I campaigned to End Violence Against Women before being elected to the National Assembly for Wales, and I continue to promote this agenda.
Wales has led the way in tackling violence against women in all its forms, from the All-Wales Domestic Abuse Strategy back in 2005 to the Right to be Safe strategy and the Violence Against Women Bill, which the Government is bringing forward in 2013. But we cannot be complacent.
Too often in the past domestic abuse was seen as a “women’s issue”, which is why I promote the White Ribbon campaign in Wales. White Ribbon is all about asking men to pledge never to commit, condone or remain silent about violence against women.
One in four women in Wales will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. According to according to official figures, in 2011 year there were nearly 6,000 prosecutions for offences against women and girls in Wales, and of these, more than 5,000 were domestic abuse. But widespread under-reporting means the real number estimated to be 23,000.
I believe that if we are serious about reducing incidences of domestic abuse, if we want to open the door to expose private cruelty, if we are truly committed to supporting victims and bringing perpetrators to justice, then everyone must take a stand – men and women.
In 2008 I set up an Assembly cross party working group to investigate the trafficking of women and children in Wales. We took evidence and undertook research to shed light on this dark crime, and in 2010 we published a report: Local Solutions to an International Crime.
Following the publication of the report, Social Justice Minister Carl Sergeant announced the creation of an anti-human trafficking coordinator for Wales, which was our central recommendation.
The coordinator’s role is to raise awareness of trafficking at a local level, to bring more traffickers to justice and to organise training for professionals on how to identify and intervene in cases of human trafficking. The first co-ordinator, Bob Tooby was succeeded in 2012 by Stephen Chapman.
Partly in response to evidence uncovered by the co-ordinator, in 2011 I expanded the remit of the Assembly group to look at all types of trafficking of men, women and children. So we are now the Cross Party Group on Human Trafficking in Wales.
I continue to campaign to raise awareness of human trafficking in Wales, to deliver better support to its victims and to make Wales a hostile place for perpetrators.
I believe that investment in construction offers a route to economic recovery, and can unleash the potential of more young people in Wales.
I don’t have a background in the industry – unless you count banging nails into walls to hang pictures at home as a major building project! It can certainly sound like one when I get going! But since being elected to the Assembly in 2007 I have got involved in schemes and campaigns to promote the building industry.
After meeting a group of young women struggling to get a foothold in the building trades, in 2009 I launched a website – Women in Construction – so that women could share their experiences, swap tips and offer advice to others thinking about a career in the industry.
I now chair the Assembly’s Cross Party Group for Construction. We lobby the Welsh Government to realise that construction fuels growth and creates jobs. We have a shortage of affordable homes, a sluggish economy and too many people are wasted in unemployment – investment in housing represents a real route to recovery.
Constituents first alerted me to the disparity in the provision of stroke services in the mid and west Wales region in 2008. The following year I campaign with the Stroke Association and tested the blood pressure of 1,000 people to highlight the risk of stroke. We discovered that a third of them had borderline or high blood pressure.
Stroke is the third-biggest killer in Wales after heart disease and cancer, but it has a lower profile. And while the number of people suffering from strokes has fallen in recent years, those people who survive one are often left with some disability and will need rehabilitative care.
That is why I work closely with the Stroke Association to campaign for better stroke services in Wales. In 2011 I was elected as the first Chair of the Assembly’s Cross Party Group on Stroke, which lobbies the Welsh Government to make stroke services a health priority for Wales.
In 2007 Gwynedd Council announced it would close Harlech swimming pool for financial reasons. I was approached by the campaign group ‘Friends of Harlech Pool’ to step in and lobby to help save the community pool.
I lobbied the Welsh Government and Gwynedd Council to find an alternative solution.
Following a hard fought campaign, the Friends of Harlech Pool group secured Government and Lottery funding for their rescue plan to have the pool transferred to community ownership.
With the pool safe, I continued to campaign for free swimming at Harlech, under the Welsh Government’s free swimming scheme. And in 2012 Gwynedd Council agreed to sponsor free swimming sessions for local members of the leisure centre aged 16 and under, and 60 or over.
At the end of 2010 the UK Government has announced plans to reduce the number of coastguard stations in the UK from 18 to eight. Under the original proposals, the stations at Milford Haven and Holyhead were to be axed.
I fought against the plans, which would have left much of the Welsh coast dangerously unprotected.
Although the decision was taken in Westminster not Cardiff, I was determined to unite the Welsh Assembly in opposition to the proposals. I brought an urgent debate to the floor of the Senedd and backed local opposition groups.
In the face of such vehement local and national opposition, the UK Government backed down. In July 2011 the Government announced that Milford Haven and Holyhead stations would stay open. Sadly, Swansea, which was to be downgraded under the plans, is now to close by 2015.
Every year I award a £1000 grant to a Pembrokeshire College student over the age of 19 who has returned to study. It is where I did my A levels when I was bringing up my young family. Going back to college or university is never easy, especially when you have family commitments, which is why, when I got elected in 2007, I wanted to help others retrain and reskill, to support people trying their hardest to get on and improve their own situation.
Laura Watts, then aged 24, from Haverfordwest, won the first bursary in 2007. Laura achieved three As at A-level and went on to study social anthropology at the London School of Economics.
In 2008, Amie Grover, a Fishguard mum of three, won the award, and the following year she won it again, to complete her Open College Network plumbing course.
In 2010 the bursary went to 22 year old Haverfordwest mum Megan George. She gained her NVQ 2 Diploma in Women’s Hairdressing.
In 2011, for the first time I awarded two £550 bursaries, one for a male and one for a female student.
20 year old Hannah Jones Hannah secured a place at Swansea University to study psychology, and Robert Krelle (23) from Haverfordwest is doing NVQ PEO Boatbuilding and wants to be a boat builder.
Surface Water Flooding
In 2009 I brought forward a proposal to change the law to reduce flooding caused by surface-water run-off.
The Environment Agency, as part of its review of the nationwide 2007 summer floods, judged that two-thirds of the 57,000 homes affected were flooded from surface water run-off not river flooding.
A major contributing factor has been the concreting over of our cities, towns and villages. It is what planners call ‘urban creep’.
The far-reaching Pitt review into the 2007 floods recommended that householders should no longer be able to lay impermeable surfaces in their gardens.
I proposed introducing legislation to make it compulsory for all new domestic hard surfaces to be permeable – usually known as Sustainable Drainage Systems (SUDS) – or linked to a permeable area.
The Assembly voted to the principle of my proposal and I continue to raise this issue in the Assembly.
Stigma-free School Meals
My campaign to end the stigma of free school dinners attracted national media coverage when I led a back bench debate in the Assembly in 2011.
I called on local authorities in Wales to introduce cashless payment systems into every school canteen, so that children receiving a free meal could not be singled out.
Separate dinner tickets or queues can cause deep embarrassment, and can even lead to children going without food in schools. Evidence shows that the average take up of free school meals where children can be identified is 68% against a near 100% where the system doesn’t identify those who have free school meals and those who don’t.
Domestic Energy Prices
Fuel bills take a big chunk out of people’s incomes, and it’s getting bigger.
Nearly a quarter of households in Wales experience fuel poverty and more than 50,000 households are in debt to an energy supplier.
With budgets stretched wafer thin, more people simply cannot make the sums add up. Meanwhile, the Big Six energy suppliers’ profits continue to soar and light-touch regulation has led to what some industry insiders have labelled a rigged market.
In Mid and West Wales a disproportionate number of the houses are old, draughty and more difficult to modernise, which makes heating more expensive. Also, around one in six households in Wales – again, mainly in rural communities – is off the gas network, and there is an issue with the lack of proper regulation of the heating oil market.
I campaign to introduce fairer tariffs for the poorest households on pre-pay meters, to promote collective energy switching schemes and for a more competitive, tightly regulation energy market.