Both the BBC and the Western Mail give us a preview of Carwyn Jones’ speech to a Welfare to Work Convention in Cardiff today. The impact of the UK Government’s welfare reforms seems to be getting a large chunk of his speech.
I’d agree with him that the ‘reforms’ are going to have a disproportionate effect on the most vulnerable, and I think he’s right to defend the Welsh Government’s record on issues such as prescriptions. And I can see how some of those policies being pursued in Wales can foster and encourage social inclusion; free transport for older and disabled people, for instance, can enable them to participate in activities which would otherwise be beyond their reach.
I wonder though how free prescriptions and bus passes really promote ‘social mobility’ as he seems to be claiming. And, not for the first time, I wonder whether ‘social mobility’ is the right objective anyway – it’s not the movement of individuals between levels which we need so much as an evening out of the levels.
But the thing that really struck me about his speech as reported is the dearth of firm alternative proposals. He talks about “monitoring developments closely”, and establishing “a ministerial ‘task and finish’ group responsible for assessing and monitoring the cumulative impact of all the welfare changes”; he refers to the government taking “its responsibilities seriously to meet this challenge” and being “progressive” and says that he would “never shirk away from tackling issues that could have detrimental implications to Welsh Government policies, services and Welsh citizens”.
There is, though, little of substance by way of positive action. There is a recycling of the claim that they will “create 4,000 new jobs a year in Wales for the next three years”, which is in reality little more than offering a series of 6-month placements to 2000 people at a time. It’s not a bad idea in itself, but it’s been hyped to be more than it is.
Overall, the speech is more rhetoric than programme. I’m sure that other parties will use that to demonstrate, yet again, a lack of ambition. That’s probably not entirely unfair, but the lack of firm proposals also reflects the Welsh Government’s lack of real power on economic issues. Criticism of a lack of ambition by the governing party suggests that the solution is as simple as changing the governing party. It really isn’t that simple, and suggesting that it is diverts attention from the real issue of how we develop a serious economic alternative.