Joyce Watson MS’s Powys County Times ‘Politically Speaking’ column

Vaccination is top of the agenda. The roll out in Wales is accelerating. At the time of writing NHS Wales has vaccinated nearly 290,000 people, around 9% of the population – fantastic progress.

In Powys, 16 GP practices began offering the vaccine this week, bolstering the extraordinary ongoing effort at our mass vaccination sites in Newtown, Builth Wells and Bronllys. My inbox is busy with vaccine-related inquiries. People are understandably anxious to know when – and where – they will get the jab. Transport is a barrier for some of you. I have been contacted by Ystradgynlais residents, for example, who struggle to get to Bronllys. So it is brilliant that more vaccines will be available closer to home from here on in.

It is vital, though, that if you are invited to one of the mass vaccination centres and you can attend that you do. The county has plenty of the Pfizer vaccine that, because of specific storage requirements, can only be administered from those three sites. And they deliver many more shots per day than is possible in a primary care setting. In short, if everyone were to opt for the AstraZeneca vaccine at their GP surgery it would take much longer to vaccinate our population. So please do your bit and get vaccinated when and where it is offered.

Money is also uppermost on people’s minds. A recent survey reported that more than a third of British households have not managed to put aside any money since the first lockdown – and more than half are worried about running out of savings. The unemployment rate in Wales rose to 4.6% in the three months to November – 71,000 people unemployed and looking for work.

That is why I urged the First Minister to lobby the UK Government to abandon its planned benefits cut in April. Around 300,000 low paid and out of work families in Wales receive universal credit, double the pre-pandemic number. The latest figures from August show that the proposed cut will affect more than 6,000 households in Powys. The true figure is probably higher – the number of recipients in Wales has gone up by more than a third since then. The last thing they need is to worry about whether they will be £20 a week poorer in two months’ time. It’s cruel to keep them waiting. The Conservatives should do the right thing and cancel the cut now.