Joyce Watson AM’s column for the Brecon & Radnor Express

Last Friday marked International Women’s Day, an occasion close to my heart. I was in London, at Marlborough House, for a Commonwealth celebration, wearing my Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians hat. Talking about the issues facing women across the Commonwealth, I was reminded of the origins of International Women’s Day. Far from PR, prosecco and pink promotions, it

was born out of protest. In 1909 working class and migrant women demonstrated against low pay and dangerous conditions in New York City’s garment factories. More than a century later 1,134 garment workers – mostly young women – were killed when the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh collapsed. We have come a long way but gender equality remains uneven and unfinished.

The London conference also marked Commonwealth Day (11 March). Arriving at my Cardiff office on Monday, I looked out of the window to the four flagpoles that stand outside the Assembly. One is reserved to mark special events. Last month it flew the rainbow flag for LGBT history month and the flag of St David, for example. Atop the other three are the Welsh Dragon, of course, the Union Jack and the European Union flag. Will the yellow stars on blue background be flying this time next month, I wonder? There are less than 3 weeks until we are scheduled to leave the EU. I write ahead of the meaningful vote in Parliament on Tuesday, but I don’t hold out much hope that things will be clearer by the end of the week. Far from taking back control, the UK government is out of control. That is why Wales’ Brexit minister, Jeremy Miles, went to Strasbourg this week – to set out the kind of relationship Wales would like once the UK leaves the EU. For my own part, I still believe we need a People’s Vote to settle the matter.

With so much uncertainty, at least eligible families across Powys can be sure that from next month they will be able to claim 30 hours of early education and childcare for up to 48 weeks of the year, thanks to the Welsh Government’s new Childcare Offer. It means every parent in Wales will now have access to 20 hours free childcare on top of the existing 10 hours of early education provision for three and four-year-olds. To find out more visit www.powys.gov.uk/fis.

Also from April, a new law to exempt care leavers under 25 from paying council tax comes into force. With the best will in the world, growing up in care puts many young people at a disadvantage. By making the transition to adulthood easier, we can go some way to redress that unfairness. It’s not just care leavers, however. The legislation is the latest in a series of measures designed to make council tax in Wales fairer. There are quite a few discounts, reductions and exemptions available. So when the bill comes through the letterbox it’s worth checking the Welsh Government website to find out if you are entitled to help paying your bill.