- Posted by: Joyce Watson MS
- Categories: Blog, Feature
Not much is certain in politics, especially these days, but in Mark Drakeford Wales certainly has a dependable, hardworking and ambitious new leader.
After announcing his cabinet on Thursday, the First Minister’s first official statement concerned the 2021 Census. The UK Government last week published a White Paper: ‘Help Shape Our Future: The 2021 Census of Population and Housing in England and Wales’. It sets out the UK Statistics Authority’s recommendations for how the Census should be carried out and what it should ask. There are proposed new questions on sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as a new tick-box for ‘Roma’ in the ethnicity section. As a decade-interval snapshot, the Census is a fascinating record of our social history (I wonder, what will future generations make of the rise [330,000 in 2001] and fall [175,000 in 2011] of Jediism? Perhaps 2021 will mark the Return of the Jedi).
New questions and tick-boxes chart how far we have come along the road to equality. The Census only marks the milestones, of course, not the difficult journey. It is also a very useful and important working document. The data is widely used by businesses, local authorities, health authorities and other agencies to inform decisions on policy, spending and public services. So it is vital we get it right. To find out more, visit:https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-2021-census-of-population-and-housing-in-england-and-wales
We already know the 2021 Census will record an ageing population. The UK population as a whole is getting older. There are currently 9.3 million households headed by a person over retirement age. This is expected to reach 13 million by 2033. In Powys, the number of people aged over 65 is predicted to increase by 38 percent. At the same time, the county’s population is projected to fall by around 7.7 percent. That more of us are living longer is wonderful. But an ageing, shrinking population does present big challenges. Fewer working people and more health and social care demand, most obviously. Nye Bevan famously said: “The NHS will last as long as there’s folk with faith left to fight for it.” And fund it, I would add.
We must future-proof our rural communities, to ensure they remain fantastic places to grow up, as well as grow old. That is why Welsh Government is investing in rural communities. Directly – through schemes like the Community Facilities Programme, which has just announced funding for Presteigne Community Barn and a new community learning space within the redeveloped Hay Castle – and indirectly, with policies like the new presumption against rural school closures. It is why Welsh ministers fought to save the Infantry Training School in Brecon and why it is cutting business rates next year by £2,500 for high street businesses and other retailers.
But we must go further. Affordable Housing is crucial. According to new research by the Bevan Foundation think-tank, Powys is one of three counties in Wales where home ownership has become significantly less affordable for low-income workers. The Welsh Government’ s new childcare offer – 30 hours a week for working parents of three and four year olds – will help many families when it rolls out across Powys next April. Ultimately, though, we need more affordable housing and better paying jobs. That is why initiatives like Brecon Town Council’s commitment to pay a real living wage are so important. Congratulations to Mark Perry and Tomos Davies, the newest Labour representatives to be elected to the council. Like Mark Drakeford, you’re work has just begun!