provide initial accommodation and assess their particular needs before placing them with one of the 10,000 families in Wales who have generously offered to give them refuge in their homes.
Language lessons for refugees
On 23rd March, I asked whether the Economy Minister could amend the ReAct funding criteria to allow refugees access to ESOL classes.
I was assured that Welsh Government was working with ESOL colleges and schools to assess spare capacity so that newly arrived refugees can get the language classes they need using the ReAct programme. A key provider locally is the Celtic English Academy, which will provide English for refugees, including those from Ukraine.
In a debate on the Budget for the next 12 months, I commended the Finance Minister’s skilful management of Welsh taxpayers’ money which has enable her to find an extra £162 million to combat the cost-of-living crisis. I highlighted the research by the Bevan Foundation which showed that low-income families spend £35 a week on food compared to w£99 a week by high-income families. I welcomed the uprating of the Pupil Development Grant, the holiday hunger payments, the Discretionary Advice Fund, and the winter fuel support for poorer households. I praised Cardiff Council for proactively contacting all their tenants to make sure that they were claiming what they were entitled to. I probed the budget for the Future Generations Commissioner and whether she could get comparable funding to that of the Children’s Commissioner. I asked whether the financial transaction capital allocation could be used to retrofit homes and schools with better insulation.
Housing & cost of living
In a Plaid Cymru debate on housing and the cost-of-living crisis on 27th April I spoke about the inadequacy of the UK Government’s Housing allowance which is pegged at 30% of the local market rates and in practice means that less than 4% of properties are affordable unless people subsidize the rent with money they should be using for food and other essentials. Cardiff is by far the most expensive place in Wales for renters. Three bed properties cost £1100-£1400 a month more than the Housing Allowance. I said that this situation is unsustainable and Welsh Government needs to put pressure on the Tory UK Government to increase these deliberately miserly rates which condemn low paid people who rely on benefits to grinding poverty.
NHS Planned Care Recovery Plan
Eluned Morgan published a new Planned Care Recovery Plan on April 26th. I asked what lessons are being learned from the day-care knee surgery operations pioneered in North Wales, and whether the closer working of optometrists and ophthalmologists in Swansea Bay can be expanded across Wales.
Eluned Morgan said that cataracts waiting lists are being tackled; with those at risk of losing their sight going to the front of the queue. New mobile cataracts units will be operating in both Swansea and Cardiff to clear the backlog.
The Health Minister pointed out that day care surgery costs less and avoids any delays caused by hospital beds not being available post-surgery.
During a debate on the latest Estyn Report on children’s education, I raised concern about the reduction in non-statutory nursery education providers from over 700 in 2011 to just over 500 in July 2021; this poses a challenge to our ambition to expand early years education to two year olds. I noted the impact of the pandemic lockdown on children who did not have access to a garden. Many children have experienced speech and language loss and behavioural difficulties.
In a debate on the armed forces, I spoke about the situation in Ukraine and whether the armed forces could be deployed to help bring people fleeing the war safely to the UK. Poland and other bordering countries are struggling to cope with most of the 11 million people who have been displaced and Britain should be doing more to help get people reach the UK so they can take up the generous offers from families who want to provide refuge in their homes. The 157 Royal Logistical Regiment, a reserve regiment based in Cardiff with squadrons across South Wales could be mobilised to bring people safely by land, sea, and air quickly. I asked the Welsh Government to push this with the UK Government to assist the Polish Government coping with people who have left Ukraine with just what they can carry.
Healthy Weight Healthy Wales – Free School Meals
I asked the Public Health Minister if the school meal regulations would be revised to better reflect the if Healthy Weight Healthy Wales policy; Who will be responsible for monitoring the quality of school meals?
I also asked what support would be provided for pregnant women to have a healthier relationship with food to support a healthy baby.
Lynne Neagle said that Welsh Government is committed to reviewing the school meals nutritional standards. Estyn is meant to look at how schools comply with the nutritional standards, and she will be discussing with the Education Minister to make sure that Estyn has a focus in this.
She said that Welsh Government will be making sure that pregnant women can access the all-Wales Weight Management pathway to help tackle maternal obesity. Pregnant women can also access a Foodwise in Pregnancy app.
It removes the need for applicants to be matched to a named person before they can get a visa and clearance to travel to the UK.
Welcome centres are being set up around Wales to accommodate people when they arrive. Health services, counselling and other support will be provided before they move into more permanent accommodation.
Growing Fruit & Vegetables in Wales
On St David’s Day I asked the Rural Affairs Minister for a statement on how many leeks are produced in Wales and the plans Welsh Government must increase the production of leeks and other vegetables in Wales.
Lesley Griffiths said that Welsh Government is supporting Welsh producers with an application to secure accreditation under the UK Geographical Indication Scheme which is being scrutinised. The Government is also looking at vertical farming to see if growers can be encouraged to increase leeks and other crop production. Horticultural farms are supported through funding from Tyfu Cymru.
On 9th March I asked the Rural Affairs Minister what she and her officials are doing to increase the number of vegetables grown in Wales so that Local Education Authorities can source the extra tonnes of fresh vegetables they are going to need when the universal free school meals for primary pupils goes live later this year.
Lesley Griffiths said that Caerphilly Council is leading on how we can increase the supply of Welsh food in school meals. Welsh Government is keen to promote, support and encourage farmers to go into horticulture farming. She highlighted the need for change in public procurement away accepting only the lowest cost food tenders to make sure that social value, environmental value, and quality are all considered.
In a Conservative debate on food security, I applauded the huge amount of agreement in what needs to be done. I lamented the lack of considerable progress on improving our food security which has deteriorated significantly because of Brexit and the rise in transport costs. We have no farm-to-fork strategy and in the context of universal free school meals we must be candid that our procurement processes are still a work in progress.
I asked how the Economy Minister is planning to increase the number of caterers with cooking skills to provide good quality food.
Given the climate and nature emergencies, what are we doing having chicken sheds that require corn to be imported from across the world? I also wanted to know how we are encouraging growers to plant more so that we do have the ability to feed the poorest in the population. I emphasised that we have all the ingredients for food security in Wales – water, land, and sun – but we desperately need to ensure that we have a nature-secure, coherent food strategy to improve our food security and wellbeing.
On 27th April I asked the Rural Affairs Minister about the action Welsh Government is doing, considering all the emergencies we currently face, to increase the amount of Welsh food that is processed in Wales.
Lesley Griffiths said that the Welsh Government invests heavily in food processors by providing grant support through food business investment and rural business investment schemes. Technical support is provided via Project Helix and soft support via engagement in trade events and through business clusters and network.
In a debate on eating disorders on 2nd March I welcomed the reduced stigma of raising this issue, and that we are much better equipped to deal with it. However, we are an awfully long way away from where we need to be. There has been a 300% rise in the number of people seeking help compared to pre-pandemic and a 50% increase in referrals in at least two health boards. This means there are far more patients presenting than there are clinicians to support them.
I highlighted that schools need to pay more attention to this and become more aware of when signs are appearing in young people. This is an issue with schools’ approach to the school day and mealtimes, where children should be encouraged to take time to eat their food rather than rushing it. Awareness needs to improve amongst GPs too; passing of patients from pillar-to-post is the reverse of what needs to happen. I asked the Welsh Government what is being done to recruit more psychiatrists, more paediatricians, and other specialists and not only recruit, but retain these professionals.
On International Women’s Day, I asked the Economy Minister what the Government is doing to get a more gender-balanced workforce for the 4000 people Wales will need to skill up to insulate people’s homes.
Vaughan Gething said that Welsh Government will be looking to promote opportunities and being clear that this is not just man’s work or woman’s work. He emphasised that these jobs will be for people with skills and talent, and Government’s job will be to remove the barriers in the way people see themselves as well as the way they are seen by other people.
On 1st March I discussed the sustainability of the products we use to allow period dignity and the need to focus on reusable products. This would help in more deprived communities as foodbanks restrict the number of times people can visit, so women cannot go back for more period products. I asked how much work is being done on promoting mooncups for those women who are sexually active as well as reusable pants and pads so that young women who need to help financially with period products still have them in month four and month five. I asked what conversations were being had with the UK Government to ensure that VAT is removed from reusable products.
Jane Hutt said that it was important to look at the environmental impact issues and support the use of reusable or eco-friendly products. This would require, particularly at a school level, looking at the infrastructure in girls’ toilets to provide facilities to rinse out mooncups.
Mental health and social prescribing
In questions to the Health Minister, I asked about Welsh Government’s strategy for increasing the number of people offered social prescribing to promote wellbeing, which would then free up the time of mental health experts to concentrate on acute and enduring mental health problems.
Lynne Neagle said there was a Programme for Government commitment to have an all-Wales framework to support social prescribing which will outline what best practice looks like in Wales but will not dictate what is delivered in different communities. There will be a formal consultation in May. The health & social care Regional Integration Fundwill continue to support social prescribing models.
Sign Language Bill
The Senedd has given legislative consent to the UK Parliament’s British Sign Language Bill, which will officially recognise BSL as a language. This will be a wonderful opportunity for young people to learn the language in nursery and school. I asked what plans the Senedd Commission will have to make BSL available during Senedd proceedings.
Remembering the Armenian Genocide
Sunday April 24th was the 107th Armenian Genocide Memorial Day, remembering the 1.5m Armenians who lost their lives.
Penylan resident Alice Kanekanian is one of many Armenians who work hard to ensure that the genocide is remembered as part of our Holocaust memorial celebrations.
Policing and Crime Bill
I voted to oppose the UK Government’s Policing and Crime Bill, and to withhold the Senedd’s consent to the Bill. Given the lawlessness that currently takes place inside the UK Conservative Party, their attempt to limit our right to protest is inappropriate. The UK Government encourages Russians to protest about the actions of their government, it is ironic that they want to suppress protest in the UK. I applauded the House of Lords for attempt to remove these clauses from the Bill, and shameful that Conservative MPs have reinstated these limitations.
High Standards in Education
During the statement on high standards and aspirations for all, I asked the Education Minister to give me a commitment that schools will not be allowed to exclude or expel students who they think are going to cause them problems; we need to ensure that all pupils have the right support to grow and succeed in line with their ability. I wanted reassurance that action will be taken to stop schools who exclude pupils because they do not like the look of them.
Jeremy Miles said that Welsh Government has been doing a significant piece of work in relation to absence by drilling down beneath that into the experiences of school and as to why pupils are persistently absent to help the Government put in place the right responses to get these children back in school. He also said that we will be moving away from the model where school assessment is solely based on exam performance but also including aspects such as attendance, exclusion, health, and wellbeing.
Tertiary Education Bill
On 15th March I took part in the debate on the Tertiary Education Bill which, given the fact that Cardiff Central has three universities in it, is an especially important piece of legislation. I spoke about the governance of universities and the lack of clarity in the Bill regarding making governing bodies more democratically accountable. I asked how the Bill will be aligning with the future Social Partnership and Procurement Bill. I also wanted to know how the Commission for Tertiary Education might improve the governance of our universities in the sense of being a critical friend. I emphasised that governing bodies need to make their decision-making processes fully diverse and consider the views of staff, students, and the wider community.
In his response Jeremy Miles assured me that assurance on governance will be an important part of the registration regime.
Flying Start and Summer of Fun
The Flying Start programme is being expanded to 2,500 more children under the age of four in the first phase of extending free childcare to all two-year olds in Wales.
The Summer of Fun scheme is getting £7m this year. This is a £2m increase on last year, when over 67,000 young people enjoyed free indoor and outdoor activities including music, theatre, seaside sports, climbing and zip lining.
Welsh Government Free Tree Initiative
Every household in Wales will be offered a free tree to plant in their garden as part of the Welsh Government’s climate change ambitions. The first trees are being distributed now from regional community hubs (I received this one from Bute Park).
Also, the Welsh Government is launching a consultation to create a National Forest for Wales.
On 25th April I hosted the Senedd launch of City Hospice’s Forever Flowers. Sponsoring a sunflower in memory of someone who has died of cancer is a great way of raising money for palliative care and bereavement counselling. The sunflowers will be displayed at Cardiff Castle from July 30th to August 14th.
Inspired by wonderful speeches from patient Amy-Claire Davies and widower Richard Thurston, the next day in the Senedd I asked that the Government allow cancer patients to carry their own notes to improve the joined-up care they get from different bits of the NHS.
May 3rd, 2022