Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Austerity hits home

Column in Llanelli Herald on October 6th 2017

After 7 years of austerity the Welsh Government has a very tough job deciding how to share the pot of money being passed down from Westminster - a pot that is £1.2 billion smaller than it was.

Meanwhile the amount of money the NHS needs to cope with a population living longer is going to need to go up significantly.

I do feel sorry for the Welsh Government’s Finance Minister Mark Drakeford. He is a decent man with a very tough job.

When he presented the first details of next year’s budget to the Assembly this week he made clear that he has had to prioritise to reflect the manifesto commitments we have made. But there’s much that we want to do that we simply cannot because of Tory austerity.

The Welsh Labour Government has managed to find an extra £230 million for the NHS next year, and to protect funding for social care and education. Crucially - in an agreement with Plaid - we have agreed to protect the Supporting People grant to give housing-related support to help vulnerable people to live as independently as possible.

As Labour only have 29 of the 60 seats in the Assembly we prefer to reach agreement with Plaid where we can to agree joint prioritie. Plaid have agreed to let the budget go through, even though they won’t actually be voting for it.

We are also putting money into childcare to achieve our promise of delivering the most generous childcare package anywhere in the UK by the end of this Assembly, and there’s £70 set aside over the next two years to get us to that point.

Mark Drakeford has also responded to the growing problem of homelessness. We have all seen the effects of UK Government welfare cuts, they have resulted in many more homeless people on our streets.  The Welsh Government are right to set out plans to spend an additional £10m to tackle this next year.

There will be a cut of the amount to money passed on to Councils of around 1.5% - which compares to the 25% cuts in Council budgets in England in recent years. The Welsh Government have sheltered Councils from the storm of austerity as much as they have can.

There’s money for our target of building 20,000 affordable homes. And this year - for the first time in 800 years - a Welsh Government has been able to levy taxes. The powers are quote modest at the moment but we are able to use them to make a difference to help people onto the housing ladder.

Under the plans house sales up to £150,000 will be tax free next year in Wales only - which will mean a saving of almost £500 on the average house. This will really help in the Llanelli constituency and is a real devolution dividend that people will be able to feel in their pockets.

Aneurin Bevan famously said the religion of socialism is the language of priorities. We have had to prioritise again this year, but we have protected the services that vulnerable people and working families need the most.

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