‘I used to be someone’ – Assembly to debate committee report on refugees and asylum seekers in Wales

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On Wednesday 21 June, the Assembly will debate the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee’s report into refugees and asylum seekers in Wales, and the Welsh Government’s response to its recommendations.

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Blue Badges: How to apply and how to appeal?

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This is the second in a series of blog articles discussing the Blue Badge scheme. Yesterday’s blog explained the assessment and eligibility criteria for applicants.

The Blue Badge scheme provides a national arrangement of parking concessions for disabled people, and operates throughout the UK.

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The gender gap: launch of gender equality indicators for Wales

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The Assembly’s annual International Women’s Day debate is on 7 March 2017.

The World Economic Forum recently predicted that the global gender gap will not close for another 170 years at the current rate of progress. It ranked the UK 20th out of 144 countries for gender equality, based on a variety of indicators. Germany, Norway, France, Ireland and Rwanda all ranked higher than the UK.

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Is the Violence against Women (Wales) Act 2015 working?

10 February 2017

Article by Hannah Johnson, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

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On 15 February, the Assembly will debate the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee’s report on its post-legislative scrutiny of the Violence Against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015.

The Act aims to:

  • improve the public sector response to violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence;
  • give public authorities (such as councils and health boards) a strategic focus on the issue, and
  • ensure the consistent provision of preventative, protective and supportive services.

The main provisions of the legislation, alongside the Committee’s findings and the Welsh Government’s response, are highlighted below.

Pace of implementation

The Committee was concerned that the pace of implementation of the Act has, in some areas, been slow. It is more than 18 months since the Act was passed, and some key parts of the Act are yet to be delivered.

The Committee was particularly concerned that the commissioning of services was taking place without statutory guidance from the Welsh Government, which could lead to inconsistencies that would be at odds with the core aims of the Act. It also highlighted concerns that the rise in demand for services as a result of the Act was not being matched with sufficient and sustainable resources.

The Committee made recommendations including:

  • The Welsh Government should set out anticipated delivery dates for the outstanding delivery plan, guidance and regulations, with the priority on commissioning guidance; and
  • The Welsh Government should have urgent discussions with the UK Government about the future funding arrangements for independent domestic violence advisers (IDVAs).

The Welsh Government response states that:

  • the multi-agency guidance “will be considered in light of the local government White Paper”;
  • “the plan for rollout of Ask and Act will be developed from July 2017”;
  • statutory commissioning guidance “will be consulted on by July 2017”;
  • “guidance will be published in relation to local strategies in July 2017”, and
  • national indicators will be published “not before” October 2017.

It also notes that discussions with the UK government have taken place, and the “national rollout of a regional funding approach for the Domestic Abuse Services Grant (DASG) from 01 April 2018. [..]2017-2018 will be a transitional year and [it will be moving] to a regional funding and commissioning model [in the future].”

National and local strategies

Sections 3-4 of the Act require the Welsh Government to prepare and publish a National Strategy to ’contribute to the aims of  the Act’ no later than 6 months after the Welsh election (i.e. By 6 November 2016). Sections 5-8 of the Act require local authorities and local health boards to prepare and publish local strategies by May 2018.

The Committee was “disappointed” that while the Act was passed more than 18 months before the Welsh Government was required to publish the National Strategy, it did not begin consulting on a draft strategy until August, leaving only one month before the deadline for amendments and improvements to be made. Many witnesses told the Committee that they were not satisfied with the draft, and in particular that the views of survivors of abuse had not been taken into account.

As a result, the Cabinet Secretary made the decision to publish a high-level strategy in November 2016, which will be followed by a ‘delivery plan’ detailing how the strategy will be achieved. The Committee was concerned that the delivery plan would not be legally enforceable (unlike the National Strategy), and that no timescales for its publication had been provided.

In addition, the Committee heard that local strategies are beginning to be developed before the delivery plan is published, which could lead to inconsistencies in strategic approaches.

The Committee recommended that the Welsh Government should:

  • clarify the legal status of the forthcoming delivery plan, which should preferably be issued as statutory guidance to ensure that it can be enforced;
  • outline when the delivery plan will be published, and how it will be consulted upon, and
  • ensure that the ten survivor recommendations contained in the report, Are you listening, am I being heard?, are fully considered during the development of the national survivor engagement framework.

The Welsh Government response states that “the legal status of the Delivery Framework will be considered with a Task & Finish Group, set up by the Advisory Group to develop the plan, with input from the Cross-Governmental officials Group. The Advisory Group will scrutinise the framework before being published” and “the timescale for the publication of the Framework will be determined by the Task & Finish group”.


Section 9 of the Act places a duty on local authorities to report on how they are addressing violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence within their education institutions. Section 10 gives Welsh Ministers and the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) the power to issue guidance to further and higher education institutions.

Education was a contentious issue during the passage of the Act. The initial White Paper on the legislation from 2012 proposed that the Bill would ensure that education on ‘healthy relationships’ was mandatorily delivered in all schools.

This proposal was not included in the draft Bill. According to the then Minister in charge of the Bill, healthy relationships education was instead being considered as part of the curriculum review led by Professor Graham Donaldson, which would include a review of the basic curriculum including Personal and Social Education (PSE).

The duty in section 9 was introduced as a Government amendment during the passage of the Act.

Both the Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Children and the Cabinet Secretary for Education told the Committee that the regulations under section 9 would be developed in early 2017. It is not clear when local authorities will be required to start reporting.

The Committee recommended that the Welsh Government should:

  • commit to including teaching about healthy relationships in the new curriculum under the ‘Health and Well-being’ Area of Learning and Experience (AoLE);
  • expedite the preparation of regulations relating to the publication of information by local authorities on how they are exercising their functions to promote the purpose of the Act. It should also commit to requiring local authorities to begin reporting by the start of the 2017/18 academic year;
  • outline how healthy relationships and consent education will be addressed by further and higher education institutions.

The Welsh Government responded to these recommendations by saying “there may be opportunities to obtain information and data on what education settings within local authorities are currently undertaking with regards to Education provision stemming from the Act from external organisations currently enhancing the delivery of Healthy Relationships in schools”. It goes on to say:

Work on the development of the Health and Wellbeing AoLE will include consideration on approaches to the delivery of Healthy relationships and therefore there is potential that this can be considered as part of the overall work being undertaken.

The Welsh Government noted that in relation to the recommendation about further and higher education bodies, “this will be considered with Higher Education colleagues whilst drawing from projects already in place within Further & Higher Education.”

The National Adviser

Section 20 of the Act requires Welsh Ministers to appoint a National Adviser to provide advice, monitor implementation of the Act and undertake research.

The Committee found that the National Adviser’s role is part-time, meaning that her influence and capacity is limited. It also noted that the Adviser’s work plan was not aligned with the National Strategy, again potentially leading to inconsistencies.

The Committee recommended that the Welsh Government should:

  • Review of the capacity of the National Adviser role, and consider allocating additional resources to it to support the development of local strategies and undertake research;
  • Clarify what sanctions are available to Welsh Ministers if a public authority does not fulfil the requirements of the Act, and
  • Make reference to the National Adviser, her responsibilities and work plan in the forthcoming delivery plan and any future strategies.

The Welsh Government hasdiscussed and considered these recommendations with the National Adviser”, and it has agreed to keep it under review. In terms of powers, the response states that the Welsh Ministers have the power to “direct” an authority to take appropriate action, but does not detail what sanctioning powers are available.

The state of human rights and equality

On Tuesday 31 January 2017, Assembly Members will be debating the Annual Report on Equality 2015-16. The following article (6 June 2016), which gives an overview of the state of human rights and equality in Wales, is being re-posted in advance of this.

06 June 2016

Article by Hannah Johnson, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

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Is Wales a fair country? And what are the main human rights and equality issues needing to be addressed in the Fifth Assembly?

It is tempting to think that human rights are less significant in a developed country like Wales. But these universal rights are intrinsically linked to the life chances of every person, regardless of where they were born.

With significant inequalities to be addressed, and the backdrop of austerity still affecting public services, the Fifth Assembly will be pivotal in determining whether Wales becomes more or less equal.

Inequality in Wales

In many ways, Wales is still an unfair country. There are some substantial inequalities in education, health, employment and income levels that may influence policy and law-making in the next five years:

  • young people aged 16-24 are four times as likely to be unemployed as those aged 35-54;
  • some people are disproportionately likely to be paid less than the average wage. These include: young people (who earn £6.50 per hour compared with the average pay of £11.20 for 35-44 year olds), ethnic minorities (earning on average 50 pence less an hour than white people), and women (whose annual average earnings are £16,412 compared with men’s average of £22,921);
  • certain children are significantly more likely to have lower than average educational attainment. Only 13% of Gypsy / Roma children, and 17% of both looked-after children and those with special educational needs, achieve five or more GCSEs at grades A*-C;
  • less than half of disabled people are employed;
  • just over three-quarters of reported hate crimes are racially motivated, with black people most likely to be victims;
  • around 38% of ethnic minority households and 31% of children live in poverty; and
  • there continues to be a lack of diversity in leadership roles, from politics to the private sector. In some areas representation is getting worse, with even less diversity in decision-making than there was a decade ago.

Creating a distinctive agenda for Welsh human rights

The Fifth Assembly will be critical in determining how human rights are prioritised and addressed in Wales. Decisions made by the new Welsh Government will have an impact on the dignity, respect, fairness, safety and protection of the population.

Under devolution law, Welsh law has to adhere to international treaties, including the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). In the past, Welsh Governments have taken a different approach to the UK Government on human rights. Will this continue in the future?

For example, the Rights of Children and Young Persons (Wales) Measure 2011 places a duty on the Welsh Government to take account of (or ‘pay due regard to’) the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). Similarly, the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 places a duty on public bodies to take account of the UNCRC and the UN Principles on Older People. There are no equivalent, specific provisions requiring public authorities to ‘pay due regard’ to the UNCRC in other UK law.

Welsh experts agree that human rights should be seen as a tool for improving people’s lives, rather than a retrospective remedy. Some people see the ‘due regard’ duty as a meaningful way of improving policy and practice. For others, it reinforces human rights simply as a process, or a ‘tick box’ exercise.

It will be interesting to see if the requirement to pay ‘due regard’ to international human rights treaties is used in future Welsh law and policy.

Human rights and equality issues for the Fifth Assembly

Other key equality and human rights issues likely to arise in the Fifth Assembly include:

  • gender equality: including representation, pay gaps, economic participation and violence against women;
  • poverty: with high levels of poverty in Wales, and certain groups of people far more likely to be poor, low income and the lifelong disadvantages it brings is fast becoming a human rights issue;
  • physical punishment (smacking): the UN Committeee on the Rights of the Child will soon make recommendations as a result of its examination of progress on children’s rights in Wales. Smacking has been a recurring theme in its previous reports, and the debate is almost certain to arise again;
  • hate crime: particularly the rise of Islamophobic and anti-Semitic hate crime; and
  • the protection of people at risk of abuse: including asylum seekers, refugees, older people in care, disabled people and looked-after children.

Human rights are a key part of both the devolution settlement, and the UK constitution. The UK Government has promised to replace the Human Rights Act 1998 with a British Bill of Rights and ‘curtail the role of the European Court of Human Rights’. The proposals have been controversial and much delayed. Although there are ‘no plans’ for the UK to leave the European Convention on Human Rights, a Bill of Rights would have huge implications for Wales.

If new legislation is brought forward, its impact on human rights protections and how the new Welsh Government responds will likely determine whether Wales becomes more or less equal.

Key sources