Jane Dodds: Liberals fight for the forgotten and the vulnerable

A visit to a Cardiff food bank laid very heavily on Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Jane Dodds’ mind as she delivered her speech to Welsh Lib Dem Conference. Citing examples of someone sanctioned by the Department for Work and Pensions for not going to an interview on the day their father died, she called for an end to the rollout of Universal Credit.

Her speech in full follows:

On October 13th, 2008, exactly 10 years ago we saw the beginning of major distrust in mainstream politics. The Treasury spent £37 billion in bailing out the banks, to stop the economy collapsing. This Financial crisis exposed fault lines in society that were ignored or unnoticed when times were good. This lead many thousands of people in communities across Wales feeling that they had no place at the table and no hope or aspiration.

All it took was greed from bankers, arrogance from policymakers and complacency from regulators to set in motion a chain of events that would damage countless lives and change the world order.

The past ten years have seen insecure work and underemployment rise.

We have seen workers’ pay reduce in real terms and zero hours contracts become norm.

We have seen stagnant wages, and the UK is on track for the biggest squeeze on wages since the end of the Napoleonic wars.
Austerity and increasing poverty are simply being accepted as being inevitable.

Is it any wonder so many people have become angry at this injustice and feel the system doesn’t work for them?

I want to talk with you about just one of these issues… Poverty. I saw for myself last Friday, what the effect poverty really has when I visited the Cardiff Foodbank.

I saw how a heartless, cruel and bureaucratic welfare system has left far too many people reliant on of food banks and the generosity of their communities just to get by.

Why do we have a system which treats people which such suspicion, since when did mistrust of those in need of help most become acceptable.

And we must not tolerate this.

The figures on those using foodbanks are truly shocking. Last year almost 100,000 food parcels were distributed to the poorest and most vulnerable people in Wales. Yet it is the human stories that affect you the most deeply.

The personal stories I heard about the people using foodbanks moved me. I heard of one man who was not able to attend an appointment with the DWP as his father died on that day. Despite explaining this to the officers, he was sanctioned, and appeared for the first time in his life at a foodbank.

I heard of a single parent who had sold all of her furniture apart from the beds for her and her children to get by, and now was coming to a foodbank. I listened to volunteers talk about how sad and humbled they felt when people left a foodbank who were always grateful for their limited support, and wanting to do so much more to help people in their desperate circumstances.

I cannot believe that I am hearing these stories in 2018.

The most common reason for people coming to foodbanks in Wales is because there is a gap in their welfare payments. These gaps are often due to arbitrary sanctions, and when Universal Credit is rolled out in Wales there will be a 5 week gap between application and payment. This will leave thousands more people will be forced to rely on food banks.

It is because of these stories that I am today calling for the Welsh Government to launch a Cross-party Commission on food poverty and demanding a pause in the roll out of Universal Credit in Wales.

We want to rebuild and repair our safety net so it becomes fit for the future. We must recreate a welfare state that guarantees everyone a guaranteed standard of living and provides a helping hand for all those who need it. That is at the heart of a Liberal welfare state. A social welfare system that is there to support people when they need it most.

And conference, you know I would like this to go further.

I want us to really consider Universal Basic Income. An effective model could all but eradicate absolute poverty, ensuring that everyone receives the money they need to sustain a guaranteed standard of living.

I know there are concerns about UBI so that’s why I want us to push for a pilot to be in Wales to look at how it affects those in both rural and urban areas as well as identifying it’s weaknesses. This can be the future and we could fund it through new innovative taxes, like a tax on carbon usage.

And conference, in a week when we have heard from the United Nations that global warming is as big a threat as ever why are we not looking at radical solutions like this.

In Wales we continue to shout out “what about the Swansea Tidal Lagoon”? I will make no apologies for continuing to talk about the Lagoon and the transformational they can bring across Wales, and the UK. They will benefit our tourism industry, create more jobs and more importantly help protect our environment.

Listen, in Wales, we can lead the way in tackling climate change whilst creating high-skilled jobs and driving our economy forward. Our vision for a Welsh green economy extends beyond tidal energy. It includes solar power, wind power, Community Energy Projects and electric vehicles. Just look at the work of River Simple in Llandrindod Wells – aiming to eliminate the environmental impact of personal transport through the production of the “Rasa” car, which runs on hydrogen. I met the designer, Hugo Spowers, some years back and we need to ensure we are promoting and financially supporting this industry in Wales.

Innovative solutions are not just limited to the economy though. We are also overhauling the education system here in Wales, to make sure it’s fit for the future. We introduced the Welsh Pupil Premium, because our commitment to education is something which runs to the core of our Liberal values.

Kirsty Williams has constantly increased and expanded the funding, giving schools the resources to reduce the attainment gap and give pupils the support they need to achieve their full potential.

And just yesterday Kirsty launched a new innovative programme of “E-sgol”s, which will utilise technology to revolutionise rural education. Diolch Kirsty!

Just earlier this month we helped Cymorth Cymru in their campaign to protect the Supporting People Fund… and we won.

Our victory was the result of effective collaboration with the housing sector and is a testament to the importance of having Kirsty round the Welsh Government Cabinet table influencing decisions and standing up for our causes.

Conference we believe in equality and tackling injustice, not expanding it. In 2018 we cannot allow families to be punished simply for not having inherited wealth, or an opportunity to advance themselves in life.

We cannot be timid, we cannot be middle of the road, we shouldn’t keep trying to play it safe and just wait for change. We must be bold.
I know the word “Moderate” has been portrayed quite negatively lately, but it is not a bad thing. To be moderate is to challenge indifference, pursue the path which isn’t always glorious, but is the right thing to do.

Our offer to Wales cannot be a halfway house. We need far more than half measures to tackle the crises of poverty, isolation, climate change and declining public services.

As Aneurin Bevan said said
“People who stand in the middle of the road get run over .”

Liberals have always gone against the grain, always fought for the forgotten and the vulnerable and always stood up for causes no-one else will.

We did it when we campaigned against the Iraq War under Charles Kennedy and we are doing it again today as we fight to give the people the final say and the opportunity to Exit from Brexit.

Just look at our summer Brexit campaign, it succeeded by engaging people differently and capturing peoples’ imagination. At shows across Wales we saw Brexitometers engage the public and illustrate the strength of opinion against Brexit and in favour of a People’s Vote.

We must of course, combine these new ways of campaigning with our tried and tested methods. Social media can be just as important as knocking on doors and delivering leaflets.

We will campaign in every corner of Wales to leave the electorate in no doubt about what we believe in and what we stand for. But we will campaign in the right way, always treating our opponents with dignity and respect.

We live in turbulent political times. Tolerance, decency and truth seem to be amongst the casualties of the new age of politics. We rightly recoil in horror at the way Trump has debased the American political discourse and abused everyone from his political opponents and survivors of sexual assault.

Mercifully the situation is not as bad in the UK, but we must acknowledge that it is bad and getting worse. There is too much aggression in our politics, too much intolerance and bullying behaviour. Too many populists using division, and fear instead of reason and rational argument.

When politicians, particularly female politicians, face abuse and sickening threats just for doing their jobs is it any wonder good people are driven away from politics?

Liberalism means respecting others, listening even when you don’t agree. It means encouraging and motivating, not intimidating and belittling. When we call for a better way of doing politics, let’s make sure we – the Welsh Liberal Democrats – mean it.

In all of this, we must make sure we do not tackle the hidden evils in our society – like the injustice of loneliness.

I’m proud we’re leading the way in raising awareness of the loneliness epidemic in Wales.

We’re fighting for the funding of services to tackle loneliness and funding for organisations like Age Connects Cymru, that I was privileged to visit earlier this year.

It includes funding for preventative services like Community Transport and day centres that are so vital to stopping loneliness in the first place.

We are also calling for a Commissioner for Loneliness to put it at the forefront of the political agenda in Wales and to lobby the Welsh Government, councils and health boards to do all they can to end loneliness and put it front and centre of the health agenda.

Here in Ceredigion we must remember the ways loneliness can beset those in rural communities. The scarcity of public transport, health issue or the closure of a local pub, bank or post office can all quickly leave those in rural communities lonely and isolated.

If we combine facts with emotive arguments and personal stories we can change the public opinion about loneliness.

Ending these injustices is a key part of our vision for Wales.

I want us to live in a Wales that is tolerant and outward looking. A Wales that cherishes the Welsh Language and protects our unique culture.

A Wales that embraces and celebrates everyone who chooses to live here, who contribute so much to the rich tapestry of Welsh life.

A Wales that remains in the European Union and plays its part on the world stage, upholding Liberal values and championing democracy, co-operation and human rights.

We must demand a better Wales.

We must demand better than the desperate poverty endured by far too many.

We must demand better than the injustices far too many face.

We must demand better than hatred and intolerance.

We must demand a free, fair and Liberal Wales.

Conference, with your help we will achieve it.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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13 Comments

  • Lorenzo Cherin 14th Oct '18 - 1:40pm

    Jane Dodds is an impressive figure in our party. These aspects of our philosophy and policy are essential.

    The narrative of the forgotten man, so extraordinary in it’s expression in the Aaron Copeland Fanfare for the common man, was the main theme of President Roosevelt, as with his Four Freedoms, key to the Liberalism he espoused, influenced by the UK, including the Welsh contingent and Loyd George.

    We must analyse the horrible tendency of some in public service, whether by government r not, to be officious only at best, monstrous at worst. The way they implement policies is completely inhuman. The Liberalism we promote can have the critique at it’s core.

  • Neil Milbourne 14th Oct '18 - 3:48pm

    The Liberal Democrats voted for the Bedroom Tax and for Universal Credit when in coalition with the Conservatives. I well remember seeing the “Deputy Prime Minister” Nick Clegg defending, over defending actually, both the Bedroom Tax as a means to provide more social housing to over-occupiers (by driving out under-occupiers to… well… somewhere smaller, although not necessarily cheaper, somewhere or other assuming such property existed of course) and Universal Credit as a means of helping people out of poverty (try not to laugh).

    Nick and his party changed their mind about the Bedroom Tax later when, surprise surprise, it turned out that the small properties over-occupiers were supposed to be driven into turned out not to exist in sufficient numbers for the policy to work or under-occupiers chose to stay in their homes and absorb the cuts in housing benefit rather than move miles away from family, friends and support groups, jobs, schools and such like.

    Clegg was a terrible leader who wreaked havoc, misery and pain by supporting the Conservatives, under Cameron and Osborne, in their swingeing state reducing agenda and destroyed his party as a result. Only the miserable little “Pupil Premium” remains as evidence that he ever wielded political power at all, the Alternative Vote and Lord’s Reform like almost everything else connected with Clegg’s short period of misrule being failures.

    The Liberal Democrats were nothing but Mini-Me versions of the Conservatives who would hop back into bed with the Tories at the first invitation.

  • A good speech tackling the big issues.

  • alter 14th Oct ’18 – 4:09pm………………………“The Liberal Democrats…would hop back into bed with the Tories at the first invitation.“…….Except the first invitation was in 2017 and we didn’t…………….

    Really?
    Considering that Farron ruled out any coalition (when it looked like a landslide Tory victory) and Ming Campbell said (following the exit poll that showed Theresa May losing her majority), “I find it very, very difficult to see how Tim Farron would be able to go back on what he’s previously said and indeed to persuade the membership of the Liberal Democrats that a coalition would be a good idea from our point of view.”, I’m not sure where you get your information

    In fact, your post reminds me of the old English folk song that starts “Where are you going my pretty maid?”, continues to, “Then I won’t marry you” and ends with, “Nobody asked you…”

  • Paul,

    Rather flowery language, on your part, to admit that there was, in fact, no “Invitation in 2017”..

  • Jayne Mansfield 15th Oct '18 - 6:39pm

    @ Paul Walter,

    For someone like myself who is not an activist, Tim Farron’s position re’ entering another coalition was not at all clear to me.

    For example, this report in The Independent 19th April 2017.

    Tim Farron; Lib Dem Leader refuses to rule out Coalition with the Conservatives.

    As opposed to this article in The Independent on the 23rd April 2017

    ‘Tim Farron says that the Lib Dems will not enter another coalition’ . He does qualify this by objecting to parties led by Mrs May and Jeremy Corbyn.

    As an Independent newspaper reader, it struck me at the time, as not being a refusal to take an opportunity, but as opportunistic in light of the Brexit vote.

  • Peter Watson 16th Oct '18 - 12:31am

    @Paul Walter “I don’t think Tim was clear on a whole host of issues in the election campaign. I remember an interview with Andrew Neil which was a veritable car crash”
    I’m so glad to read that (though obviously not glad that it is true) as I’ve sometimes felt that nobody else on this site or in the party had noticed that about the interview or the campaign, or if they had then they pinned the blame entirely on the “stuff about homosexuality”.

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