Plaid Cymru the Party of Wales Manifesto

Plaid Cymru - The Party of Wales Manifesto 2001

Section 3
A Civilised Society

Although economic prosperity is essential, a civilised and successful society needs something more. Everyone will benefit if it also has a foundation of humanitarian values that will take responsibility for the welfare, health and security of all the members of that society.

3 (i) Health and social services

The first and most important thing to remember is that promotion of good health is an issue that belongs to all areas of policy.

In particular we need greater awareness of the link between poverty and social disadvantage and illness. We need to realise that tackling poverty pays a hundredfold in terms of the welfare of the society as well as cost-effectiveness.

Similarly, environmental health and public health need a higher profile, and better co-ordination between health and social services is also needed.

The Party of Wales is totally committed to the principle that sickness treatment services should be available free at the point of delivery. We oppose the trend towards private provision and we shall call for the abolition of any tax incentives towards it.

Although the National Assembly is responsible for most of the work of running the health service in Wales, the most important decisions concerning health expenditure will still be taken at Westminster.

The National Health Service is today in a parlous condition because of the lack of investment that goes back many years. As has already been mentioned, health is a policy area in which New Labour has been particularly guilty of creating the impression that they are providing more resources than is in fact the case. There has been a cynical tendency for any additional money to be double-counted and repeated in a way that creates the impression that every sum is new money. There are also too many superficial measures, such as health tzars, walk-in centres and guaranteed waiting times that do not get to the root of the real problems.

It is also important to note that Wales has suffered particularly badly from the lack of investment.

The level of sickness is higher here as a result of poverty, the effects of heavy industries such as lung diseases in former coal miners, and also a higher than average proportion of elderly people.

Wales's record on cancer and heart disease is among the worst, and we must have adequate resources to tackle this.

Central to our demands in the election will be a call for an increase in the UK's spending on health to bring it to levels which correspond to the other countries of Europe.

We also demand that funding for Wales correspond to our needs, in accordance with the reforms we recommend for the Barnett formula.

We call for the abolition of Trusts, the last remnant of the internal market. The number of doctors, nurses and other health professionals in NHS wales needs to be substantially increased. However the Westminster parliament retains control over pay and conditions and the number of training place available.

As part of our belief in the democratisation of the health service, we call for the functions of the community health councils to be retained and strengthened.

  • Social care

    We shall call upon the government to follow the Government of Scotland's praiseworthy example and implement the Royal Commission's recommendations on long-term care for the elderly.

    We condemn the UK Government's refusal to act in the same way. Their recommendations will create an artificial boundary between personal care in hospital and in residential homes, and between health care and personal care. This is bound to lead to inconsistency and unfairness: more post code lottery.

    It is crucial that we move towards greater integration between social care and health.

  • Children and families

    The Party of Wales was the first to argue for additional powers for the Children's Commissioner in Wales and we will continue to press for further powers, especially over non-devolved asnd cross-border issues. Improving the quality and availability of foster-care must be a high priority for children's services, as must the training of childcare staff and foster parents. We shall continue to press for the development of comprehensive advocacy services.

    3 (ii) Pensions and Social Security

    The present government's record on poverty has been appalling. In spite of the promises to create change, it is a fact that there has been an increase in the number of people living in poverty during the first two years of the government, and the number of pensioners living in poverty has increased substantially. The inherent gender discrimination in the present system must be abolished.

  • Social Security

    The eradication of poverty and social exclusion entails the transformation of the social security system and attitudes towards it.

    In order to raise the poor out of poverty benefit levels should be raised, while at the same time increasing all incentives to return to work to break the social exclusion cycle and to avoid a culture of dependency.

    We welcome some initiatives therefore such as the Working Families Tax Credit, and the increase in child benefits, but we deplore New Labour's right wing attitude since it came into power. Linking benefit with inflation rather than average income has widened the gap increasingly, and the emphasis on means testing and targeting has caused stigma amongst many.

    We recognise the need to combat fraud, but this government's heavy-handed attitude has created anxiety and suffering to the truly needy. Even more serious, in the effort to keep cost down, there is firm evidence that claimants are kept in ignorance of the benefits due to them.

    Party of Wales MPs will therefore call for measures to help claimants get their due benefits, including restoring the helplines for claimants which were cut by the Tories, and ensuring that an impartial adequately funded advisory service is available for everybody.

    Benefits for the disabled should acknowledge the additional costs of living for the disabled people. The right to the mobility element of the Living Allowance for the Disabled should continue after retirement age. The Winter Fuel Scheme should be extended to include disabled people under 60.

    In order to facilitate the move from benefit to work, the rate of Working Families' Tax Credit clawback must be reduced. It is utterly unreasonable for the credit to be reduced by 55p for every 1 earned, while the well off only have to pay 40% income tax. Similarly the taper for Housing Benefit and Council Tax should be reduced.

    Raising the maximum part time earnings for people on Income Support would achieve the same objective.

    There is also scope for simplifying the application process for Working Families' Tax Credit in order to reduce the bureaucratic burden on applicants and small employers.

    The compulsory payments on Social Fund loans drive those who are already very poor below the poverty line. Social Fund payments should be made as grants which have been carefully assessed on the basis of need.

  • Compensation for former coal miners

    This government's treatment of former coal miners has been shameful. During the three years since winning the right to compensation thousands of former coal miners have died before getting their due.

    We shall press the government to take steps without delay to expedite the process of paying well deserved compensation to a group of people who have given so much during their lives.

    Specifically, we shall press for the deployment of more medical staff to deal effectively with the applications, and also for the Department of Trade and Industry to accept their responsibility fully in accordance with the High Court's decision instead of trying to avoid paying in full.

    The clawback system, whereby the Department of Health and Social Security claim back a proportion of the compensation, causing more misery to former coal miners as they have to keep fighting in the courts, must also be abolished.

    A similar compensation scheme should be established for former slate quarrymen who have suffered from emphysema, chronic bronchitis and asthma arising from their employment, and their widows.

  • Pensions

    After the fierce opposition to the insulting increase of 75p a week for pensioners last year, the government has been forced to award a more substantial increase on the threshold of an election.

    Yet pensioners are still a long way from enjoying their share of the increased wealth of the country, and surveys suggest that three out of every five pensioners in Wales live either at poverty level or beneath it.

    One of the main reasons for this poverty is that thousands of pensioners do not claim the means tested addition to the pension, and therefore lose 18.80 each a week on average.

    We shall call for an adequate retirement pension which will be available to everybody without a means test, and which will increase in line with earnings.

    We welcome the new stakeholder pension, but call for tighter rules in order to prevent its use as a means of tax-avoidance.

  • 3 (iii) Law and order

    In spite of their empty words about fighting crime and the causes of crime, the present government's efforts to tackle poverty and social exclusion seriously, which are recognised as among the main causes of crime, have been few and far between.

    In addition, because of their over-eagerness to appear 'hard' on criminals, important aspects of civil rights have been consistently eroded.

    We shall strongly oppose any restriction on the right to receive legal aid, and we shall continue to oppose the abolition of the right to trial by jury.

  • The police, the courts and crime

    We shall press for the Assembly to be given responsibility for the police and emergency services in Wales, in order to place more emphasis on community policing, and in order to link emergency services with policies in the field of social development.

    We are also committed to protecting lay magistrates as a system that is accountable to the local community, to protecting courts that are in danger of closing, and to increasing the use of Welsh as well as training to enable this.

    We challenge the damaging consensus between New Labour and the Tories on prison policy. The UK imprisons a higher percentage of the population than any other country in Europe, and is becoming increasingly similar to the American pattern.

    While we accept the use of imprisonment in order to protect society from dangerous criminals, we have to acknowledge also that too many people are currently being sent to prison.

    There is sound evidence that at least a third of the prison population are people who should not be there at all. For example, prison is a totally inappropriate punishment for the high percentage of criminals who have mental health problems, and many women are imprisoned for trivial offences like non-payment of fines.

    Overcrowding also leads to all kinds of serious problems from frequent use of drugs to a high level of suicide.

    It also undermines the work of restoring prisoners to a condition of positive citizenship.

    Drawing attention to the failures of prisons does not mean being soft towards criminals. However sooner or later society will have to acknowledge the truth that it is a totally ineffective way of dealing with most crimes.

    It is an undoubted fact that offenders are more likely to reoffend after being in prison, and the high cost of 25,000 a year for keeping a person in prison is extremely inefficient. Reducing the prison population to what it was in the mid-1990s would save 500 million a year.

    We shall

  • Ensure more effective policing in the community by employing more police officers on the beat
  • Call for more extensive use of community non-custodial sentences, taking full advantage of the opportunities for surveillance that are offered by new technological developments, such as tagging offenders.
  • Call for a women's prison to be established in Wales.

  • Victim Support

    There must be better support for the victims of crime, including placing a duty on local authorities to provide shelters for the victims of domestic violence and adequate funding for counselling services for the victims of rape and sexual abuse.

    Education about domestic violence should also be increased, and protection from rape should be strengthened in relation to claims of consent.

    Similarly, there is a need to increase provision for those who are addicted to drugs and alcohol and to ensure adequate resources for education.

    We also recommend that a Royal Commission be established to investigate the whole issue of drug abuse and the law, while recognising the great damage caused by alcohol misuse.

    On cannabis for medicinal purposes, a decision should await the completion of the current inquiry.

  • Human rights and Equality

    We call for a credible Freedom of Information Bill; we welcome the Human Rights Act and call for the European Union's Charter of Fundamental Rights to be incorporated into the European Treaty.

    We demand a comprehensive review of all equality legislation to ensure consistency, changes of sex discrimination law to make positive action easier, stronger enforcement of equal pay legislation, and the early extension of equality legislation to meet the requirements of the Amsterdam Treaty.

    We also support the right for unmarried partners to register their partnership and have property, pension and inheritance rights.

  • Immigration and Refugees

    It is time for society to start seeing immigrants as a resource with extremely important potential rather than just as a problem. The ethnic minority communities in Wales have made an important contribution to our development as a nation, and notwithstanding the genuine concern about cases of racist attacks, many of our communities are praiseworthy examples of people from very different backgrounds living together happily.

    While migration is a wholly natural feature of life in the modern world, we have to remember too that much of it is forced on the countries of the world through poverty. The only way to keep it under control in the long term is by tackling the problem of the dreadful inequality between the developed world and the rest.

    In the meantime we shall press for a civilised attitude towards refugees. We should remember that every refugee seeking asylum is a human being and deserves to be treated fairly and honestly and with respect. It is imperative that support should be offered to refugees who have suffered torture or who have reason to fear persecution.

    We call for the voucher system to be abolished, for adequate resources to expedite the processing of applications for asylum, and for the present system of keeping asylum seekers in prison to be brought to an end.

    We believe that Wales should play its part in welcoming a fair share of refugees to our midst, and we shall press for adequate resources from central government to meet their needs.

    Key Recommendations

    A substantial increase in expenditure on health to levels nearer to other European countries.

    A higher proportion of funding for Wales to meet our greater need, and to enable cancer and heart disease to be targeted

    Non-means-tested long term personal care for the elderly

    Measures to help benefit claimants to get information about their rights

    Expediting the process of paying compensation to coal miners and an end to benefit clawback from those payments

    Increasing pensions in keeping with earnings

    More non-custodial penalties, taking advantage of the possibilities offered by modern technology for surveillance of offenders

    More community police

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