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Leanne Wood; Bae watch (December 2011)

(December 01, 2011)

Bae watch; with Leanne Wood


Leanne Wood - Senedd

 

The last few months have been a busy time for Plaid Cymru in opposition.  While it is business as usual for the minority Labour Government, my colleagues and I have had our hands full scrutinising their lack of action and pushing for a much-needed economic stimulus for Wales.  With unemployment in Wales as high as it was during the peak of the recession - with youth and women’s of particular concern - and business confidence very low, we have persistently pushed for more to be done to boost the Welsh economy during the recent budget negotiations.  The First Minister is unable to name one single capital project to have begun since the Assembly elections in May.  This inertia is clearly hurting the Welsh economy.  Is an economic stimulus just too difficult?  Does it require that bit too much imagination and ambition?   

One of the indicators which unequivocally show how tough times are is the rise in demand for the services of the foodbank network in Wales.  It is wrong that there are people amongst us, in modern-day Wales, who are unable to afford the basics in life.  Foodbanks supply three-days of nutritionally balanced food to anyone in a short-term crisis.  I recently brought forward a short debate in the Siambr to raise more awareness about this little-known service.  I have mixed feelings about the foodbank network.  On the one hand I am outraged that there is a need for them, but a need there certainly is as demonstrated by the network’s significant expansion just to meet demand. 

When I first made contact last year with foodbank co-ordinator for Wales, Adrian Curtis, there were 10 foodbanks in Wales.  There are now 16 and there are plans to establish many more over the coming months and years.  Demand for the Cardiff Foodbank has risen by 100% since last year and the Ebbw Vale foodbank has experienced a 50% increase in demand.  How can the Welsh Government hope to eradicate child poverty in Wales by 2020 while so many people can’t afford to buy food?   

The stories that the foodbank staff hear on a daily basis can be harrowing.  I’ve heard of a mother only having enough money to feed her children so she would eat paper towels to stave off the pains brought on by an empty stomach.  One man even walked 10 miles from Blaina to Ebbw Vale to collect his food parcel because he didn’t have enough money for the bus.  I know first-hand the difference a foodbank parcel can make.  A constituent who I put in touch with her local foodbank was only able to cook one meal a day for her partner and young daughter.  After getting her food parcel she was able to prepare a meal with her daughter without worrying about skimping on ingredients.  She could not express her gratitude strongly enough.

Apart from trying to raise awareness of the foodbank network, the short debate provided an opportunity to explore ways in which the Welsh Government may be able to help strengthen this service.  It is wholly unsatisfactory that such an important, emergency service is run on a voluntary basis and is financially reliant on the benevolence of grant distributors.  Foodbanks are here to stay for at least the time being so consideration should be given to what could help to make them self-sufficient.  Some foodbanks in England have diversified into community enterprises to increase their autonomy.  This is something that should be considered in Wales. 

There is also a problem in establishing foodbanks in rural areas.  Poverty can be felt more acutely in the more isolated parts of Wales because of distance from urban areas where there tends to be more comprehensive services. The logistics of a rural foodbank means covering larger geographic distances than in urban areas.  If the Government could agree to match fund transport equipment, for example, it would go a long way to ensuring that those struggling to afford food in rural areas have some sort of safety net. 

Debts and cuts to benefits are making the problem worse and will further increase demand on the foodbank network which provides for people of all ages.  The proposals of the Con/Dem coalition to downgrade the value of public sector pensions will also impact upon poverty in Wales if they succeed.  As a Unison member and chair of the PCS cross-party Assembly group, I am fully behind the public sector workers’ in standing up and defending themselves against attacks from David Cameron and his cabinet of millionaires.  During the strike I visited a number of picket lines and found the mood of strikers to be one of steely determination to ensure they gain justice and are not made scapegoats for the mistakes of the banking sector.  It does not take a financial genius to work out that if the pensions are undermined to the extent that is planned, once sustainable schemes will be rendered so unattractive that people will pull-out of them en masse. This will naturally weaken the pension schemes in the long-run, while at the same time increasing the likelihood of pensioner poverty which is already far, far too high.  Unlike other political parties, Plaid Cymru has been strong in its support for the trade unions to defend their rights and withdraw labour in the face of antagonism and intransigence from the Con/Dems.

I have no doubt that the public sector workers have won the moral argument.  If they stand strong and united, victory will be theirs.

 

Leanne Wood, 1 December 2011

 

Also from Leanne Wood:

     Bae watch; September 2011

      Bae watch; June 2011

 

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