I believe the role of the elected representatives of the people of Wales is to secure the best possible lives for the citizens of our nation; to do everything possible to create a prosperous, fair and just Wales for everyone who calls Wales their home.

Since being elected last May, I have had hundreds of conversations with people from Pontardawe to Penclawdd, from Cimla to Cwmgwrach, and it’s clear that people throughout the region I represent face many of the same challenges, which are largely the challenges affecting people in all corners of our nation.

The unequal impact of the Covid pandemic in terms of health, education and employment which is already adversely affecting family life and social cohesion; a callous Conservative government in Westminster which has almost quite literally taken food from the mouths of our poorest families by cutting the Universal Credit uplift as the cost of living soars to record levels; a devastating decade of declining public services resulting from Tory austerity and Labour mismanagement; and a housing system that is not fit for purpose.

The National Wales: Sioned Williams is a Member of the Senedd for South Wales WestSioned Williams is a Member of the Senedd for South Wales West

The work we must do over the coming years to tackle these challenges is crucial.

Wales has a rich history of radical political action based on solidarity in the face of challenges and a strong sense of fairness.

However, up until now, this proud tradition has not been reflected in our institutions of government in any meaningful way, with the Labour Government in Wales on the whole accepting the limitations enforced upon them by successive Westminster government and an unjust funding formula.

Given the type of language used by successive Labour First Ministers over the years – with references to “a clear red water” and “socialism for the 21st century” -- one could be led to believe that we already have an economic system that works to eradicate the inequality which blights our nation.

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The cold facts unfortunately paints an entirely different picture: 1 in 3 children in Wales are living in poverty and nearly four in ten Welsh households do not have enough money to buy anything beyond everyday items.

This obvious gap between the rhetoric and reality has become a huge cause of disappointment for many socialists, including myself, over the last twenty and more years of devolution. This unacceptable situation is a damning reflection of the impact of Conservative austerity and 20 years of the failure of Labour in Wales to do little more than manage poverty.

The newly forged Co-operation Agreement between Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Government represents a sharp departure from the too often scattergun and insubstantial approach of the past and instead focuses on making material and significant improvements to the lives of our people.

I’m in politics precisely because I want to see real change happen for our communities. Not soundbites and words, but action.

Thanks to Plaid Cymru, all children in primary school will now receive free school meals, free childcare will be extended to include all two year olds and long overdue action will be taken to tackle the housing crisis.

For years, Plaid Cymru has been advocating for these progressive policies, which have been shown by anti-poverty campaigners to make a real difference in mitigating the effect of social inequalities. After years of being mocked and voted-down by Labour in Wales we have now proven that not only is a better and fairer society desirable, but it is also feasible when governments show political will and fearless ambition.

However, one thing that has been made very clear to me during my first months as an MS, is the fact that we are working within arbitrary and crushing constraints that are imposed on Wales by Westminster and our current devolution settlement.

The Tories’ cruel decision back in October to cut the £20 uplift in Universal Credit clearly emphasised the need for welfare to be devolved to Wales.

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How can it be right that a Westminster Government, especially one led by a party that hasn’t won a single national election in Wales since the Victorian era, is able to attack the most vulnerable people in our nation?

Surely we can’t leave these people at the mercy of Tory class-warriors at Westminster. And the official opposition at Westminster in the form of the recently revived neo-liberal New Labour, with its own terrible record on welfare, can’t be trusted either.

Since 2010, the Westminster Government has restructured our welfare system in a harsh and unjust manner. Although it has the resources to ensure that our poorest children and families don't go hungry and fall through the net of the welfare state, it's failing to do so.

Since 2016, Scotland has had control over 11 welfare benefits and the ability to create new benefits within devolved policy areas. Given the self-evident consequences of not pushing for these powers to be devolved to Wales, the reluctance of the Labour government in Wales to put their socialist ideals above their unionist beliefs for the good of the people of Wales has consistently stunned me.

Furthermore, with taxation mostly remaining under the purview of the Westminster Government, any reforms to tackle poverty that we undertake in Wales will always be limited.

The Senedd is the national parliament of Wales, and as such it belongs to the people of Wales. The people of Wales deserve to have a fully powered Senedd – with all the powers needed to make bold improvements to people’s lives, one that doesn’t just tinker around the edges.

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Ultimately, this means independence of course, but full taxation and welfare powers would certainly be a start.

During the Senedd election campaign, the First Minister said he believed powers over welfare benefits and most taxes are "better discharged at a UK level." Following the Co-operation Agreement with Plaid Cymru, his government has now committed to "support the devolution of the administration of welfare and explore the necessary infrastructure required to prepare for it."

While I commend Mark Drakeford's willingness to work with Plaid Cymru to implement policies that will make a real difference to people’s lives, we will not be able to fully end poverty in Wales until our Senedd has full control over welfare and taxation. And the first step in achieving this is for the First Minister to make the decision to fully prioritise his belief in social and economic justice over an unbalanced Union settlement that is surely in its dying days.

The pandemic has not only made the public more aware of the distinction between the Welsh nation and the British state, but if his recent rhetoric is to be believed, it has also hopefully also served to give the First Minister a clearer vision of the damaging consequences of his government's inability to provide safety and support for Welsh workers when needed.

Mark Drakeford has already made clear that he will stand down before the next Senedd election in 2026. What will his legacy be? Only by strengthening the Senedd can we create a fairer future that truly has the interests of the people of Wales at heart.

Will he rise up to the challenge and cement his place in history? Only time will tell.

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