Alice Hooker-Stroud, leader of the Wales Green Party, on a hill overlooking her home town of Machynlleth in West Mid-Wales. Photo: Alex Randall via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND).
Communities at the heart of a Green Wales
21st January 2016
This May the Greens are hoping to win their first seats in the Welsh Assembly, and become a strong force for social and ecological progress, writes Alice Hooker-Stroud, newly elected leader of the Wales Green Party. At the heart of the vision: sustainable, prosperous, empowered communities.
The inland flooding in Mid and North Wales during the recent storms also shows us that we urgently need to prepare strategies for climate change adaptation, and propose solutions that work for, and protect our communities.
"And this is Alice, the new leader of the Wales Green Party." The woman standing opposite me looked a bit surprised and then held out her hand to shake mine and smiled.
I think initially I was equally as surprised as she was by the turn of events. That's not what normally happens when I go for a drink in my local pub. I guess it is now.
I was born in mid Wales in and grew up in a rural town of about 1,500 people very similar to where I live now, so at least I am used to the dynamic of small communities where news travels fast.
Lots of things - from local businesses to social events - survive and thrive by word of mouth in rural communities. But the same familiarity I think is true across Wales. People in Wales are more likely to know all their neighbours by name than any other part of the UK. This is one of my favourite facts about Wales.
Unfortunately, not all statistics about Wales are as positive. In 2012, over 300,000 households were projected to be in fuel poverty. This is most likely down to a combination of rising energy prices and low, stagnant household incomes. Household energy bills went up by over 50% between 2002 and 2012. Wages in lower-paid jobs in Wales haven't gone up for decades.
'We're always in recession here'
Unemployment continues to rise and the proportion of people living in relative poverty in Wales - 23% - is the highest in the UK outside London. That's almost a quarter of people who can't afford to put food on the table, despite the fact that half of these households are earning. Wales also has the highest percentage of children living in poverty - one in three - of any nation in the UK.
Shortly after the economic crash hit in 2008, someone interjected in a conversation I was having and said that it wouldn't make any difference to mid-Wales. "We're always in recession", was their opinion. In part this is true: the picture I just painted is not a new one: communities across Wales have had a hard time for a good long while, but in another sense they were very wrong.
Like many areas in the UK, Wales has been heavily affected by cuts to public services, with more to come. My local county council had to find over £40m savings over the course of three years - one of the hardest hit counties in Wales, it is also by far the largest and most rural meaning public service provision is already a challenge.
Across the country libraries are being forced into partial closure, sports centres are being contracted out, and public assets sold-off. Hospitals are having to reduce their services or are threatened with closure, and rural schools upon which many communities are dependent are closing.
Higher education funding in Wales - that's university and college funding - will see a 32% decrease in the coming year according to the draft Wales bill published last autumn. These assaults on our communities sit poorly with the long-standing tradition of progressive values - of care and respect for people - that I associate with Wales.
Climate change is already hitting us with floods, sea level rise
On top of these unnecessary cuts that add insult to injury in our communities, Wales, as with every nation on this planet is under threat from a rapidly changing climate. Seaside towns are under threat from rising sea levels.
In some cases the Welsh Government has already decided that sea defences are a waste of money. Over the coming decades, these communities will be taken over by the sea, and as yet there is no support for people there to relocate or rebuild their communities.
The inland flooding in Mid and North Wales during the recent storms also shows us that we urgently need to prepare strategies for adaptation. We cannot build flood defences higher indefinitely, but we need to propose solutions that work for, and protect our communities.
I don't know what Wales is without community, yet our governments - both from Westminster and the Senedd in Cardiff Bay - seem thoroughly intent on breaking us apart: through long-term neglect and cuts to vital services; through lack of action to mitigate climate change; and through failure to support communities to adapt to the changes in climate that we are starting to see and know are coming.
Wales elections 2016 - our first real chance of political change
Wales has an elected parliament, the Sennedd or National Assembly for Wales, and its own elected Welsh Government, headed by the First Minister of Wales.
The Welsh Government is responsible for a many 'devolved matters' including health, education, housing, highways, agriculture, forestry, tourism, language, culture and public services, and it's held to account by the Sennedd with its 60 Assembly Members (AMs).
In May this year, the National Assembly elections will take place, under a partially proportional system. And for the first time in history the Wales Green Party stands a good chance of winning seats - we expect between one and three strong Green voices to hold Welsh Government to account in the Sennedd on social and environmental issues. And as lead candidate for Mid and West Wales, I'm hoping to be one of them!
The Wales Green Party campaigns on a lot of the issues that affect local communities and Wales as a whole. And we know that the solutions to social and environmental problems are invariably one in the same.
For example we need warm, sustainable and affordable homes for people to live in - cutting energy use and carbon emissions, and reducing fuel poverty. And we need the high-quality jobs in building new homes, and renovating old housing stock to modern standards with good insulation and low heating bills.
We need decent public transport that allows people to move around freely, cheaply and with low impact on the environment. We need local schools and support for teaching through the medium of Welsh. We need public services - libraries, health centres, hospitals, social care systems and leisure centres - run by councils accountable directly to communities and designed to fit our communities' needs.
We need decent, meaningful and sustainable work all over the country. We need that work to pay enough for people to afford decent prices for local produce, grown by local farmers, sold by local businesses. We need community or publicly-owned renewables that produce clean energy for people and businesses, an investment for our future that also has the potential to rejuvenate local communities.
This is the Wales Green Party's vision for Wales. We have the foundation in our people, and our communities. Now we need representation in the Welsh Assembly to get us there.
There is much to be proud of living in Wales, and as the newly elected leader of the Wales Green Party my leadership will be about fighting for and defending those critical values that make our communities strong and supportive.
I want to enable communities in Wales to be self-reliant and self-sustaining; to thrive into the future, and become resilient in the face of change.
Alice Hooker-Stroud is the leader of the Wales Green Party. In May 2016, she is standing for election in the region of Mid and West Wales in the Welsh Assembly elections. She was born and brought up in Wales, and now lives in Machynlleth. She has worked in climate science, on the Zero Carbon Britain project at the Centre for Alternative Technology, and for social justice campaigning organisation Global Justice Now. She believes that all the problems we face have common roots: putting profit before people, and that we need a radically different society and economy to solve these problems.
Find out more about Alice and the Wales Green Party.
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