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Labour sinks Autism Bill

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There must be clear duties on public services: Meleri Thomas, NAS Cymru

There must be clear duties on public services: Meleri Thomas, NAS Cymru

THIS week, the Labour Party in the Welsh Assembly voted as one to defeat a bill that called on the Welsh Government to bring forward an Autism (Wales) Bill during the fifth Assembly term.

The bill’s defeat was a bitter blow for all of those who had ceaselessly campaigned for the introduction of such a bill.

Labour whipped its AMs to ensure the bill’s failure, while opposition AMs were united in supporting it.

A PASSIONATE DEBATE

During the debate, Members delivered impassioned arguments on why ministers should bring forward specific autism legislation that already exists in England and Northern Ireland.

They cited the fact that under current Welsh Government legislation, people with autism lack a legal identity – which has led to people not receiving adequate professional support from public services – placing them at a disadvantage to the rest of society.

Speaking after the debate, Conservative AM Mark Isherwood, who called for such a bill to be introduced in 2015, said: “Today’s vote is obviously a significant blow to the 136,000 people affected by autism in Wales – the passion of whom was evident by those who sat in the gallery to watch the debate.

“Despite Labour having voted down the bill today, we know that there are members who recognise the need for this legislation but were not allowed to demonstrate this, owing to the Labour whip on this vote.

“We will continue to fight for this bill in the Chamber, for the sake of those who continue to not receive the support and recognition they both need and deserve.”

‘A MISSED OPPORTUNITY’

Meleri Thomas, External Affairs Manager at National Autistic Society Cymru, told The Herald: “We are disappointed by the vote last week and have spoken to many autistic people and their families in Wales who see this as a missed opportunity to make meaningful improvements to the support and services they need.

“During the debate, the Welsh Government underlined its commitment to a new autism strategy and highlighted other initiatives that it believes will improve support for autistic people in Wales. We will be looking carefully at these initiatives and what the new strategy says to assess the likely impact.

“However, eight years on from the publication of the first strategy, we’ve seen how difficult it can be to realise the welcome ambitions of a national plan into practical support on the ground. This is why we will continue with our Act Now campaign, which calls for an Autism Act for Wales so that there are clear duties on public services in Wales to meet the needs of autistic children and adults across the country and bring about the changes to services and support that we all want to see.”

MR WATERS HAS ONE QUESTION

The conduct of Llanelli AM Lee Waters during the debate attracted criticism. On no fewer than three separate occasions, he asked members speaking to give way to ask what amounted to the same question.

The first occasion captures the thrust of Mr Waters’s interventions: “Autism is a neurological condition with distressing co-morbidities like anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder. It affects one in 100 people. Tourette’s syndrome is a neurological disorder with distressing co-morbidities like obsessive compulsive disorder and anxiety. Why is one worthy of an Act and the other not?”

Plaid Cymru’s Bethan Jenkins pointed out, before being interrupted by Mr Waters: “Research from the National Autistic Society found that only two children in five are receiving all the support outlined in their statement. There is an Additional Learning Needs Bill on the way, but Plaid Cymru believes this may fall short of what is required, because it offers little or no support for adults with autism while making no distinction between children with Asperger’s, who are often high academic achievers, and others on the autism spectrum.”

Assurances given by Minister for Social Services and Public Health Rebecca Evans that the Welsh Government’s eight-years-in-the-making Action Plan would deliver the changes sought by the proposed Bill without the necessity for further legislation were skewered by Simon Thomas, Plaid’s Regional AM for Mid and West Wales, who pointed out to her in June, after the Action Plan had been approved, that First Minister Carwyn Jones said of a possible Autism Bill: “That is being considered at present… in terms of seeing in what way we can develop legislation on autism, and particularly whether we can ensure that the action plan can be strengthened through being placed on a statutory basis ultimately.”

Ms Evans suggested that the Government’s current position in voting against the Autism Bill was no different to that espoused previously by the First Minister.

‘NOBODY WANTS LEGISLATION’ CLAIM

Indeed, the distance that the Welsh Government has rowed back from the First Minister’s words on legislation was further highlighted by a Welsh Government spokesperson, who told us: “We already have both the legislative and policy levers to support people with autism. Our Social Services and Well-being Act came into force in April of this year and puts the individual the heart of decisions about care and support, and aims to meet those needs. We are about to publish our refreshed ASD Strategic Action Plan, following consultation with people with autism and their families, where only two responses mentioned the need for more legislation.

“However, the Minister has met with NAS Cymru who are working with officials to explore whether there are parts of their proposed Bill that cannot already be delivered by these approaches and other initiatives such as our investment in a National Integrated Autism Service through our Intermediate Care Fund.”

As the consultation referred to regarding the ASD Action Plan did not include a consultation on legislation, the Welsh Government seems to have forgotten the dictum that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, not least when you set the terms of the consultation.

DAVIES WILL CONTINUE TO CAMPAIGN

Paul Davies AM, who has been consistent in calling for an Autism Bill, told The Herald: “I’m extremely disappointed and angry that the Welsh Government did not support the cross-party calls for an Autism Act in Wales to better support those living with autism across the country. This has been a particularly difficult issue for families in Pembrokeshire. An Autism Act would see duties placed on local authorities to make sure that every council is taking the right steps to give children and adults in Wales the care and support they deserve.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to have worked with the local NAS branch in Pembrokeshire, who do a fantastic job in raising awareness of some of the serious issues facing people with autism on a day-to-day basis. I will continue to work with the branch to campaign for an Autism Act which will give greater clarity on the care and support that people with autism can expect from their local authority and local health board.”

FOLLOW THE LEADER

Back in March, one leading AM told The Herald: “It’s clear that autism services in Wales haven’t been good enough so we welcome any further steps the government takes to support children and adults in Wales.”

On October 12, that same AM voted with her colleagues in the Welsh Labour Cabinet to reject the proposal advanced by the Welsh Conservatives. That vote was cast in the teeth of an express commitment in her party’s own May manifesto and in spite of these words, also told to us on March 7 this year: “Wales needs a better focus on this issue which is why we would introduce legislation focused on helping and supporting people with autism.”

Kirsty Williams’ unequivocal declaration in March 2016 was made in response to an announcement made by then Health Minister Professor Mark Drakeford about the Welsh Government’s Autism Action Plan, which will not be rolled out across Wales until 2019. She did not think that went far enough then and the plan has not changed since that date.

The only thing that has changed between May and October 12 is Kirsty Williams’ appointment as Cabinet Secretary for Education in Carwyn Jones’ Cabinet.

The Herald contacted both Kirsty Williams and the Welsh Liberal Democrats regarding the Autism Bill: neither answered.

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Warning of serious disruption on M4 and M5 today due to fuel prices protest

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POLICE have warned of “serious disruption” to drivers using the M4 and M5 on Monday 4 July due to a planned protest.

Protesters intend to block the Prince of Wales Bridge from 7am until 7pm as part of a nationwide campaign against rising fuel prices.

The protest is due to start at the M4 Magor services at junction 23A eastbound and the Clevedon Interchange at junction 20 of the M5 westbound.

It is also expected to cause disruption to the M48 Severn Bridge and the M32.

Drivers are being urged to avoid the area or plan alternative routes.

Bristol Airport has issued a warning urging travellers to allow extra time if heading to or from the airport.

Police said additional officers will be brought in to ensure the protest is carried out legally.

Drivers have been advised by Gwent Police to work from home where possible and avoid the area between 7am and 7pm, with protestors planning to block parts of the road between M4 Magor services, junction 23A eastbound, and Junction 20 of the M4 between those hours.

Chief Superintendent Tom Harding said: “Gwent Police, and Avon and Somerset Police, are working jointly with neighbouring police forces and partner agencies to ensure emergency and critical services continue and to reduce disruption to both road users and local communities, however we are preparing for serious disruption throughout the day.

“I would encourage drivers to reconsider their journey, consider working from home and avoid the area where possible.

“The right to protest under UK law must be balanced with the rights of the wider community who may be affected. We have additional officers and support in place on Monday to ensure the protest is carried out in accordance with the law.”

The planned protest is thought to have been organised by the Facebook group Fuel Price Stand Against Tax, and has attracted both criticism and support online.

The latest travel disruption comes following the closure of the Severn Bridge for a second consecutive weekend, as well as the Severn Tunnel rain line which will be out of use until July 10 due to essential work. Motorists will be unable to cross the M48 Severn Bridge until 6am on Monday as it is undergoing essential work for eight months.

The bridge was first shut last weekend as painstaking work to repair and replace corroded suspension cables began. Traffic on the bridge is likely to be very heavy on Monday due to the fuel protest.

Police have told protesters banners must be tightly secured to vehicles and nobody should be walking around on the bridge during the demonstration. Protesters will stay inside their vehicles or stand beside them.

An organiser said: “We will now only be doing it on the Prince of Wales Bridge. We have to keep in mind everyone’s safety and if we block the bridge totally and there is an emergency there would be hell. Yes it means only one bridge but [due to the amount of traffic caused] there will still be a massive impact.”

Two weeks ago one of the initial M4 bridge protest organisers Ashley Fowler said : “We’re all car enthusiasts and we have all been worried about fuel prices and when I saw the post about blocking the bridges we began talking about it. Then people started asking me to make an event so we could update each other.

“I made the event because I run a car club in Cardiff which I started on social media during the pandemic lockdowns to help people’s mental health. When we can we go out to car parks and just meet up and have a chat but during the pandemic we weren’t able to do it so I made the group.

“Now we can’t meet up so much again because of the cost of fuel. I know some of them can’t drive so much because they need to feed their kids. It’s serious. People are getting really depressed about it. One of the boys in the group has actually sold his car due to fuel price rises.”

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Ceredigion’s Energy Efficiency work recognised at the Wales Energy Efficiency Awards

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ON June, 17, 2022, Wales Regional Energy Efficiency Awards were held in Cardiff. Ceredigion County Council’s Energy Efficiency Schemes scooped 2 awards.

The Energy Efficiency Awards were introduced to help recognise the fantastic work being undertaken by the energy efficiency sector in Wales. The measures were introduced to help homeowners reduce their energy bills, tackle fuel poverty and reduce Carbon emissions.

Ceredigion County Council have been delivering the ECO Local Authority Flexibility scheme along with the Warm Homes Cozy Ceredigion Scheme for a number of years. These schemes have seen a number of insulation measures and heating systems being installed in properties improving their energy efficiency. With the drive towards renewable heating systems the concentration lately has been on the installation of air source heat pumps.

The Council scooped the top prize for the Regional Council or Local Authority of the Year where one exceptional council in each of the 11 Regional areas of the UK has shown a true commitment to promoting energy efficiency within their region. This award was sponsored by Improveasy.

For this award, the judges look at the impact their work has had within the local community, what their customer and local community have to say about the council, what level of expertise the council has within its own teams and what priority the council gives to tackling fuel poverty within its current plans.

The Council also won the Regional Vulnerable Customer Support Organisation of the Year having shown a true commitment to improving the lives of vulnerable people within their region. This award was sponsored by Consumer Energy Solutions.

Councillor Matthew Vaux, is the Cabinet Member responsible for the Housing Service. He said: “I would like to congratulate the Housing team for their hard work and success at the Regional Energy Efficiency Awards this year. With the current rise in fuel costs and the increase in cost of living, this is a fantastic achievement for the Council’s housing team in showcasing that they are helping our residents save energy and combat fuel poverty.”

Find more information about Energy Efficiency Schemes on the Council’s website: www.ceredigion.gov.uk/resident/housing/financial-assistance/energy-efficiency-schemes/

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The Welsh Government launches Basic Income pilot scheme

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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.”

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