Wales Is Bottom of the Heap - It's Time for the Assembly to Deliver; the Next Assembly Government Has the Budget and Powers It Needs to Fight Poverty and Lay the Foundations for a More Prosperous Wales, Writes Victoria Winckler of the Bevan Foundation. the Question Is Now Whether It Will Deliver TUESDAY ESSAY
Byline: Victoria Winckler
* HE recent Assembly elections have taken place against a fairly dismal social and economic back-cloth.
Unemployment is back up to levels not seen since the mid-1990s, the number of jobs has yet to recover from the impact of the recession, and the proportion of people living on a low income remains stubbornly high. Going along with these depressing figures are the all too familiar statistics on ill-health, education and housing.
On many measures of prosperity, Wales is at the bottom of the heap.
In more prosperous times, the UK and Welsh Assembly Governments adopted a plethora of targets to tackle different aspects of poverty and disadvantage: child poverty to be eradicated by 2020, fuel poverty to be eradicated by 2018, plus an ambitious target of 80% of adults of working age to be in a job, to name just a few.
In 2011, after the worst recession since the 1930s, many of these targets look challenging to say the least. However, there is no excuse to abandon them and still every reason for the new government to try to achieve them - it is only by achieving on these perhaps dry and impersonal measures of Wales' wellbeing that people's lives will be transformed.
There are two Assembly terms to achieve the major shifts required. With a clear manifesto commitment to eradicating poverty together with new powers, a clear mandate and, notwithstanding the cuts, a still-sizeable budget, there will be no excuse if the new Government does not make reasonable progress towards achieving these - and other - targets by the end of its term, by 2016.
Problems delivering on the ground have been the Achilles heel of successive Welsh governments. In the past, Governments have got mired in too many partnerships, strategies and plans, and lots of initiatives and programmes: they've promised much but most have delivered little.
Instead, the new government, more than ever before, needs to focus less on the paperwork and more on achieving demonstrable improvements on the ground.
To do this the Government needs to understand the limits of its powers - what it can do, and just as importantly, what it can't. So the Welsh Assembly Government can shape education, health services and many aspects of the environment.
But its scope to shape the economy and labour market, or to regulate business, for example, is much more limited. Clarity about what is achievable is a vital first step.
Similarly, the new Government needs to understand which changes can be achieved quickly, such as reducing class sizes, whilst others, such as reducing ill health, take decades. …