The poverty statistics for Wales really do make grim reading. 1 in 4 people in Wales lives in relative income poverty, and the figure is rising. 1 in 5 pensioners lives in relative income poverty, and it’s risen in the last 4 periods. 28% of children in Wales tragically lives in poverty. If you want the Welsh Government stats they’re here.
Poverty has been a problem in Wales and the UK for centuries. But what’s different now is that the establishment’s past methods for dealing with the ‘unwanted’ poor largely no longer exist.
The British elite used to have colonies that needed to be populated. In spite of the Disneyesque rewriting of history in the US, to include principled pilgrims and the doubtful Pocahontas story, it was the poor of Britain who were sent off to the colonies to make riches for English investors.
Before African slavery came to dominate, they arrived in America as indentured servants. This was not quite slavery but not far off, with wives and children expected to take on the debts of any indentured servant joining the masses of early fatalities in the new colony. Many poor, including children, were sent for the most trivial of crimes. Elizabeth Armstrong, known as Little Bess, was transported at the age of nine for the alleged theft of two spoons.
Australia served the same purpose, where ‘criminals’ could be conveniently shipped off to the other side of the world.
This was a deliberate policy. There's always been a class of people that the English establishment considered filth that needed to be gotten rid of. I use that term specifically because that is what they were called. John White wrote in 1630 in the Planters Plea that 'Colonies ought to be Emunctories or Sinkes of States; to drayne away the filth'. The ‘filth' he was talking about was people.
They’ve had many names over the years. Waste people, rubbish, crackers (which started as a derogatory term by white people towards poorer whites). Now they're unceremoniously called chavs in Britain.
Let’s not forget about the wars, which England excelled itself in creating. Endless wars, where millions could be sent in order to fight and die.
There was illness, starvation and disease to rid Britain of many. Workhouses and the gallows were always threateningly close.
And there was mass incarceration. That was always a convenient way to clear away the unwanted poor, which remains a very popular option. Of course, Wales bears the brunt of this. We're the dumping ground for England's criminals now, with a grotesque “super prison” in Wrexham, the biggest ever built in Europe, set to host thousands of English inmates, with another planned for Neath Port Talbot.
But what's remarkable is how so many of the previous options for ‘dealing’ with Britain’s unwanted poor are gone.
There are no foreign wars to send people off to die in. Labour's Iraq disaster has seen to that by turning the country off foreign invasion.
England is unlikely to be populating any colonies any time soon, unless you count the poor people from London being sent to cheaper local authorities, including in Wales.
And the health service and food banks are (just about) there to prevent the disease and death by starvation of the past. I say just about because both the Conservatives and Labour have made efforts at privatisation.
Mass imprisonment does unfortunately continue. The UK still has the highest level of imprisonment in the EU, with almost 100,000 people banged up. But we really can only put so many people behind bars.
So what's left?
We can continue to punish the poor and have them live in a situation of dependency. Or we can actually face up to the poverty and bring about a more equal society.
It’s just not happening though. The third sector money-go-round isn’t helping. There are a lot of passionate people in those jobs but, let’s face it, in too many cases it’s just cash for the Labour stooges running the organisations. After years and millions of pounds put into Communities First it was cancelled, with no progress that could be reported on. There is no flagship poverty scheme in Wales now.
We need to start by tackling housing. I talk about housing a lot, but that’s because I know it’s always been the main measure of social status in Wales. People want to own their own home.
And there’s good reason for that. I get desperate people in my office all the time who are at the mercy of their local authority. When a family member dies, who holds the tenancy, the remaining family are thrown out, if the tenancy has been inherited once already. So if Dad dies and the tenancy is passed onto mother, then the children are made homeless by the local authority. That’s not good enough. We need to get these people into their own homes.
The same goes for the Bedroom tax. People could have been living in a council house for years and suddenly they’re stripped of a chunk of housing benefit because they have an extra bedroom. That's no good. People shouldn’t have to live like that and be at the mercy of the government. They're real people, not a cost cutting exercise. Wales is the only devolved nation paying Bedroom Tax. Labour somehow says it’s not a matter for them.
We really have to reindustrialise Wales for the 21st Century. We’ve already got more than enough HR posts and box tickers. What we need are meaningful jobs where people actually make things, useful things, rather than watching our production move overseas.
We could be building up our ports, and our railways, our soft infrastructure and our manufacturing capacity. But not as part of this so-called United Kingdom which always overlooks us, where the UK government Englishes on its funding promises to us over and over again.
That’s why I want Welsh sovereignty. The Welsh have been consistently treated like England’s waste people. It’s why we’re the poorest part of the UK.
We'll always be waste people to them. We always have been. It’s literally in the name they gave us; the Welsh, the stranger, the foreigner, the other. We'll always be seen as too immoral, too licentious and we’ll always speak too much Welsh to ever be considered otherwise. The Treachery of the Blue Books made that clear, as has the ridicule ever since.
The same goes for all the Celtic nations. The Gaelic speaking Scots could be simply thrown off their land in the highland clearances. And for decades the Irish knew that they need not apply for jobs in England while the Irish were being attacked in the north of Ireland.
What’s depressing though is how we treat ourselves. We put up almost no fight when England wants to lock up its criminals here. Our own Welsh government willingly let’s mud from outside an English nuclear reactor be dumped here, without proper testing. Our own Labour First Minister offers up our country as a place to keep nuclear weapons and nuclear waste.
Sovereignty means respect. We need to stand on our own two feet and get some self-respect. And that means respecting every person in our country. We can all be part of a new Wales that won’t have the baggage of colonialism, empire, mass imprisonment and appalling attitudes to the poor. We won’t be anybody’s waste people.
Let’s get it done.