THIS week, the Labour Party in the Welsh Assembly voted as one to defeat a bill that called on the Welsh Government to bring forward an Autism (Wales) Bill during the fifth Assembly term.
The bill’s defeat was a bitter blow for all of those who had ceaselessly campaigned for the introduction of such a bill.
Labour whipped its AMs to ensure the bill’s failure, while opposition AMs were united in supporting it.
A PASSIONATE DEBATE
During the debate, Members delivered impassioned arguments on why ministers should bring forward specific autism legislation that already exists in England and Northern Ireland.
They cited the fact that under current Welsh Government legislation, people with autism lack a legal identity – which has led to people not receiving adequate professional support from public services – placing them at a disadvantage to the rest of society.
Speaking after the debate, Conservative AM Mark Isherwood, who called for such a bill to be introduced in 2015, said: “Today’s vote is obviously a significant blow to the 136,000 people affected by autism in Wales – the passion of whom was evident by those who sat in the gallery to watch the debate.
“Despite Labour having voted down the bill today, we know that there are members who recognise the need for this legislation but were not allowed to demonstrate this, owing to the Labour whip on this vote.
“We will continue to fight for this bill in the Chamber, for the sake of those who continue to not receive the support and recognition they both need and deserve.”
‘A MISSED OPPORTUNITY’
Meleri Thomas, External Affairs Manager at National Autistic Society Cymru, told The Herald: “We are disappointed by the vote last week and have spoken to many autistic people and their families in Wales who see this as a missed opportunity to make meaningful improvements to the support and services they need.
“During the debate, the Welsh Government underlined its commitment to a new autism strategy and highlighted other initiatives that it believes will improve support for autistic people in Wales. We will be looking carefully at these initiatives and what the new strategy says to assess the likely impact.
“However, eight years on from the publication of the first strategy, we’ve seen how difficult it can be to realise the welcome ambitions of a national plan into practical support on the ground. This is why we will continue with our Act Now campaign, which calls for an Autism Act for Wales so that there are clear duties on public services in Wales to meet the needs of autistic children and adults across the country and bring about the changes to services and support that we all want to see.”
MR WATERS HAS ONE QUESTION
The conduct of Llanelli AM Lee Waters during the debate attracted criticism. On no fewer than three separate occasions, he asked members speaking to give way to ask what amounted to the same question.
The first occasion captures the thrust of Mr Waters’s interventions: “Autism is a neurological condition with distressing co-morbidities like anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder. It affects one in 100 people. Tourette’s syndrome is a neurological disorder with distressing co-morbidities like obsessive compulsive disorder and anxiety. Why is one worthy of an Act and the other not?”
Plaid Cymru’s Bethan Jenkins pointed out, before being interrupted by Mr Waters: “Research from the National Autistic Society found that only two children in five are receiving all the support outlined in their statement. There is an Additional Learning Needs Bill on the way, but Plaid Cymru believes this may fall short of what is required, because it offers little or no support for adults with autism while making no distinction between children with Asperger’s, who are often high academic achievers, and others on the autism spectrum.”
Assurances given by Minister for Social Services and Public Health Rebecca Evans that the Welsh Government’s eight-years-in-the-making Action Plan would deliver the changes sought by the proposed Bill without the necessity for further legislation were skewered by Simon Thomas, Plaid’s Regional AM for Mid and West Wales, who pointed out to her in June, after the Action Plan had been approved, that First Minister Carwyn Jones said of a possible Autism Bill: “That is being considered at present… in terms of seeing in what way we can develop legislation on autism, and particularly whether we can ensure that the action plan can be strengthened through being placed on a statutory basis ultimately.”
Ms Evans suggested that the Government’s current position in voting against the Autism Bill was no different to that espoused previously by the First Minister.
‘NOBODY WANTS LEGISLATION’ CLAIM
Indeed, the distance that the Welsh Government has rowed back from the First Minister’s words on legislation was further highlighted by a Welsh Government spokesperson, who told us: “We already have both the legislative and policy levers to support people with autism. Our Social Services and Well-being Act came into force in April of this year and puts the individual the heart of decisions about care and support, and aims to meet those needs. We are about to publish our refreshed ASD Strategic Action Plan, following consultation with people with autism and their families, where only two responses mentioned the need for more legislation.
“However, the Minister has met with NAS Cymru who are working with officials to explore whether there are parts of their proposed Bill that cannot already be delivered by these approaches and other initiatives such as our investment in a National Integrated Autism Service through our Intermediate Care Fund.”
As the consultation referred to regarding the ASD Action Plan did not include a consultation on legislation, the Welsh Government seems to have forgotten the dictum that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, not least when you set the terms of the consultation.
DAVIES WILL CONTINUE
Paul Davies AM, who has been consistent in calling for an Autism Bill, told The Herald: “I’m extremely disappointed and angry that the Welsh Government did not support the cross-party calls for an Autism Act in Wales to better support those living with autism across the country. This has been a particularly difficult issue for families in Pembrokeshire. An Autism Act would see duties placed on local authorities to make sure that every council is taking the right steps to give children and adults in Wales the care and support they deserve.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to have worked with the local NAS branch in Pembrokeshire, who do a fantastic job in raising awareness of some of the serious issues facing people with autism on a day-to-day basis. I will continue to work with the branch to campaign for an Autism Act which will give greater clarity on the care and support that people with autism can expect from their local authority and local health board.”
FOLLOW THE LEADER
Back in March, one leading AM told The Herald; “It’s clear that autism services in Wales haven’t been good enough so we welcome any further steps the government takes to support children and adults in Wales.”
On October 12, that same AM voted with her colleagues in the Welsh Labour Cabinet to reject the proposal advanced by the Welsh Conservatives. That vote was cast in the teeth of an express commitment in her party’s own May manifesto and in spite of these words, also told to us on March 7 this year: “Wales needs a better focus on this issue which is why we would introduce legislation focused on helping and supporting people with autism.”
Kirsty Williams’ unequivocal declaration in March 2016 was made in response to an announcement made by then Health Minister Professor Mark Drakeford about the Welsh Government’s Autism Action Plan, which will not be rolled out across Wales until 2019. She did not think that went far enough then and the plan has not changed since that date.
The only thing that has changed between May and October 12 is Kirsty Williams’ appointment as Cabinet Secretary for Education in Carwyn Jones’ Cabinet.
The Herald contacted both Kirsty Williams and the Welsh Liberal Democrats regarding the Autism Bill: neither answered.
Care home honour Armed Forces Day
PLAS Y DDERWEN in Johnstown will be celebrating Armed Forces Day on Thursday, June 28, with a big brew up supporting SSAFA – the Armed Forces charity.
SSAFA – the Armed Forces charity, formerly known as Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association, provides lifelong support to serving men and women and veterans from the British Armed Forces and their families. Armed Forces Day is a chance to show support for the men and women who make up the Armed Forces community.
Janet Williams, Activities Coordinator, said: “It is very important that we keep the memories of those who fought alive and that we also think about those involved in conflicts around the world today. We welcome anyone that wishes to attend and will have the chance to meet the team and look around the home.”
Plas Y Dderwen is part of Barchester Healthcare, one of the UK’s largest care providers, supporting older people living independent lives over the last 25 years.
Barchester services include residential care and nursing care as well as expert dementia care.
Huge Brecha Forest West wind turbine project complete
ALL 28 turbines at Brechfa Forest West Wind Farm are now operational and exporting renewable energy to the National Grid, Innogy Renewables UK Ltd has announced.
With an installed capacity of 57.4MW, Brechfa Forest West can generate enough renewable energy to meet the equivalent energy needs of approximately 38,800 average UK homes, which is almost half of all the households in Carmarthenshire.
Martin Kelly, innogy’s Project Director said: “The last turbines have now been commissioned. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the local community for their patience and support during the construction phase. We will now continue to work with Natural Resource Wales (NRW) to complete all remaining reinstatement activities.
“We are really proud of what has been achieved here as a team with NRW and our Contractors. With all turbine components safely delivered to site and lifted into place, over 20km of tracks within the forest created or upgraded and a new circular walk created to improve visitor’s experience; the construction has been an engineering success and all carried out safely with no lost time due to injury or incident.”
This announcement also marks the launch of the much-anticipated community benefit fund, worth £459,200 a year.
Following a competitive tender, innogy has selected Antur Teifi as the fund administrator and Severn Wye Energy Agency to provide community development support and maximise the benefits of the fund.
Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs Lesley Griffiths said: “I am delighted Brechfa Forest West Wind Farm is now operational. It is the most recent example of our approach to using Welsh Government estate to deliver benefits for Welsh people whilst at the same time decarbonising our energy system. I am pleased that the Community fund will be delivered alongside the leisure improvements the development has funded, which are benefiting the local community and future generations.”
Kevin Harrington, Business Development Manager from Antur Teifi said: “We are thrilled to have won this contract and excited by the huge potential and significant opportunities that the Brechfa Forest West Wind Farm Fund can deliver.
“The fund is now inviting applications for funding and for more information please visit our website: www.anturteifi.org.uk”
Onsite, construction and testing activities are drawing to an end. Reinstatement works will continue as well as the implementation of innogy’s habit management plan. innogy will continue to carry out these works in close working partnership with NRW and is delighted to have also recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding to work towards NRW’s vision of developing Energy Parks fit for our futures.
Gordon Baird, NRW’s Energy Delivery Programme Project Manager said: “This is an exciting moment for the Brechfa Forest Wind Farm Project.
“Our joined-up work with innogy on the NRW Managed Estate has demonstrated that together, we can deliver significant renewable energy and help to build a prosperous and sustainable future for Wales.
“And the recent signing of the MoU signals NRW’s intention to work with all developers who wish to use the Energy Park concept to develop Wales’ renewable energy profile.”
Contactless donations for Tŷ Hafan
TŶ HAFAN has introduced an even easier way for the people of Carmarthen to donate much needed funds. The children’s hospice charity has installed a contactless shop window, located at the front of the Tŷ Hafan store on Merlin’s Walk in Carmarthen town centre.
The window is an integral part of the charity’s Summer Appeal, which sees Tŷ Hafan asking for donations so children with life-limited conditions and their families can continue to receive comfort, care and support during short break care that is so vital for them. Carmarthen shoppers can make donations by merely tapping their debit or credit cards on a contactless terminal affixed to the window, donating a fixed fee of £2.
As summer approaches, many families are preparing to pack their cases in readiness for a summer holiday, but for many Tŷ Hafan families, they are packing theirs in preparation for a stay at the hospice – which, for them, is the only family holiday they will ever have.
Beth Morgan, Tŷ Hafan’s Head of Hospice Services, explained that caring for a life limited child turns parents into full-time carers and the previous life they once had is no longer recognisable.
She said: “Some of our families spend every day living in fear for their child. Parents can become exhausted and emotionally drained from sleepless nights, constant worry and guilt towards not spending as much time with their other children, as well as enduring financial stresses and practical difficulties of caring for their child on a daily basis.
“That’s why our short break care service is crucial. We help to temporarily alleviate the stresses by giving the whole family a much needed holiday. They enjoy sessions together in the hydrotherapy pool, day trips to the beach and a good night’s sleep – things that sound so simple to us but for them are impossible in their day to day lives. By the end of their stay, parents are physically and emotionally in a much better place.”
One family to have benefited from Tŷ Hafan’s short break care is the James family from Aberystwyth. Bridget James has been taking her daughters Elain, 8, and Martha, 4, to Tŷ Hafan since Elain was just a one year old. Elain was born with multiple, complicated heart conditions and a rare genetic disorder. Although her condition is currently stable, it could only be a matter of time before it deteriorates.
Bridget said: “It’s so ironic really that we live in a seaside town, yet it’s Tŷ Hafan that is our family holiday.
“I don’t relax at all at home, so for me, the stay at Tŷ Hafan is my only break for what feels like such a long time. When we stay, there are no day-to-day pressures, Martha can just play and enjoy herself and I can feel myself starting to unwind as the days go on. Just like any holiday, when the week is over it’s back to reality, but at least I have found some more strength, ready to go again.
“For my family and the many others that Tŷ Hafan supports, a Tŷ Hafan holiday means making memories and special moments that matter, and having time to properly switch off. It’s just the perfect family holiday.”
The Carmarthen store window is compatible with any contactless credit or debit card. It’ll be displayed from Monday June 18, during shop opening times, for the duration of the Summer appeal, during which time the charity hopes its funds will be boosted by the Carmarthen community tapping for Tŷ Hafan.
For more information on the Summer appeal, visit www.tyhafan.org/elain.
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