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Social mobility stalls in Wales

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Limited: Upward mobility in Wales

FOLLOWING the publication in late 2017 of its State of the Nation 2017: Social Mobility in Great Britain report, all four members of the UK Government’s Social Mobility Commission decided to stand down from their roles on the Commission, citing concerns about the lack of progress towards a ‘fairer Britain’.

The State of the Nation report warned that: ​”​​Britain is a deeply divided nation. Those divisions take many forms. Class, income, gender, race. In recent years, each has been the subject of much scrutiny. But one form of division that has received far less attention is that based on geography.”​

Almost a quarter (23%) of all individuals in Wales live in poverty – ‘higher than in all regions in England and Great Britain, except London and the West Midlands’.

While the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s UK Poverty 2017 report, explains that of the four UK nations, Wales consistently has the highest levels of poverty, and these levels are only slightly lower than London, and similar to those of England’s North East.

Looking at early years’ education, west Wales fares conspicuously well, with over 80% of children in receipt of school meals in Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion meeting and exceeding the targets set for their personal development.

However at Key Stages 2 & 3, while Carmarthenshire retains mid table status and Ceredigion tops the attainment table, Pembrokeshire slides down the table to 16th out of 22 Welsh local authorities.

A more worrying underlying trend across all Welsh local authority areas is that in no Welsh local authority area do more than half of pupils eligible for free school meals attain the equivalent to A* to C grades at GCSE level.

According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s UK Poverty 2017 report, the attainment gap between children from richer and poorer backgrounds at the age of 11 years old has fallen in recent years from 26% to 14%. However, by the age of 16 years old (Key Stage 4) the attainment gap is 31%. A huge amount depends on how well a young person does at school in year 11. Whether they can go on to study A levels or even do an apprenticeship often depends on getting the golden ticket of 5 A*-C GCSEs.

Yet the latest 2016/17 GCSE Examination results show that a huge proportion of our young people are not getting to this level, with those who are eligible for Free School Meals (FSM) doing much worse.

The cohort sitting their GCSE exams last year were the first to take the new versions of GCSE Maths and English. The overall proportions of year 11’s achieving 5 A*-C GCSEs including maths and English/Welsh first language have dropped from 60.3% in 2015/16 to 54.6% in 2016/17. There is also a dramatic drop in students achieving any 5 GCSEs A*-C, from 84% to 67%.

Many more young people who are eligible for FSM are leaving school without the qualifications they need. The proportion of year 11’s that were eligible for FSM who achieved 5 A*-C GCSEs including maths and English/Welsh language dropped by 7 percentage points since 2015/16, and more worryingly have dropped by 30.3​% for any 5 A*-C GCSEs, compared to 5.8% and 15.4% for those who were not eligible.

The State of the Nation report explains that at Key Stage 4 the biggest attainment gaps are to be found in some of the least deprived areas of Wales. Monmouthshire has the lowest concentration of deprived areas in Wales but has an attainment gap for disadvantaged pupils of over 41%. But even if good educational outcomes are achieved, across west Wales the opportunities to earn more than the Living Wage are limited.

Over a quarter of people employed in Carmarthenshire earn below the Living Wage and the figures for Ceredigion (29%) and Pembrokeshire (32%) is even worse. While the unemployment rates across Wales are falling, increasing employment – often insecure, seasonal, or low-paid – is not creating greater prosperity.

In addition, the ratchet effect of low wages over a longer period of time combined with poor education outcomes at Year 11 for those from the poorest families suggests that low-earning is likely to continue.

As increasing numbers of workers fail to earn a basic living wage, the gap between those who have and those who have not is both wide and getting wider.

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Ben Lake MP “disappointed” after Agriculture Bill amendment on the standard of food and agricultural imports is rejected by House of Commons

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The UK’s new Agriculture Bill was put before MPs on Wednesday (13 May) for the final time as it reached the Report Stage and Third Reading.

Alongside farming unions and campaign groups, Ben Lake MP has lobbied for the Bill to include a number of important amendments. One of the amendments sought to introduce a legal requirement that agricultural or food products imported into the UK under future trade agreements would need to be produced or processed according to equivalent animal health, welfare and environmental standards as those required of UK prodcuers.

This amendment, in the form of New Clause 2, and which was tabled by the Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee Neil Parish MP, was rejected by the Commons. All Plaid Cymru MPs supported the amendment and Ben Lake MP said he was “disappointed” that the house did not vote in favour of an amendment to prevent the importation of products produced to lower animal health and environmental standards, and which in turn would have supported the high standards of Welsh produce.

Ben Lake MP said:

“Without this amendment there remains no legal requirement for future UK trade agreements to ensure that any agricultural or food imports are produced to the same standards as those required of domestic producers.

“Farmers in Wales strive to produce quality food in a sustainable manner, but the failure to include this amendment to the Agriculture Bill risks undermining these efforts by keeping the door open to imports produced to lower environmental and animal welfare standards.

“I have always argued that in order to protect our own high standards it is crucial that a level playing-field is maintained in relation to imports, and that farmers in Wales are not put at a disadvantage by having to compete with imports that are produced to lower standards. I sincerely hope that this amendment will be adopted by the House of Lords, so that the House of Commons has another opportunity to support it.”

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£1 billion deal for ‘Shared Rural Network’ to improve mobile coverage goes ahead

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Ceredigion MP, Ben Lake says he is delighted that a scheme to extend mobile coverage in hard-to-reach rural areas making poor mobile phone coverage a thing of the past has been given the green light, thanks to a major new deal between the Government and UK mobile network operators.

The ‘Shared Rural Network’ will mean that high quality 4G coverage will be available for 95 percent of the UK by 2026 which means consumers will get good 4G signal wherever they live, work or travel. The new plans involves four operators (EE, O2, Three and Vodafone) joining forces to create a new organisation to deliver the ‘Shared Rural Network’. Each will be able to make the maximum use out of existing and new phone masts by being able to host their own equipment on them allowing their customers to access a mobile signal. The scheme will cost more than £1billion made up of £530m from the mobile operators and a £500m investment from the Government.

Ben Lake MP, who was one of 78 cross-party MPs who wrote to the Secretary of State for Digital Culture, Media and Sport last year to ask for government support for the scheme, said:

“This is really good news for my constituents. Better mobile connectivity will make flexible working, access to education and leisure opportunities easier. It will boost regional economic growth and begin to close the digital divide that exists across the country. The mobile has become an essential tool for most of us. It will certainly come as a relief to many people living in my constituency who are frustrated by the persistent ‘not spots’ which prevent them from carrying out many tasks which other people take for granted”.

The ’Shared Rural Network’ will eliminate the substantial majority of the country’s partial not-spots with the added benefit of increasing competition for mobile services, especially in rural areas; deliver on the Government’s 95% coverage manifesto commitment to extend coverage across the country; improve road coverage by reaching a further 16,000 kilometres of roads; involve minimum environmental impact and reduce the need for duplicate infrastructure and ensure that the UK has one of, if not the best, mobile coverage in Europe.

The initiative, which is a world first, follows government proposals for an overhaul of planning rules and is part of the Prime Minister’s plan to level up the country with world-class digital infrastructure across the UK to make sure homes and businesses are better connected.

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Elin Jones welcomes speed reduction, but says it should be even lower

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Following a meeting and correspondence with the Welsh Government, Elin Jones AM has welcomed the confirmation of an initial reduction in the speed on the A487 between Bow Street and Aberystwyth.

This stretch of the A487 is particularly dangerous, and there were two fatal accidents there last year.

Ken Skates, the Welsh Government Minister for Economy and Transport, confirmed to Elin Jones via letter that the route between Waun Fawr to 300m beyond Dorglwyd Junction will be reduced to 50mph, with work taking place in the next financial year.

The reduction to 50mph has been initially welcomed by Elin Jones, however she has called for the speed limit to be reduced further to 40mph.

Elin Jones said:

“The need for a review of the safety on the A487 is clear, particularly following the two tragic accidents that took place last year. I was pleased to be able to discuss the issue directly with the Welsh Government Minister in Bow Street recently, and for him to see for himself why a speed reduction was needed.

“I’m also pleased that this has resulted in the safety and speed limit review concluding that a reduction was necessary.

“However, I and many constituents who regularly use this route feel that the speed limit could be reduced further to 40mph, which I will raise again with the Minister.

“I will also continue to call for upgrading safety at the Dorglwyd junction. There are also many areas on the A487 where safety can be improved, either with a speed limit reduction, or by providing cycle lanes and footpaths to remove pedestrians and cyclists from danger. I have called on the Welsh Government to consider all options.”

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