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
Price pledges independence referendum
A PLAID CYMRU Government – able to command the support of a majority of Senedd members – will offer a referendum on independence for Wales in its first term, party leader Adam Price said.
The Plaid Cymru Leader made the announcement in a keynote address on Welsh independence from the St David’s Hotel in Cardiff.
Plaid Cymru Leader Adam Price claimed that devolution is “under attack” from the Conservative Westminster Government and that with Scotland likely to become independent by 2025 and Brexit making a united Ireland possible, the “momentum of change” has accelerated the need to hold a referendum on Welsh independence by 2026.
Mr Price, the only prospective pro-independence candidate to become First Minister will be responding to the report published by the arms-length Independence Commission in September. It had suggested holding two independence referenda within a decade – the first one exploratory to gauge people’s views in order to persuade the UK Government to hold a binary referendum.
Noting that support for independence was at its “highest” in history, the Plaid Cymru Leader will also confirm that a Plaid Cymru Government would offer one binary choice referendum on Welsh independence and will encourage all those who want independence for Wales to vote for Plaid Cymru in May.
Plaid Cymru Leader Adam Price said: “Devolution itself – that most basic democratic principle that decisions affecting Wales should be made in Wales – is under attack from Boris Johnson’s Conservatives.
Meanwhile, the demand for another independence referendum in Scotland is becoming unstoppable and by 2025 Scotland could well be an independent country. And Brexit has also given further impetus to the calls for a united Ireland.
“Wales is in real danger of being be left behind as part of a rump United Kingdom, in a new England-and-Wales formation – which would be the ultimate worst of all worlds.
“It is for these reasons that I, therefore, pledge today that subject to party approval a Plaid Cymru Government, able to command a majority in the Senedd, will offer a referendum on independence for Wales in its first term.
“It’s implicit in the present Covid crisis – the sense that something new and better must come out of this. Next May, electors won’t just want to carry on with the Old Wales. They will be looking for a new direction, one that offers hope, vision, and ambition. It is our job in Plaid Cymru to provide that hope, that vision, that ambition for real, radical change.
“Independence is the most radical idea in Welsh politics today. The last two polls on independence put it on its highest support in history. An argument once derided as a pipe dream has moved from the margins to the mainstream.
“But whilst banners and marches fuel our fire, the Welsh spring will only truly bloom at the ballot box in May. If you want independence, you have to vote for it by voting Plaid Cymru.
Senedd consults on new code of conduct
THE SENEDD’s Standards Committee is asking for views on a proposed new Code of Conduct for Members of the Senedd.
If the new Code is agreed, the Senedd’s Members would be subject to the standards of behaviour set out in the Code- including a new principle of ‘Respect’ – after the election in May 2021.
The code outlines how Members should engage with each other as well with staff, stakeholders and the public. The proposed Code also makes it clear that those standards of behaviour should apply to Members at all times, including in their personal and private lives.
If anyone believes that a Member has not met the standards of behaviour set out in the Code, they can make a complaint to the independent Commissioner for Standards. In its consultation, the Committee asks whether the current complaints procedure works or whether it should be changed in any way.
The current Code was agreed in May 2016, and the Senedd reviews it regularly. Updating the Code now has allowed the Committee to reflect on the varied issues over the current Senedd term and any changes in society and public life during that time. The Standards of Conduct Committee believes that the addition of a ‘Respect’ principle would now be appropriate, reflecting:
The independent inquiry report on the Bullying and Harassment of the House of Commons staff which led to the adoption of the Senedd’s Dignity and Respect Policy
Wider movements in society such as #MeToo and Black Lives Matter.
The Code of Conduct helps to set the standard and tone of political debate. The Llywydd of the Senedd, Elin Jones MS, has previously said how she believes that targeted online abuse and the tone of political debate are barriers for people entering politics.
The proposed new Code does not refer specifically to the use of social media but says that Members “must not subject anyone to personal attack in any communication (whether verbal, in writing or any form of electronic or other media) – in a manner that would be considered excessive or abusive by a reasonable and impartial person, having regard to the context in which the remarks were made”
By including a new principle of ‘Respect’, it is hoped the new code can address some of these concerns by setting a respectful standard of debate and encouraging people of all backgrounds to get involved in politics.
CONSULTING WITH THE PUBLIC
The Committee wants to hear people’s views on its proposals and on what kind of behaviour they expect from their represented Members. It will then present the new Code to the Senedd who will decide, as a whole, whether or not to agree to it.
The review aims at completion by the end of the current Senedd, in preparation for the next Senedd.
Jayne Bryant MS is the Chair of the Senedd’s Standards Committee.
She said: “The Code of Conduct sets the standard and tone of political debate, and now more than ever it is important to get this right.
“With a serious problem of online abuse and powerful campaigns such as the #MeToo movement and Black Lives Matter, we’ve got to do all we can to improve the tone of debate and set a standard that encourages trust in elected representatives and inspires people from all backgrounds to stand for election.
“We’re keen to hear the view of people from across Wales on the refreshed Code of Conduct for Members of the Senedd.”