Delyth Jewell, who represents Plaid Cymru, is one of four regional Senedd Members serving the South Wales East region.
Life has changed for all of us during the pandemic, often in ways we never imagined. As a Plaid Cymru Member of the Senedd, my job is to provide opposition to the Labour Welsh Government, by scrutinising their work, putting forward suggestions about how they could do things better, and yes, criticising them when they get things wrong.
But my party decided early on last year, after we went into the first lockdown in March, that our priorities had to change, since it was keeping people safe and alive that had to be an overriding priority as long as the crisis lasted.
This has often meant supporting the Welsh Government, even though it’s run by a different party, be it in terms of legislation or public messaging, and holding off from criticising too much except for when we believe lives are at stake.
The Welsh Conservatives have taken the opposite approach: criticising everything the Welsh Government does while continually singing the praises of the incompetent, clueless UK Government. They’ve ended up with egg on their faces countless times, such as when they criticised Wales for the slow vaccine rollout, only for Wales to overtake all the other UK nations eventually.
My Plaid Cymru colleagues and I have been welcoming the progress with the vaccine rollout. In this context, the Welsh Government’s success is Wales’ success, and thanks goes to them and for all health bodies and NHS staff who have contributed to the phenomenal vaccination rates we’ve seen.
But the Welsh Government, like any other government, is making mistakes that could put lives at risk, and I find it deeply frustrating when they refuse to change tack out of pure stubbornness. I’ve been imploring them for the past fortnight to prioritise people in care homes with disabilities for vaccinations, pointing to hard evidence of their clinical vulnerability which shows why they need to be vaccinated quickly.
People with learning disabilities are between six and 30 times more likely to die from Covid-19, so there’s no reason not to vaccinate them as quickly as possible, especially since you are speaking of a relatively small group. I’ve had family members getting in touch with me because they’re so worried about their loved ones. But Mark Drakeford refuses to change the policy, and the only reason he’s given, that he can’t go against the JCVI advice, doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, since his own government has unilaterally brought police medics up to priority group 2. I’m praying he will change his mind, before it’s too late.
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They also failed to protect care homes at the start of the pandemic, refusing to roll out testing to all symptomatic residents and allowing over a thousand residents to return to their care home from hospital without a test. This led to many deaths. I understand they were under a great deal of pressure at the time, but they were warned repeatedly about the issue and failed to act quickly enough.
People might forgive them for making the wrong judgement calls in the middle of a pandemic, when the pressures are so great. What I think it more difficult to forgive is when they make the wrong moral choices.
Plaid Cymru brought an amendment to this year’s Budget, calling for free school meals to be extended to all families in receipt of universal credit. We didn’t make this call randomly, we did it because the Welsh Government’s own poverty taskgroup recommended doing so in a report, saying that “some households in Wales who don’t qualify for free school meals are still struggling to feed their families”. It went on to say that “the most common suggestion from respondents to the review was the need to expand eligibility for free school meals to a wider range of children and young people”.
But what did Labour do? They suppressed the report (we only got it in the end through an FOI) and refused to extend the free school meals provision.
What to make of all this? It’s not straightforward. I think it’s only right to congratulate – and yes – thank the Welsh Government when they get things right and help to keep people safe.
But they’re getting too much wrong at the moment. They think bureaucratically rather than with their hearts, all too often. While they usually mean the best, they are tired, after 22 straight years of leading the Welsh Government.
Wales needs change. It needs new hope. It needs new energy, and new ideas. It needs a principles-first approach. This is exactly what Plaid Cymru is vowing to provide in May’s election.
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