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2. Questions to the Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Children

October 18, 2017

97 speeches by…

  • Elin Jones
  • Hannah Blythyn
  • Carl Sargeant
  • Janet Finch-Saunders
  • Jayne Bryant
  • Mark Reckless
  • Steffan Lewis
  • Mark Isherwood
  • Gareth Bennett
  • Bethan Jenkins
  • Rhiannon Passmore
  • David Melding
  • Michelle Brown
  • John Griffiths
  • David Rees
  • David Rowlands
  • Darren Millar
  • Vikki Howells
  • Lynne Neagle
  • Angela Burns
  • Dawn Bowden
  • Sian Gwenllian
  • Suzy Davies
  • Joyce Watson
  • Huw Irranca-Davies
…and 15 more speakers

Elin Jones

The next item is questions to the Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Children, and the first question comes from Hannah Blythyn.

Hannah Blythyn

1. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on the support that is in place for Communities First employees? (OAQ51205)

Carl Sargeant

I thank the Member for her question. The Communities First transition team was established to support Communities First lead delivery bodies in planning and advising staff. There have been ongoing conversations with local authority staff, third sector staff and unions. Lead delivery bodies have transition plans in place to inform the delivery of the programme during 2017-18.

Hannah Blythyn

Thank you, Cabinet Secretary. I raise this both as an Assembly Member who serves employees of the Communities First programme and as a trade unionist—with both hats. I’m sure you’ll understand that the workforce should get the support and consideration that they are deserving of. You said that it is currently going through a transition period, and that is obviously happening in Flintshire, as elsewhere in the country. Many of the staff in Flintshire have worked on these Communities First projects since they were established in 2002, serving across our communities on a number and variety of projects that enable people to be work ready, and to support them into work. Having met with the Communities First team in Flintshire, I know that they continue to work hard, as you will do, Cabinet Secretary, and under a lot of pressure to provide a smooth transition for all employees. I think they are now keen to focus on moving forward. So, I hope that the Communities for Work projects supported by the legacy fund will provide new opportunities for existing employees to move into, and during this transition period that the well-being of the committed workforce and their families will be given priority. So, Cabinet Secretary, do you agree with me that supporting our Communities First employees and providing certainty on their future should be a priority through this transition period, and what message of reassurance you can send to them today?

Carl Sargeant

I’m grateful to the Member for raising this, and many other Members have also done that. Thank you for that. I agree that one of the priorities is ensuring Communities First staff are supported through this transition period, and it’s an important one. I am aware that my officials have been working with lead delivery bodies to ensure correct procedures are being followed, including liaison with union representatives as necessary. I know many of the Communities First staff in Flintshire and across Wales will want to continue to work to support our communities in other important programmes, and I wish them luck in doing that too.

Janet Finch-Saunders

Cabinet Secretary, such is the confusion now over the winding up of Communities First in our communities that a number of permanent vacancies are still being advertised online. What steps are you taking to ensure that taxpayers’ money is not being wasted on further recruitment processes for a scheme that you are technically winding down?

Carl Sargeant

Well, the only person that’s confused here, it appears, is you. The lead delivery bodies are in regular contact and are encouraged to talk to my officials. If there are any questions or queries around the transition period or associated staffing issues, they’re more than happy to talk to my team in that process, but the Member has been misled in terms of her views today.

Jayne Bryant

2. What assessment has the Cabinet Secretary made of the impact of the UK Government's welfare reforms on south-east Wales? (OAQ51201)

Carl Sargeant

I’m grateful for the Member’s question and deeply concerned by the devastating impact that the UK Government’s welfare reforms are having on low-income families, particularly those with children. Average annual losses are estimated to be around £600 per household in the sub-region the Member represents, compared with £300 per household in the least affected sub-regions of Wales.

Jayne Bryant

Thank you, Cabinet Secretary. Earlier this year, research commissioned by Cardiff Metropolitan University found the average rent arrears for tenants claiming universal credit was £449.97. The six-week waiting period for the first payments will mean that the first payment of universal credit for those in Newport will be 27 December. Will the Cabinet Secretary once again urge the UK Government to reconsider the six-week waiting period for this flawed policy, which will plunge yet more people into poverty and debt, and also support the housing sector’s calls to immediately roll out the much needed landlord portal and trusted partner status, so that housing associations in Wales will be treated the same as those in England?

Carl Sargeant

I’m really grateful to the Member for raising that with me today. I have written to the UK Government to ask them to put a halt on the universal credit roll-out. The principle of the universal credit programme wasn’t wrong, but it’s not working right and people are being affected and traumatised in the way that they are living their lives. In fact, a six-week wait—. I read an article today about a very young person on the Wirral in Merseyside having to wait six weeks and who was suicidal and living on water for that period of time. It is not right, it needs stopping and it needs reassessing now.

Mark Reckless

The unemployment rate in south-east Wales has fallen to 3.5 per cent this year; the employment rate in the year to June is up from 70.2 per cent to 72.5 per cent. Given that the Government in Westminster’s welfare reforms are designed at least in part to help people into work, and the Cabinet Secretary himself says he supports the principle of universal credit, shouldn’t he be welcoming these and working with the Government to implement them?

Carl Sargeant

I certainly don’t welcome the universal credit roll-out as it is, and I’ve expressed that in a strong letter to the Minister in Westminster. This is having a devastating effect on families and children right across Wales. It needs stopping now and reassessing as to how that should be delivered for the future.

Steffan Lewis

The Member for Newport West touched on a point of the levels of personal debt and that being a real impact of the hideous welfare reforms being thrust upon us by the British state. Research earlier this year showed that personal debt levels in the NP postcode area were the highest in Wales and, across the United Kingdom, they are now reaching pre-recession levels. I wonder what action the Cabinet Secretary is considering in light of this new research to target ethical financial support in those areas with the highest level of personal debt, and also the areas that are losing financial services from the traditional banks, because the last thing we want is these people who are already under siege from the state to also be under siege from rogue lenders.

Carl Sargeant

Yes, the Member is right to raise this point, and I’ve worked with Bethan Jenkins in terms of financial literacy; it’s a really important point. But, for many of these people who are undergoing universal credit roll-out, the problem is they don’t have any money. The problem is that to have savings or otherwise is a luxury. This programme is flawed. I’m grateful for the Member’s support in this space, but actually we have to, collectively, think about making sure the UK Government recognises the damaging effect the universal credit roll-out is having on communities. And while we had two trial areas in Wales, there was lots of evidence behind that saying about the devastating impact it’s having on those families there. We are only just starting the roll-out of this programme, but it’s flawed and needs stopping.

Elin Jones

We now turn to spokespeople’s questions. The Conservative spokesperson, Mark Isherwood.

Mark Isherwood

Diolch, Llywydd. As you’ll be aware, the Prime Minister announced at the beginning of the month that there would be an extra £10 billion for the Help to Buy scheme, both to stimulate new home building and to get 135,000 more people onto the housing ladder, with full plans to be detailed in the UK budget on 22 November. Given that the Welsh Government previously launched its own version of this programme some 18 months after the UK made a similar announcement, with recyclable loan finance, how do you understand Wales might be impacted or benefit from this, and what engagement have you had or will you be having with the UK Government accordingly?

Mark Isherwood

Well, I am disappointed, obviously, but I hope you’ll be pursuing that, given this isn’t normal block money, it’s recyclable loan finance—if it’s going to be funded on the same basis; of course, we don’t know yet. Moving on from housing to housing-related support, of course, at the end of last month, the Welsh Government announced that £10 million annually, for two years, was being restored onto the Supporting People programme. Of course, it was well received, and £4 million of that will go through your own departmental budget. The sector responded warmly, but called for an assurance that this money would be ring-fenced for housing associations and third sector providers. Will it be so, or what assurance can you provide, working with them, that this money will go where it needs to go?

Carl Sargeant

The Member could have been a little bit more generous in his observations. This wasn’t money put back into the system; this was additional money. This Labour Government here in Wales has put in an additional £10 million for two years to tackle homelessness—£6 million of that into the revenue support grant and £4 million into my budget line. I can’t guarantee what that will look like, because it’s about working with the sector and organisations to get the best value to tackle issues around homelessness, and I’m in discussions with agencies already about how that will look in terms of delivery for the future.

Mark Isherwood

Of course, it was a restoration of money that had been taken out of the budget since 2013, and that was welcomed, but we do need to know if it will be ring-fenced because it’s about working with people, for example, through the Big Lottery-funded People and Places programme, which must be funding projects to be people-led, strength-based and supporting people and communities to build on the knowledge, skills and experience that they already have. Again, how will you ensure therefore that this fits those sorts of programmes, and enables people themselves to directly participate in the improvements in their own lives?

Carl Sargeant

The Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 places a duty on Government and public sector bodies. We are working with organisations external to the public sector in the third sector. Llamau, the Wallich and other organisations are very keen to understand how best placed we should use this money. I’m not an expert in this field, but they are, and I want to work with them to make sure we direct our limited finances to the right places to help people in need across our communities.

Gareth Bennett

Diolch, Llywydd. I wanted to raise today the problem of drug abuse and particularly drug abuse carried out in public places. We’ve had several recent media reports relating to drug users fairly openly injecting heroin in the Butetown area of Cardiff. This also raises the related problem of discarded needles, which can be a real danger to children, which has also been highlighted by the media. This is a problem not only confined to Cardiff; it is also a recurring issue in many of our Valleys towns. So, my first question is: do you recognise this as a major problem, and what steps can the Welsh Government take in helping the relevant authorities to tackle it?

Carl Sargeant

Drug use and substance misuse is on the increase, but we are seeing an effect of welfare reform having an impact on individuals moving into that space. But let’s not forget that people who are suffering from drug and alcohol or substance misuse are human beings too. We have to think carefully about how we are able to support them in making sure that we can act appropriately to take them off the effects of drugs and alcohol, and put them back onto a pathway of success. It pains me when I see people in our communities taking drugs and the other paraphernalia used to expose themselves to risk. It’s our duty to make sure that we can help everybody in our communities, irrespective of their position in life or where they are.

Gareth Bennett

Yes, and I agree with your sentiments. These are human beings—nobody is denying that— and we need to help these people as far as we can to come off their habits. But, in terms of how to deal with it as an issue of public order perhaps, what do you think about the issue of stop and search and how effective it is in helping to provide a safe urban environment?

Carl Sargeant

The issues around stop and search are a matter for the UK Government and policing but, actually, I don’t think stop and search in itself is helpful in delivering services for people who need to be supported. Our Supporting People programme, along with our substance misuse policy, is designed to help people back into what would be considered a normal way of life, whatever that actually means. But, actually, taking them away from the risk that they pose to themselves and others is something that we should work at carefully.

Gareth Bennett

Yes, and Supporting People, of course, we await what the funding for that will be in the upcoming budget, so I’m glad you mentioned Supporting People. But on a related issue on the drug theme, do you have any update on Welsh Government investigations into so-called safe injection zones, where drug users can inject in a medically supervised environment, and do you have any thoughts of your own on this issue whereby it is a possible way of taking needles away from the streets?

Carl Sargeant

There have been some discussions with authorities, but this is a matter for a different Minister. I will ask the Minister appropriate to write to the Member.

Bethan Jenkins

Cabinet Secretary, can you confirm the following questions? Did the Welsh Government offer the Baglan Moors site for the prison, when, at the time it was offered in May 2016, the site was categorised as a C2 flood risk zone and went against your own technical advice note 15 planning guidance? Can you also clarify whether or not the covenant on the land meant that it could only be used for economic purposes in keeping with an industrial park?

Carl Sargeant

I can’t do just a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer there, because there were lots of questions, but if the Member bears with me—. The land that the Member mentions was part of a long list of land that is available to any developer, whether that be from the Ministry of Justice or any other commercial operation, and it is not abnormal for us to do that. Is there a covenant on the land? I believe there is a covenant on the land.

Bethan Jenkins

Okay. I don’t think you answered the first question, but I can come back to it again. I just want to try and probe further on that in particular. Why was the flood-risk category only updated via Natural Resources Wales in March 2017? This was the same month that news about the site became—. The preferred option for a new prison, during this time, became public. It’s my understanding from a communication via our councillor, Nigel Hunt, that NRW only informed Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council of a change to the flood-risk category in February, a few weeks before the site was publicly chosen. Why was this? Can you confirm when NRW informed you, or anybody else in the Welsh Government, that the flood-risk category of the land would change, therefore making it viable for a large development such as the prison? Assuming it would have taken some time to compile a list of suitable sites for a prison of this size, it was before the flood-risk category was changed.

Carl Sargeant

I don’t have the detail on exactly when the correspondence was with NRW or otherwise. But I will ensure that the Member is communicated with in terms of that detail. But the Member should be also aware that, because this land is designed with a flood risk, there are opportunities for developers to mitigate against that. So, the Member is alluding to a state of fact, in terms of that land may have had a flood risk imposed on it, but, actually, mitigation by any businesses can be considered in a normal planning process.

Bethan Jenkins

The point is, though, that it was changed, and it made it more viable, therefore, for this prison to be able to be built. In the past, it wasn’t as viable for industries to go and seek out that land, and I’m trying to understand why that was and when that decision was made, and I’m not hearing that from you here today. With regard to the covenant, and it’s my understanding, as is yours, as we’ve heard, that there is a covenant in place, I’ve received legal advice, which states, and I quote, ‘Assuming the covenant is legally valid, it means that the site is affected by an obligation in favour of a third party limiting its use to an industrial park only. In those circumstances, building a prison on the site could be a breach of the covenant.’ How do you plan to get around this, assuming you are still going to co-operate with the UK Government and continue to offer this land for the prison? The bottom line, of course, is that we understand that, potentially, things will change in relation to the flooding and the categorisation, and the covenant now ensures it should be for industrial usage. Will you, therefore, go back to the MOJ and say, ‘Well, actually, now we are not co-operating with this piece of land, and we will not therefore be providing Baglan Moors for a prison site’?

Carl Sargeant

I’m really disappointed in the tone of the question from the Member. I’ve been in discussions with her, and many other Members, including Dai Rees, the local Member—[Interruption.] If the Members would like to listen, I’d be more than happy to answer the question. The fact of the matter is that this is a matter for the Ministry of Justice. We, as always, and with our land process, offer land that is appropriate for development. If they wish to look at the covenant, or other arrangements of that land, this is a matter for the Ministry of Justice, not for Welsh Government.

Rhiannon Passmore

3. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on the progress being made in meeting the Welsh housing quality standard? (OAQ51196)

Carl Sargeant

I thank the Member for her question. All social landlords are on track to meet the standard by 2020. Latest annual statistics show that, at 31 March 2017, 192,302—86 per cent—of existing social housing now meet the standard, compared with 79 per cent for a year earlier. Over 15,000 households now live in better quality homes than in the previous year.

Rhiannon Passmore

Diolch, Cabinet Secretary. The figures released, as you said, earlier this month, show that 86 per cent of all social housing dwellings met the Welsh housing quality standard by 31 March, which was a rise of seven percentage points, unlike in England where there has been disinvestment. This significant investment by Welsh Government is having a significant and far-reaching impact and indeed transforming lives. Will the Cabinet Secretary outline how we can ensure that this progress is maintained and advanced across Wales?

Carl Sargeant

Llywydd, this is a good news story for us as the quality of homes is so important to people’s well-being. It’s also vital for us in achieving many of our other goals as a Government, including improving the nation’s health and well-being. Investment in improving and building homes also has a huge potential to create jobs and training opportunities in areas like Rhianon Passmore’s constituency, and we look forward to continuing that support for organisations to develop housing quality standards.

David Melding

Cabinet Secretary, I recently visited the Solcer house in Bridgend as part of the Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee’s work, and was very enthusiastic to see the prospect of building homes now that actually produce more energy than they consume. Now, that house costs roughly twice as much as a normal build house but is not yet done to scale, and I understand that social housing does offer an opportunity to develop these products at scale, and they’re aesthetically pleasing and very efficient and offer huge benefits to people, especially those who may be in fuel poverty also.

Carl Sargeant

I agree with the Member—it’s rather unusual, but, in terms of this point, he’s absolutely right in making sure that—. Actually, this is a clever investment for the future. It may cost a little bit more but it’s an investment for lower energy bills or decarbonisation; it ticks all of those boxes. I will be making an announcement shortly on the innovative housing schemes and it’s a case of watch this space.

Michelle Brown

I do support the objective of upgrading social housing, I really do, Cabinet Secretary. But I would like to ask what analysis have you made of the cost to the social landlords of upgrading the houses and the likelihood of that cost being passed on to future tenants via rent rises?

Carl Sargeant

This is all measured within the business plans for associations and local authorities. We provide additional funding to ensure that they are no worse off. But it’s about making sure that housing is fit for the future and many households across all our constituencies are benefiting from this investment from Government and from the sector itself.

Carl Sargeant

Despite the rehabilitation of offenders in Wales being a matter for the UK Government, we work closely with Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service, for example, through our support for the women’s pathfinder diversion programme.

Mark Isherwood

Thank you. Well, given that response and, of course, your responsibilities at the devolved level for crime and justice policy, including youth justice, how are you engaging or will you be engaging with the UK Secretary of State for Justice after the announcement at the beginning of this month of a £64 million investment in youth custody to boost staffing and education for young offenders and a national taskforce—i.e. a UK, presumably, national taskforce—to help ex-offenders into employment, which will target employers to sell the benefits of employing ex-offenders, as well as advising governors on training to give former prisoners to maximise their chances of employment?

Carl Sargeant

I think what we mustn’t forget is, in a lot of these institutions, there are Welsh prisoners and we must think about their integration back into our society as well. A lot of the services around prisons are devolved services. So, health, education, et cetera, are devolved services and we have regular discussions about what the involvement is of Government in terms of their ability to help structure a new approach to probation services and rehabilitation in our communities.

John Griffiths

Cabinet Secretary, in order to effectively rehabilitate those leaving prison it’s very important that they have a roof over their heads. The Housing (Wales) Act 2014 meant that prison leavers were no longer automatically categorised as being in priority need for housing. There was a 2017 post-implementation evaluation of that legislation, which stated that amongst those groups not having their housing needs met were prison leavers. Given those facts, will you now give further consideration to the protection and the categorisation of prison leavers in terms of homelessness and housing need?

Carl Sargeant

I think the Member is right to raise the issue, but I did create a working group that looked at prison leavers in terms of housing solutions. I will write to the Member with the details of that group and what the outcomes of that were.

David Rees

Cabinet Secretary, rehabilitation and the reduction of reoffending is something we all want to try and achieve. I will give you one hint now: stopping superprisons might actually do it a little bit, and therefore stopping the one in Baglan might help you a little bit. But, in the sense of how we help them to be rehabilitated, support services are critical and those support services are going to be huge resource draw on our services. What discussions are you having with the Ministry of Justice to ensure that they fund those resource services so, when we do rehabilitation and when we reduce reoffending, it’s because they’re actually helping us and we’re not doing it off their back?

Carl Sargeant

As with all prison estate across Wales, there is an agreement between the UK Government and Welsh Government in terms of a cost-needs assessment on additional services required. I can assure the Member, irrespective of if and when a prison does appear anywhere in Wales, there is a discussion with the UK Government to ensure that we have the right amount of services and finances to deal with the issues surrounding any prison.

David Rowlands

5. Will the Cabinet Secretary outline the Welsh Government's priorities for ex-service people in Wales, following his discussions with the armed services expert group? (OAQ51192)

Carl Sargeant

Thank you. Our priority is to ensure that we provide effective services that meet the needs in areas such as health, housing and employment. Examples of these are the housing pathway and the work Veterans NHS Wales are undertaking in the delivery of research trials to alleviate mental health issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

David Rowlands

I thank you for that answer, Cabinet Secretary. I’m sure that you’ll agree with me that we in Wales are proud of our armed forces and the work they do on our behalf. We must remember it is the politicians who sent them into conflict, therefore it’s incumbent upon politicians to ensure they’re looked after when they leave the service. Even given all the interventions that I know the Welsh Government has done, and they are to be applauded for that, we still find that there are those who slip through the net and are still sleeping rough on our streets. Do you have any updates on how the Welsh Government are going to deal with those people?

Carl Sargeant

What we’re trying to establish here is a national solution to the problems, as well as here in Wales. What we’re trying to do is identify service leavers who want to be supported and therefore give them a pathway to change. I think it’s incumbent on the UK Government, in terms of how they deal with ex-service personnel—and I’ve raised this with Ministers on several occasions about their moral responsibilities for, when people go to conflict, how do they deal with and support them post conflict. It’s something I will continue to do and work with the armed forces expert group on that.

Darren Millar

Cabinet Secretary, will you agree with me that one low-level support service is the Veterans Shed movement, which, of course, was established in north Wales in terms of the first one, is now being a model that is being copied in other parts of the country, not just in Wales, but across the UK as well, and that that is something that the Welsh Government would do well to support? I know that your colleague Lesley Griffiths, when she held the armed forces portfolio, made a visit to the Veterans Shed in Colwyn Bay and was hugely impressed by what they’re achieving. But what resource might the Welsh Government be able to make available to support the Welsh Veterans Shed network so that it can enhance the lives of other veterans in other parts of Wales that it’s not currently in?

Carl Sargeant

I’m grateful to the Member and thank him for the work that he does on the cross-party group on armed forces also. I can’t commit to a financial reward for this group. I do recognise the work that they do in our communities. I think what we are looking at as a Government body is looking at the very high-level interventions that we can support—the more lower, but meaningful intervention the Member talks about is an important one. We have to see what pathway to finance they can access, but I’m not quite sure it’s at a Government level.

Vikki Howells

Cabinet Secretary, former service personnel can often have difficulty in accessing new employment opportunities, despite the wealth of transferrable skills that they possess, and I’m sure you’re aware of recent media coverage about this issue. You alluded, in your answer to David Rowlands, to help that the Welsh Government provide in this area. I wonder if you could expand on that for us, please.

Carl Sargeant

I’m grateful for the Member’s question, an important one about how we move from a service position to the public and private sector, which can, for some, be a very difficult transition. We’re working with the Career Transition Partnership on discharge. I indeed also met with an ex-service user in Dawn Bowden’s constituency, who had moved from ex-service personnel to an excellent member of staff for a local contracting company. There are things that we can learn there about the support mechanisms that some people might need in addition to actual work and training skills and about how we learn from experience. It’s something my team and the expert group on service personnel is looking at and gives me advice on regularly.

Lynne Neagle

7. Will the Cabinet Secretary outline what support is available from the Welsh Government to enable parents to develop positive parenting techniques? (OAQ51208)

Carl Sargeant

I’m grateful for the Member for Torfaen’s question. Positive parenting is fundamental to our cross-cutting priority of early years within ‘Prosperity for All’. We support every local authority in Wales to provide a range of parenting support encompassing universally available information and advice. Parenting groups and targeted and intensive early intervention through Flying Start and Families First continue.

Lynne Neagle

Thank you, Cabinet Secretary. Yesterday, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children launched their new Take 5 positive parenting campaign, which looks at encouraging parents to stop and react calmly when faced with a challenging parenting situation. The campaign was developed with parents in Wales and provides easy-to-remember advice to help them keep their cool. It urges people to take five—to stop, breathe and react calmly when dealing with tantrums, difficult behaviour or other challenging parenting situations, such as mealtimes and getting dressed—and is designed to complement the positive parenting advice and programmes that are already operating. Cabinet Secretary, will you join me in welcoming the NSPCC’s campaign, which looks to provide parents with confidence to make better-informed decisions that allow them to build positive, healthy relationships with their child?

Carl Sargeant

Yes, I do. Indeed, I met with the NSPCC and had a briefing on that particular campaign that they’ve launched. And, you’re right, it does complement the TalkParenting campaign that we’ve launched as Welsh Government. We must continue to work together proactively in supporting parents across our communities, and I’m grateful the Member raised that with me today.

Angela Burns

Cabinet Secretary, I know you will agree with me that resolving attachment issues is absolutely crucial for ensuring that young people or young children can grow up to be well-rounded individuals. In the last Assembly, the children and young people committee did a very hard-hitting report on adoption and post-adoption support. A lot of children who are adopted or who are about to be adopted suffer from attachment issues, and yet still today we are being told by adopters and would-be adopters that they are finding it very difficult to access training to help them learn how to parent children who have severe attachment disorder. If we want these children to go into stable, loving forever-homes, we have to help those who want to reach out to those kids. When will your Government—. Or what can your Government do to help these parents and to give them the training that they need to make sure that not only can they adopt those children but that, when they do adopt them, those adoptions are robust and do not breakdown, as I have seen too often with constituents in my own constituency?

Carl Sargeant

I share the Member’s concern around this, and we are doing work with David Melding, who chairs an advisory group for us looking at the intense vulnerability of young people put in either fostering or adoption care, and we are seeking advice on what more we can do to help with this. This is not always about cash, by the way. This is often about support mechanisms—sometimes third sector or public sector bodies—actually doing what they say on the tin, making sure that we recognise that these young people are highly vulnerable and following up on that process as well. It’s not just a case of placement; it’s about placement and support, and it’s something I’m very conscious of.

Dawn Bowden

8. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on the use of notices served under section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 in Wales? (OAQ51195)

Carl Sargeant

We do not collect specific data on section 21 notices. However, we have introduced new requirements regarding their use, and landlords must be registered with Rent Smart Wales. In addition, the Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016 will provide additional protection to contract holders on the use of landlords’ notices.

Dawn Bowden

Thank you, Cabinet Secretary. As you’ll be aware, the use of section 21 notices—the so-called no-fault eviction notices—can be served at any time on a tenant who is not protected by a fixed-term contract. The notice can be served without any grounds being given or proven and can bring an abrupt end to tenancies and total disruption to the lives of tenants. Not surprisingly, the increase in the use of section 21 notices is causing concern to Shelter and other housing and homelessness organisations. Whilst this is a pre-devolution piece of legislation that is still applied in Wales, can I ask the Cabinet Secretary if he would give consideration to reviewing the operation of section 21 of the Housing Act 1988, and, if necessary, more to disapply its provision in Wales so as to remove the unfairness and to provide greater security for such tenants?

Carl Sargeant

This was a long discussion piece of the Housing (Wales) Act 2014 as we took it through the Assembly in the previous term. Can I say to the Member that the Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016, whilst retaining the ability for a landlord to serve a two-month notice, will offer greater protection for contract holders through the Act’s retaliatory eviction process? So, there is a part of the Act that does give protection to tenants as well. But I’ve heard the Member and I’ve heard her strong views, and I will give that some further consideration with my team.

David Melding

Cabinet Secretary, I agree with the Member who has just raised this question that tenant protection does need to be looked at carefully. In England, as a result of the Deregulation Act 2015, section 21 notices cannot be served by landlords to residents if the housing is of a poor standard and doesn’t meet legislative standards. This does seem to be perhaps an appropriate way to now regulate this area in Wales also.

Carl Sargeant

That’s where we are placed at the moment, with the consultation on the fit-and-proper person and fit-and-proper accommodation consultation that we are undertaking.

Sian Gwenllian

9. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on Welsh Government efforts to tackle child poverty? (OAQ51207)[W]

Carl Sargeant

Diolch. Our child poverty strategy sets out our objectives for tackling child poverty. We are committed to a whole-Government approach to tackling child poverty and we are taking action to ensure that every child has the best start in life.

Sian Gwenllian

The use of food banks has increased over 500 per cent with a third of users being children, 31 per cent of children live in poverty, and there are 10 times as many people receiving sanctions at present, with evidence that the increase in the use of food banks is directly linked to sanctions and matters with regard to universal credit. Do you believe and agree that we need to transfer administrative control for benefits from England to Wales? Administrative control—not the ability to vary the level or kinds of benefits, but the ability to bring the culture of cruel sanctions to an end and the ability to create a regime that’s kinder here in Wales and more humane.

Carl Sargeant

I don’t disagree wholeheartedly with the Member in terms of bringing the administration to Wales. However, what does concern me is the UK Government’s inability to service that with the appropriate funding behind it. I think I’d be very interested to have further discussions. The First Minister’s been very clear about powers coming to the Assembly without finances to support them. I think it’s a really important point that the Member raises and she’s right to say that I believe universal credit is one of the points that is driving people into poverty in our communities.

Suzy Davies

All our local authority councillors, of course, should consider social justice in all their decision making, but I wonder if it’s likely you will welcome the specific appointment of a social justice champion in Monmouthshire County Council. This is an individual who has been tasked to make sure that the whole concept is cross-cutting through all decision making. Myself, I’d be more than delighted if she took it on board to make sure that the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child articles were part of her work. I’m just wondering if you think the time really has come now to make sure that article 12 in particular, but all aspects of the UNCRC, are obligatory for our public services, including local authorities.

Carl Sargeant

Well, that’s, again, another long-standing discussion point of this Assembly. I would be quite keen to further debate that with the Member and others to make sure that this is the right thing to do. What concerns me about champions in organisations is that, often, it’s a badge or a title. Actually, what I’m really keen on is making sure that those champions turn their duty into action. We are seeing that in several aspects, and I am encouraged by the Member’s point about the particular council that she raises, with a social justice champion within that organisation. I wish her well.

Steffan Lewis

10. What assessment has the Cabinet Secretary made of the rollout of universal credit in Wales? (OAQ51186)

Carl Sargeant

I’m deeply concerned about the devastating impact of universal credit on those who are left waiting for six weeks or more for their first payments. I’ve written to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions calling for the roll-out of universal credit full service to be paused.

Steffan Lewis

I thank the Cabinet Secretary for his answer, and it follows on from an answer he’s given to the Member for Arfon this afternoon. I know he will agree that universal credit’s more than just a political shambles; it’s cruel and it’s causing real hardship. The cost of calling helplines has been raised regularly, as too has the crucial issue of the frequency of payments. Now, I don’t doubt the Cabinet Secretary’s sincerity in his opposition to welfare reform more generally. I know that he genuinely opposes the cruel sanctions regime as well, but I am at a loss to understand why, therefore, he won’t at least take a further step forward and look at the feasibility of establishing a social solidarity fund in Wales that could begin funding mitigation steps, and then, at the same time, look to a devolved welfare administration model—because let’s remember, we’re the only country in these islands without the devolution of the administration of welfare—so that we can make it work for Wales, and rather than having to protest at that lot up in London to change their ways, we can do something more humane for our citizens here.

Carl Sargeant

I’m grateful for the Member’s question. I genuinely—. When I get questions, the Member raises this on a regular basis, and that’s encouraging in terms of his commitment too. The fact of the matter is that we do do many things that mitigate the issues and effects that happen as a result of Westminster decisions, but, as I said earlier, making sure that we have the finances to support the administration of this process is an important one. We have to make sure that taking responsibility is credible, in the fact that we are able to act positively to support these individuals who are being affected by this. At the moment, the responsibility lies with the UK Government, and we are very clear in saying that the universal credit process is not working for people and is dangerous in the way that it’s being enacted.

Vikki Howells

11. What assessment has the Cabinet Secretary made of the scale and scope of modern-day slavery in Wales? (OAQ51200)

Carl Sargeant

I thank the Member for her question. Today is Anti-slavery Day, and anti-slavery events and activities are happening across Wales to raise awareness of this. It is by raising awareness and improving reporting that perpetrators can be brought to justice and, importantly, victims can be offered support.

Vikki Howells

Thank you, Cabinet Secretary. The Welsh Government’s code of practice and commitment to ensuring ethical employment opportunities among businesses in receipt of public funding offer clear objectives for how the private sector can help end modern-day slavery. Now, businesses like the Co-operative Group are leading the fight by offering paid work placements to victims of modern slavery through their Bright Future programme and ensuring no place for trafficked labour in their supply chains. What progress has the Welsh Government made more generally in ensuring the code is followed by businesses receiving public funding, and what work is being done to encourage the Westminster Government to follow our lead?

Carl Sargeant

Well, the Member’s right: the code is a first for Wales, along with many other things, and a first for the UK. Along with the supporting guidance, it provides a practical means for tackling unfair, unethical and illegal practices, including modern-day slavery. However, the lead Member for this is my colleague the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Local Government. I will ask him to write to you with specific details around the code and implementation of that.

Mark Isherwood

Concern has been raised with me that human trafficking through Holyhead port is getting worse, but that not enough of the victims desperate to be found are being found, and that, despite this, it’s so far been impossible to get the six north Wales county representatives around the table. How, therefore, do you respond to the findings of the North Wales Police serious and organised crime local profile modern-day slavery report that there’s evidence of organised crime groups operating in north Wales by trafficking victims through Holyhead port to Ireland or employing victims in nail bars or pop-up brothels, and of groups based in north Wales, tied by familial bonds, who target vulnerable males for manual labour and canvassing?

Carl Sargeant

Oh, believe me, human trafficking is alive in the UK, and we are the only part of the country that has an anti-human trafficking co-ordinator. My team work incredibly hard with the police and other agencies to ensure that we are trying to keep on top of this issue, but we are part of a larger island. I would encourage the Member and other Members to speak with other parts of the administrations of the UK to come together to create anti-human trafficking co-ordinators across the whole of the UK in order to ensure that we can tackle the issues that the Member rightly raises about the trafficking of human beings.

Joyce Watson

Yesterday, we had a round-table meeting, and the room was full of experts in the field of ending human trafficking or slavery in Wales. One of the issues that came up time and time again was the 45 days in which victims have to prove their case and get through the national referral mechanism—NRM—and the wish to make that a much longer period, a minimum of 60 days. I know that those powers rest with the UK Government, Cabinet Secretary, but there is a clear request from all the experts in Wales for you to ask the UK Government to consider expanding that, because it isn’t until individuals get through the national referral mechanism that they’re offered any help or support whatsoever. It’s left to the non-government organisations to offer any shelter, any help, any support whatsoever after those 45 days.

Carl Sargeant

I’m grateful to the Member for raising that with me. I will ask my anti-human trafficking co-ordinator to meet with the Member in order for her to explain that to him, and I will act accordingly on his advice.

Huw Irranca-Davies

12. Will the Cabinet Secretary provide an update on the national housing pathway for ex-service personnel? (OAQ51183)

Carl Sargeant

I thank the Member for Ogmore for his questions. I launched the national pathway for ex-service personnel in November 2016. We continue to champion the approach through the recent publication of supporting leaflets, posters and advice cards, so that anyone needing accommodation can get access to the support that they need.

Huw Irranca-Davies

I thank the Cabinet Secretary for that response. In launching this pathway, which is a great innovation, much stress was laid by the Cabinet Secretary on the need for effective collaboration with housing consortia, with the local authorities, regional collaborative committees, local health boards and other provider agencies. So, this far into the pathway, could he give us an update on how effective that collaboration is and whether he sees a good uniformity in the collaboration right across Wales, and not some variability on a postcode basis?

Carl Sargeant

I think what we are seeing is that we’re learning from experience. I said to Vikki Howells early on about dealing with ex-service personnel—it’s a variable process because people’s needs are all different. We have to understand that better. What we are really pleased with about the housing pathway is that local authorities and housing associations are picking up the gauntlet here, and are working very well to help ex-service personnel and veterans with regard to their needs, but also the needs of families, as well, who accompany service personnel. So, I’m seeing a great, positive outcome right across Wales. I have visited some of the organisations delivering the services to personnel, too.