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Where do the Welsh parties stand on the big issues in 2021?

Welsh voters will have a big decision to make on May 6, so we asked the party leaders how they will tackle the subjects that matter the most

Hundreds of thousands of people in Wales will head to the polls on May 6 for the Welsh elections. The Welsh Assembly, or Senedd Cymru, makes laws, agrees on taxes in Wales and holds the government to account. 

The election couldn’t come at a more critical time as Wales emerges from the Covid-19 pandemic. The winning party which ultimately establishes a government will have an almighty job on its hands. This will involve shepherding the pandemic-shattered economy and working to keep people in their jobs and homes. 

The Big Issue asked Welsh Labour, Plaid Cymru, the Welsh Liberal Democrats and Welsh Conservatives about the issues that matter the most. 

We find out what they are promising when it comes to the major topics of housing and homelessness, poverty prevention, employment and the environment and what experts think of their pledges.

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What are the Welsh parties offering on housing?

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Like the rest of the UK, Wales is feeling the effects of the housing crisis. Charity Shelter has demanded the Welsh Government step up the plate and build more social housing to make “bad housing and homelessness a thing of the past”. 

So what are the parties promising?  

In Welsh Labour’s manifesto 

  • Build 20,000 new, low carbon social rent homes
  • Develop a national scheme restricting rent to local housing allowance levels to help young people and those at risk of homelessness
  • Continue to improve existing homes to tackle fuel poverty and create jobs
  • Improve building safety and develop a fire safety fund for existing building
  • Fund flood protection for more than 45,000 homes
  • Develop a set of “codes in Welsh law” – making it easier to understand their housing rights
  • Ensure all gains made in tackling homelessness during the pandemic are sustained and built on
  • Keep the 1 per cent increase in land transaction tax charged on second home purchases

Key quote

“When I became first minister, one of the first things I did was to make housing a cabinet-level responsibility,” Mark Drakeford, the Welsh Labour, leader told The Big Issue.

“That helped us to build 20,000 affordable homes during the last Senedd term, to abolish the right to buy, to preserve our social housing renting stock and it will help us in the next Senedd term with a Labour government to build 20,000 more homes for social rent.” 

What do the experts say? 

Rob Simkins, campaigns manager at Shelter Cymru said it welcomed Labour’s commitment to an additional 20,000 homes, something the charity has been calling for. 

“Ensuring that these social homes are the right type that local people need, are good quality and affordable to rent will be vital to the success of the commitment,” he said. 

“But let’s not underestimate the challenge of finding long term homes for such high numbers of people.”

In Plaid Cymru’s manifesto

  • Take steps towards a “Welsh Green Deal” and build thousands of social homes
  • Invest in the biggest public housing programme in Wales for 50 years with 50,000 genuinely affordable homes built or converted over five years, including 30,000 social homes
  • Retrofit existing homes to higher environmental standards
  • Enshrine a right to housing in law
  • Use planning and tax powers to tackle the second homes crisis
  • End rough sleeping completely during five-year term through a rapid re-housing policy
  • End no-fault evictions

Key quote

Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price told The Big Issue: “We will commit to ending homelessness completely over the course of the next Senedd term and we will launch the biggest public housing programme in Wales for 50 years, building and converting 50,000 genuinely affordable homes to rent and buy over the next five years including 30,000 council houses or other social housing to rent.”

What do the experts say? 

Simkins said Shelter was “delighted” to see a commitment to a right to housing. 

“We also welcome the commitments around house building in Plaid Cymru’s manifesto, echoing our calls for additional social homes and the need to tackle the wider housing emergency in Wales,” he said. 

“Finally, a commitment to end homelessness by 2026 is hugely welcome. Again, we must stress that making these proposals a reality will require huge commitment across the whole of Government.”

In Welsh Liberal Democrats’ manifesto

  • Build 30,000 new social homes for rent 
  • Introduce a right to housing 
  • Set out a “clear minimum standard” for private rented housing
  • Invest in retrofitting housing
  • Continue the Rent to Own scheme 
  • Invest in affordable and social housing supply in rural communities and tackle second home ownership
  • Eradicate homelessness

Key quote

“We’ve already ensured that 20,000 new homes are built over the session of Parliament that’s just finished,” leader Jane Dodds told The Big Issue.

“And we now want to go further by building a further 30,000 new social homes over the next Senedd term.

“Additionally, we want to eradicate homelessness over the next 10 years.”

What do the experts say?

Simkins said: “The commitment to an additional 30,000 social homes is welcome as before. It is important to reinforce that the homes must be the right type that local people need, be good quality and truly affordable.  

“Eradicating homelessness is a goal that we all share and is another commitment we support. 

“Setting out the roadmap to achieving this and working in partnership across the whole of the public and third sectors will be fundamental to achieving this aim.”

In Welsh Conservatives’ manifesto 

  • Build 100,000 new homes over the next 10 years including 40,000 social homes
  • Help more people buy their own home 
  • Bring back into use unoccupied homes and tackle second homeownership in Wales
  • Introduce a Housing First model for supporting homeless people 
  • Appoint a Homelessness Commissioner 
  • Bring 150 empty social housing properties back into use for people at risk of homelessness
  • Give veterans priority access to social housing
  • Ensure housing standards are fit for purpose and future-proofed

Key quote

“The Welsh Conservatives will build 100,000 new homes over the next 10 years, addressing the shortfall in housing supply that creates such a problem for homelessness and the lack of housing in communities the length and breadth of Wales,” Andrew RT Davies, leader of the Welsh Conservatives, told The Big Issue.

“We also want to bring back into beneficial use all the unoccupied properties that exist across Wales –  which is a far greater problem than second home ownership.”

What do the experts say? 

On the Welsh Conservatives’ housing plans, Simkins added: “Shelter Cymru welcomes the commitment for an additional 40,000 social homes over the next ten year period, in line with our calls from our social housing campaign. 

“Again, affordable rents, meeting local housing needs and tenant support are vital to the success of this commitment. 

“The commitments to addressing the second homes crisis in parts of Wales and bringing unoccupied homes back are also important steps in tackling the wider housing emergency in Wales.” 

What are Welsh parties offering on poverty?

As the fallout from Covid continues, many have found themselves at risk of losing their jobs and falling into poverty. Even before coronavirus, almost a quarter of people in Wales were in poverty, according to charity Jordan Rowntree Foundation. Here’s what the candidates are offering.

In Welsh Labour’s manifesto 

  • Tackle fuel poverty by improving existing homes
  • A commitment to offer free school meals through school holidays through to Easter next year
  • Pay social care workers a living wage
  • Embed period dignity in schools and expand free period provision in communities and the private sector
  • Help the most financially vulnerable communities through the Credit Union network 

Key quote

“We were the first government in the whole of the United Kingdom to guarantee that there will be free school meals during the school holidays.

“We are now committed to do that right up to Easter of next year.

“We will make sure that all our social care workers are paid the real living wage, helping another major group in our society to be paid above the in-work poverty level.”

What do the experts say? 

Dr Steffan Evans, policy and research officer at the Bevan Foundation, the anti-poverty think tank, said:  “It is welcome that Labour have committed to continue to invest and expand services that have been at the forefront of Welsh Government’s attempts to solve poverty. 

“Many of these programmes are tried and tested and are known to have positive impact on families’ lives.

“With the pandemic set to push more people into poverty, however, it is likely that there will be a need for significant further investment through the next Senedd term if we are to solve poverty.”

In Plaid Cymru’s manifesto

  • Create a Statutory Poverty and Inequality Commission
  • End child hunger, fuel poverty and homelessness
  • Pass a new Child Poverty Act that will set out a plan to eradicate child poverty
  • Extend free school meals to all families on Universal Credit
  • Give families below the poverty line a £35 per week targeted payment for each child
  • Use devolved powers to create a Welsh benefit system
  • Campaign to increase the numbers of those who are entitled to pension credit to sign up for it

Key quote

“We will extend free school meals to all those children and families on Universal Credit.

“We will make targeted payments of 35 pounds a week per child in families living below the poverty line.

“And we will devolve powers over welfare so we can create a Welsh benefits system.”

What do the experts say? 

Responding to Plaid Cymru’s plans, Evans said: “It is great to see that investing in solutions to poverty figures so prominently in Plaid’s manifesto. 

“There are a number of eye catching policies in the manifesto that could deliver real change. 

“The challenge will be implementing these given that not all the required powers have been devolved to the Senedd.”

In Welsh Liberal Democrats’ manifesto

  • Introduce a package of measures to boost incomes and create jobs to tackle poverty
  • Trial a Universal Basic Income to create an income floor
  • Lift people out of fuel poverty through the creation of energy efficient smart homes

Key quote

I want to trial Universal Basic Income across Wales, which I believe could give us the opportunity to address poverty. 

“I want to create an income floor under which nobody goes.” 

What do the experts say?

Evans said the Lib Dem manifesto contained some “very ambitious” ideas to tackle poverty. 

“With powers over social security not devolved to the Senedd however, a challenge will be exploring how a UBI trial and an income floor could be taken forward in a Welsh context,” he said.

In Welsh Conservatives’ manifesto 

  • Create 65,000 quality jobs and 150,000 apprenticeships
  • Help people with the cost of living through a council tax freeze for at least the next two years
  • Fund a programme for children in receipt of free school meals to cover all school holidays for the whole of the next Welsh Parliament term

Key quote

“Our commitment to help end in-work poverty and poverty in general is to make sure we create 65,000 quality jobs, 150,000 apprenticeships and improve the education offer for the length and breadth of Wales so we go from being the bottom of the league table when it comes to education to the top and an examplar of brilliance.

“We know there are entrepreneurs and passionate people across the length and breadth of Wales who want to do their best – but they’ve been let down by 22 years of Labour in government not achieving or delivering for Wales.” 

What do the experts say? 

Evans added: “It is welcome to see the Welsh Conservatives putting an emphasis on policies designed to solve poverty. 

“Given the impact of the pandemic on employment the party’s ambitious targets around work are to be welcomed. 

“Significant investment is likely to be needed to deliver on these policies, however, which could be a challenge based on current UK Government spending projections.” 

What are Welsh parties offering on employment?

We hear a lot about unemployment on a national level, and Wales is no different, particularly in the wake of the pandemic. Here’s how the parties are planning to revitalise the ailing Welsh economy and bring jobs to the country.

In Welsh Labour’s manifesto 

  • Support young people by giving everyone under 25 the offer of work, education, training or self-employment
  • Create 125,000 all-age apprenticeships 
  • Expand Personal Learning Accounts to allow people to study flexibly 
  • Provide long-term lending to small and medium sized enterprises 
  • Create jobs in housing and renewable energies

Key quote

“We will provide a guarantee to young people here in Wales that while the economy recovers, there will be an offer of employment, education or training for any young person here in Wales, investing in their futures.

“And at the same time, we will create the jobs that will stay here in Wales, the jobs that will create housing that is fit for the future, in the renewable energy industry, jobs that are rooted in our communities, and will stay here.” 

What do the experts say? 

David Hagendyk, director of the Learning and Work Institute Wales, which researches all thing employment, said Welsh Labour were right to focus on young people as this group had been hit hardest by the pandemic. 

“Their promise to help to create more homegrown jobs in communities across Wales reflects their work in government on the foundational economy,” he said. 

“So while it isn’t necessarily a new commitment, the tone from Mark Drakeford suggests there will be a far greater emphasis on it if they are back in government. 

“Their aim is to invest in jobs that are made in Wales and more likely to stay in Wales. The results of this won’t necessarily be seen in just five years, but over the next two decades.”

In Plaid Cymru’s manifesto

  • A job guarantee for every 16-to-24-year-old in need of work with a guarantee of a real living wage
  • 60,000 jobs in low-carbon sectors through Welsh Green Deal
  • A retraining grant of £5,000 per person for over-25s
  • Create a development agency to grow small firms and create a community bank to help domestically-owned businesses grow

Key quote

 “We will create a Welsh youth job guarantee which will provide a job for every 16 to 24-year-old in Wales in need of work.

“That guarantee will be based on a minimum of a real living wage. We will create 60,000 jobs through our Welsh Green Deal in low carbon sectors, from renewable energy to health and care.

“And we’ll give every person age 25 and over a retraining grant of £5000 per person to help learn new skills and move into a new career.”

What do the experts say? 

Hagendyk said: “Plaid have gone a little further [than Labour] in their commitment to these jobs paying at least the Real Living Wage. This won’t be easy to deliver but will mean the jobs will be better paid and give young people the kind of start they need.

“One policy from Adam Price that stands out is the commitment to a £5000 allowance to help people over the age of 25 to retrain. The pandemic will reshape whole sectors of our economy and this means people, including mid-career and older workers, will need to retrain for different careers in the future.

“Financial support to help them do this is really important so the new learning allowance will make a real difference.”

In Welsh Liberal Democrats’ manifesto

  • Create 10,000 jobs through building more homes to put £2.2bn back into the economy
  • Put together a package of investment of £1bn per year to fight the climate emergency and create new jobs
  • Invest in high-quality apprenticeships and training
  • Embed principles of fair work within all organisations, including encouraging employers to advertise all jobs as available for flexible working, to improve working culture and to reduce pay gaps

Key quote

 “We need to concentrate on recovering from Covid. That has to be our laser-sharp focus: put the economic recovery first. 

“That’s about ensuring that our shops and our high streets get the finance and the support that they need.

“We also want to create 10,000 jobs through building more homes.

“And the third thing we want to do is make sure that we increase our commitment to green jobs.”

What do the experts say?

On the Welsh Liberal Democrats’ plans, Hagendyk said the party was right to highlight the downfall of Britain’s high streets. 

“Their promise of more support needs to not only protect jobs but also to support these businesses to adjust to the different ways and places we are spending money as a society,” he said. 

He added: “Like other parties they are making a big commitment on housing and on retrofitting as part of creating new jobs in the green economy. The benefit of their commitment on the retrofitting of homes is that some of these jobs can be created relatively quickly and help to support the recovery early on in the next Senedd term.

“What will be important though is that this work supports Welsh companies, including small businesses, and that there is investment in training local people to fill these vacancies.”

In Welsh Conservatives’ manifesto 

  • Rebuild the economy with 65,000 new jobs including 15,000 green jobs
  • Improve education with 150,000 apprenticeships, part-time university courses and vocational college courses
  • Establish a National Mission to grow the Welsh economy
  • Rebuild Wales’ tourism industry to create jobs and boost the economy 

Key quote

“We are committed to creating 65,000 new jobs, 15,000 of which will be green jobs and ultimately deliver improvement in education to improve the life chances of people wherever you live in Wales by creating 150,000 apprenticeships, more part time university courses, a vocational education college in North Wales, because vocational courses are going to be so important to building back better after this Covid crisis.”

What do the experts say? 

Hagendyk said: “A commitment to creating 150,000 apprentices is an ambitious target that reflects the scale of the unemployment challenge, particularly for young people. 

“It will be challenging to deliver and will probably require some new incentives for employers. But the test on apprenticeships is not just about the headline number, it is also about making sure they are good quality, lead to sustained employment, and that access to them is fair and equitable.

“The Welsh Conservatives are also arguing for a better spread of jobs and investment across Wales. 

“No one will argue with this but the focus needs to be on trying to increase jobs and opportunities in some of the poorest parts of Wales.”

What are Welsh parties offering on the environment?

The Welsh government, led by incumbent first minister Mark Drakeford, has been clear that “business as usual” is no longer an option when it comes to the climate emergency

Ministers said they would accept the recommendations made by the Climate Change Committee to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. 

So with the issue clearly pressing, what are the parties offering in May’s elections?

In Welsh Labour’s manifesto 

  • Legislate to abolish the use of commonly littered single-use plastic 
  • Create a National Forest 
  • Fund additional flood protection for more than 45,000 homes
  • Write into law a Clean Air Act for Wales
  • Support 80 reuse and repair hubs in town centres 

Key quote

 “The climate change crisis has not gone away and it will be an imperative of the next Senedd term and for a Labour government to make sure that we take that crisis every bit as seriously as we have taken coronavirus.

“That will mean tackling biodiversity loss and it will mean making sure that we are decarbonising our society for the future.”

What do the experts say? 

Friends of the Earth Cymru, which focuses on environmental issues in Wales, has released a series of blogs responding to manifesto commitments of all the parties in the Senedd election. 

On Labour’s plans, the campaign group said the party had put forward a “relatively concise” manifesto. 

“In general it’s positive to see the economy being framed in terms of a stronger, greener economy, with commitment to a 10-year infrastructure investment plan for a zero-carbon economy, and emphasis on re-energising local communities and town centres,” director Haf Elgar said. 

“However there is unfortunately a lack of detail or firm commitments on timings and targets in many areas – no raising of the ambition to cut our emissions, to get to zero waste, or go further than current renewable energy targets.” 

Read the full response to Welsh Labour’s manifesto here.

In Plaid Cymru’s manifesto

  • Increase investment in flood management 
  • Move the carbon net-zero target 15 years earlier to 2035
  • Create a Nature Act with legally binding targets to restore nature and biodiversity by 2050  
  • Create publicly-owned energy provider Energy Wales

Key quote

“We will aim for Wales to reach net zero emissions by 2035 – 15 years earlier than the current target.

“We will pass a Nature Act, which will set legally binding targets to restore nature and biodiversity year by year, and in full by 2050.

“We’ll establish a new company  Energy Wales, a publicly owned energy company to ensure that Wales meets all of its energy needs from renewables and that our energy is locally owned.”

What do the experts say? 

Friends of the Earth described Plaid Cymru’s “hefty” 126-page manifesto as a “serious programme” with “detailed plans”. 

“Tackling the climate emergency is one of the five priority areas and a significant section of the manifesto,” said Friends of the Earth Cymru campaigns and development manager Bleddyn Lake. 

However, Lake said that despite being a “creative and innovative” manifesto, it missed the mark in some areas. 

“This manifesto unfortunately makes no comment against GM crops, nuclear power or on reducing Wales’ global footprint and it supports the continuation of the Intra-Wales air service at precisely the time we need to reduce air travel, especially where other transport options exist,” he added. 

Read the full response to Plaid Cymru’s manifesto here.

In Welsh Liberal Democrats’ manifesto

  • Commit £1bn to tackling climate emergency and create new jobs
  • Pass a Green Homes Act to help cut average household energy bills by £500 per year and build smarter more, energy efficient homes
  • Take action to protect our natural environment and biodiversity

Key quote

“We want to ensure that £1 billion a year goes towards tackling the climate emergency.

“The things that we would do is ensure that our homes are better insulated, that we retrofit houses so that they also keep the heat in.

“We want to see a greater commitment to biodiversity and we want to ensure that communities have the support and the finances they need in order to tackle the climate emergency at that level.”

What do the experts say?

On the Welsh Liberal Democrats’ climate commitments, Friends of the Earth said: “Overall, there is a strong emphasis on the climate emergency and future of our planet in this manifesto, with financial and legislative commitments to back this up. 

“In some areas, such as active travel and waste, there is little detail, and it is a shame that with such strong words on the future of our planet that there aren’t many definite proposals on our global responsibilities and how to reduce our global footprint. 

“But there is a lot here to welcome in a manifesto which is encouraging and shows ambition.” 

Read the full response to the Welsh Liberal Democrats’ manifesto here.

In Welsh Conservatives’ manifesto 

  • Create 15,000 green jobs to make Wales “the green energy capital of the world”
  • Protect seas and rivers by banning single use plastics and delivering a deposit return scheme 
  • Support communities to build back from flooding and prevent flooding in the future 
  • Tackle climate change by ensuring Wales meets net-zero carbon emissions target by 2050

Key quote

“As someone who’s passionate about the environment, being a farmer, I want to see us handing on a better environment to the next generation than we inherited.

“We have an exciting and dynamic manifesto when it comes to environment: planting eight million trees every year for the next five years so we help with carbon capture, making sure that we have all new homes carbon neutral by 2026 and we can make sure we deliver on our carbon targets to be carbon neutral by 2050.” 

What do the experts say? 

Friends of the Earth Cymru campaigns and development manager Bleddyn Lake said the Welsh Conservative manifesto focused mainly on rebuilding from the pandemic. 

The manifesto is peppered with ‘green’ and environmental policies, but despite this the climate emergency is rarely mentioned and it certainly does not come across as a priority in the document,” Lake said. 

“Overall there are some good environmental policies in this document, especially on decarbonising our energy, but very little recognition of the climate emergency, and far from enough focus on climate action across the board.” 

Read the full response to the Welsh Conservatives’ manifesto here.

Read the party manifestos in full 

You can read Welsh Labour’s manifesto in full here

You can read Plaid Cymru’s manifesto in full here

You can read the Welsh Liberal Democrats’ manifesto in full here

You can read the Welsh Conservatives’ manifesto in full here

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