As Wales heads to the polls in under a week in a key Welsh Assembly election, we should take a timely look at Cardiff Bay and Welsh Labour as offering a concrete economic and policy alternative to the Westminster Conservative Liberal Democrat cuts. The Con Dem cuts are hitting working families across all the nations of the UK through slashing tax credits, support and public sector services. Cuts to the public sector will hit Wales particularly hard as a nation with a heavy concentration of employment in the public sector.
On top of the Westminster imposed cuts, the Welsh Assembly this year had its own budget drastically slashed by the coalition in London and has received considerably less than both Scotland and Northern Ireland. Despite this, Welsh Labour are committed to protecting the most vulnerable and the working people of Wales – safeguarding Wales-specific policies such as free prescriptions, free hospital parking and free school milk and breakfasts for children under seven. The Conservatives in Wales would get rid of the latter policy, which has not only provided vital nutrition for our children but enabled parents in working families to actually be in and remain in work, knowing that their children will have decent childcare and they can get to work and earn a wage.
In addition, Welsh Labour will look out for young people in Wales by retaining the Educational Maintenance Allowance that is being scrapped and scaled back by the Westminster government. Welsh Labour has also pledged to introduce a new ‘Welsh Jobs Fund’ to replace the Future Jobs Fund axed by the Conservatives and thereby ensuring that young people in Wales do not have the door closed on them to employment and training opportunities.
Welsh Labour has been consistent in introducing innovative industrial and workplace policies and programmes that have previously differentiated it from the wider party in government. They have championed social partnership with trade unions and employers to bring about programmes such as ProAct and ReAct that have both protected existing jobs and assisted people to train for new jobs during the economic crisis. The current manifesto promises that “even in tough times” Welsh Labour will “focus on fairness”, acknowledging the strength of the Welsh Union Learning Fund (WULF) and the need to invest in skills as they “recognise the workforce as the most valuable asset.” They also pledge to work with trade unions, employers and others to explore how a living wage could be ensured for every worker in Wales.
The distinction in policy approach and solutions between Welsh Labour and Westminster has grown into a seismic gulf now that we have a Conservative led Westminster government. The decisions taken by Welsh Labour in government in Cardiff Bay and put forward in their manifesto shows there is a better, fairer alternative, even in tough economic times – it boils down to a simple matter of ideological choice, social partnership and political will.
Hannah works for Unite, but writes in a personal capacity.