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Education for the world’s most vulnerable children will boost development

Ceredigion’s Welsh Liberal Democrat MP Mark Williams held a debate last week in Parliament, highlighting the importance of education in international development.

As the UN meeting in Rio to finalise the Sustainable Development Goals this September approaches, there is much discussion globally about the progress being made to ensure every child in the world has access to quality education.

Whilst the Millennium Development Goals set in 2000 have meant 42 million more children across the world have received an education, 58 million children across the world are still out of school, and 59 million adolescences remain out of school.

In addition to this, critically 250 million children are in school, but fail to learn the basics. UNESCO has described this as a ‘global learning crisis’, and the Sustainable Development Goals need now to focus on providing a more inclusive, equitable and quality education.

In his debate, Mark explained that this means ensuring children from all areas, and all backgrounds get an education, regardless of gender, disability, or whether they live in a conflict zone. For instance, there are 93 million disabled children globally, and in most countries these children are more likely to be out of school than any other group. In some countries being disabled more than doubles the chance of a child never going to school, and the UN has labelled them ‘the world’s biggest minority’. In addition to this, of the 58 million children of primary school age who are out of school, around half of them live in conflict areas.

Commenting following the debate, Mark Williams said:

“This year is a critical one in international development. As was reaffirmed at the World Economic Forum in Korea in May, education is a human right, a public good, and a main driver of development in achieving the other proposed Sustainable Development Goals. Without education, communities will not progress, and countries will not develop.

“But as a former primary school teacher, I also know how important the quality of the education is, and I think it is important that in the next phase of the Development Goals we address this, to ensure that not only are more children going to school, but that they are getting the skills required.

“The UK already plays an important role in providing education in developing countries, and promoting its importance, and I can see from the success of campaigns such as ‘Send my Friend to School’ when I visit classrooms in Ceredigion, that it is an issue we are all passionate about. The numbers have improved, but we also need to focus on inclusivity in education, so that children have opportunities regardless of gender, disability or the circumstances of their physical location in the world. Of course numbers are crucial, but so is the standard of education being delivered.

“This is a huge task, and there is much to do. In the debate I encourage the Minister from the Department of International Development to ensure that the UK uses its influence in this sphere to ensure all developed countries do their bit to ensure that no child, anywhere in the world, is left behind.”

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E-cigs and cigarettes should not be lumped together

Giving evidence to the Welsh Assembly’s Health and Social Care Committee this week on the Public Health (Wales) Bill, the Health Minister announced his intention to regulate to ban the use of e-cigarettes in playgrounds and on hospital grounds, alongside tobacco cigarettes.

The Welsh Liberal Democrats have led the campaign against Labour’s proposed bans on the use of e-cigs in public places, collecting over 2,000 signatures on a petition in less than a month.

Labour need to realise that cigarettes and e-cigs are not the same thing, do not have the same implications on public health, and should not be lumped together when considering bans in public places. As long as they’re properly regulated, e-cigarettes have a huge potential to help people quit smoking altogether and there’s very little to suggest that anyone uses them as a gateway to smoking tobacco.

The case for banning e-cigarettes in public places is nowhere near conclusive, and could massively harm those using e-cigs to give up smoking. Welsh Liberal Democrats are leading the fight against Labour’s illiberal ban, and unless the Minister brings forward indisputable evidence and makes a clear public health case in favour of a ban we will not let up our fight.

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Children’s Commissioners’ report shows poorest let down by Labour

The failure of the Welsh Labour Government to tackle the root causes of poverty in Wales is depriving children of a decent childhood.

A report released today by the UK’s Children’s Commissioners to a United Nations Committee has outlined that Wales has the highest levels of child poverty of any UK nation.

Last month, a report by the Assembly’s Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee laid bare Labour’s failings and the “lack of progress in reducing poverty, particularly given its long-term commitment and investment in the issue.”

The evidence is stacking up and is plain to see: Labour have simply failed to deal with the blight of poverty in our nation. If it wasn’t for the Welsh Lib Dem Pupil Premium giving children from deprived backgrounds a path out of poverty through better education, this Welsh Labour Government would have hardly anything positive to say about their record.

Labour Ministers may well be throwing plenty of money at alleviating the symptoms of poverty, but until they start taking real action to get to grips with the root causes we still won’t see any decline in poverty levels.

Education is one of the crucial keys to the life chances of a child. Through our budget deals, Welsh Liberal Democrats have shown how important education is to our vision for a better Wales. Until we’re helping every child achieve their full potential at school, the cycle of poverty will not be broken.

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No clear map for Metro still after three years of talk

This week’s announcement by the Welsh Government that £600m will be invested in transport in South-East Wales without detailing the projects to be covered makes it imperative that they publish their Metro map.

It is high time the Welsh Government said what it’s version of the South Wales Metro will look like. While promises of funding for transport are welcome, we still don’t know which specific projects will be going ahead.

Many of us were hoping that today’s much-hyped announcement would finally make clear what the Metro will actually be. Sadly, after three years of working groups and reports, we still don’t really know.

Yet again, the Welsh Government has failed to give a definitive answer to questions around the Metro, and passengers in South-East Wales remain perplexed. I call on the Welsh Government not only to publish its own map and timeline, but show how it will deliver integrated ticketing to simplify travel for Welsh passengers.

The South Wales Metro and the Welsh Rail Franchise are two very different projects and I believe they need to be treated as such.

The Metro is supposed to be about integrating transport across South-East Wales, bringing together bus, rail, cycling and other transport more effectively. By merging it into the rail franchise, the Welsh Government gives the signal that buses and active travel are just add-ons, not an integral part of the system.

Similarly, passengers in rural mid-Wales and the north Wales corridor will be seriously concerned that the all-Wales rail franchise will be focusing all of its attention on this major project in the South-Eastern corner and that their needs will be forgotten.

We need to send a message to the rest of Wales that the next rail franchise will have their interests at heart, whilst making sure that work on integrating public transport in urban South-East Wales moves forward. This announcement today does neither.

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372% increase in young people waiting over 14 weeks for mental health services

The number of children and young people waiting over 14 weeks to access psychiatric services has risen by 372% in just two years.

In April 2013 282 children had been waiting over 14 weeks. However, the most recent figures show that there are now 1,332 children waiting longer than that period.

The then Children’s Commissioner, Peter Clarke, warned in his annual report in 2005-2006 that children and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) were “in crisis across Wales”. However, the waiting lists continue to grow.

The Welsh Liberal Democrats would enshrine parity of esteem between mental and physical health on the face of future legislation. The Minister for Health would then report annually to the Assembly on progress towards the goal of parity between mental and physical health.

In Wales, Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) and all mental health hospital services aren’t subject to the same rigorous ‘referral to treatment’ time targets as other NHS services.

These figures are appalling and show that mental health waiting lists are spiralling out of control.

For too long mental health services have been an afterthought of Governments. This complacency means our mental health services are miles behind where they should be.

The Welsh Liberal Democrats believe there must be a radical change in the way in which our NHS approaches mental health services. That is why we would ensure that patients suffering from mental health will have equal rights to access diagnosis and treatments as those requiring physical health care.

It’s over a decade since the Children’s Commissioner declared youth mental health services to be in ‘crisis across Wales’, yet many child health experts still believe that is the case. In England, the Government has said child mental health services need a ‘complete overhaul’. It’s time the Welsh Labour Government took its head out of the sand and accepted this is the case in Wales too.

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Wales set to miss yet another target

Today’s Western Mail says that a report by the Committee on Climate Change is predicting that Wales is on course to miss its target to slash greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.

The committee, an independent body that advises the UK Government, says emissions in Wales rose by 10.3% between 2012 and 2013, owing to an increase in emissions from steelworks in Wales and a change from gas to coal in power generation.

Wales has a target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% from 1990 levels by 2020. However, in 2013, emissions were only 12% lower than in 1990 (compared to 30% for the UK).

The committee predict that on the basis of progress to date, the 40% target by 2020 is likely to be missed.

This is the second year in a row that carbon emissions in Wales have risen.

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