By Mike Hedges AM
The budget is the key decision made by the Welsh Government and endorsed by the Welsh Senedd every year.
The aim of every budget is the same: to improve health, improve the environment, including support for bio diversity and to reduce carbon emission, improve educational attainment, improve the economy, improve the quality of life for people in Wales and reduce, then eliminate, poverty. The political parties agree on the outcomes but disagree on the method of achieving it.
Unfortunately, currently two things are done each year: firstly, each budget is treated in isolation, and secondly, budgets are judged on the increases in expenditure, not planned improved outcomes.
What follows is not a plan for one year but a direction of travel in Government expenditure.
My top priority is to promote health improvement, reducing, not just treating, ill health. Within health, I am calling for the prioritisation of health improvement and primary care. Primary care is the point of contact for all non-A&E entry into the health service, and a better-resourced and funded primary care sector would reduce the need for hospital care. As we have seen, year on year, when the health boards get the money, primary care and GP practices get a smaller and smaller proportion of the budget.
We know the following improves health: wash your hands often – as we have seen during COVID this has led to a huge reduction in gastric problems; sleep 7-9 hours every night; maintain good posture; eat a healthy, balanced diet; drink plenty of fluids every day; be more active during the day; get a hundred and fifty minutes of aerobic exercise a week; minimize stress levels and reduce pollution.
The Welsh Government needs to promote a healthy lifestyle and thus reduce the number of people with ill health conditions
The health effects of obesity, which is probably the biggest problem that we’re facing at the moment, are very serious They include high blood pressure and additional fat tissue in the body that needs oxygen and nutrients in order to live. Obesity is a major cause of type 2 diabetes, which is a major cost to the health service and has a serous effect on long term health. We should be doing something to try to reduce that expenditure and the associated health problems, and it is not about not treating people with type 2 diabetes, it is getting fewer people to have type 2 diabetes.
With heart disease, hardening of the arteries is present ten times more often in obese people, and whereas we have seen a continued reduction in smoking, unfortunately, obesity is going in the opposite direction. Obesity is now the second biggest cause of cancer and, I would expect that when we get the next list of major causes of cancer, it will take over as number one. I think we really have got to treat obesity as the most important health risk that we are facing.
Is it any surprise that people with a poor diet and living in cold damp conditions are more prone to ill health? The Attlee Government from 1945 to 1951 realised the link between housing and health but unfortunately that has not been followed by other Governments.
We need to build high-quality council houses across Wales to improve people’s lives and health. The only time since the second world war when sufficient housing was being built was when large council housing estates were being built the length and breadth of Wales. We must build enough affordable homes to meet Wales’s projected housing needs. This should be achieved through the empowerment of local councils to make full use of their borrowing powers and capacity to build homes and bring back empty homes into use for social rent.
Improving the environment and providing green spaces and better air quality improves health and also improves the life of those who are living in an area. We need to take action. Outside of budgets, local development plans should designate all land in a council area, including areas for tree planting, agriculture and land to promote biodiversity.
We are fast losing biodiversity in Wales, with the latest State of Natural Resources Report stating that “the overall trend is one of serious decline, reflecting the global situation and the internationally recognised nature emergency.” This needs to be addressed.
Flooding, unusual high temperatures and droughts are all signs of global warming. We need to decarbonise as quickly as possible to reduce the effect of climate change.
Successful areas, including in the UK, have high quality universities, a ready supply of new graduates, a critical mass of technology companies, research and development taking place and large number of start-up companies.
Can the Welsh Government’s economic policy target life sciences, ICT, and financial services? We need more Admiral Insurance and less LG Electronics. We need things that can be done including using universities as drivers of growth: development of science parks; universities’ schools of entrepreneurship open to everyone; building a food processing industry as Arla have achieved in Denmark, getting the added value from food processing, not just the value of the agricultural products
Investing in our schools and young people is an investment in the future. Education, while good for the individual, also provides an educated workforce to improve the economy. Investment in education is the best way to grow an economy
The pandemic has shown how important local government is and how, when needed, it provides not just the basic services but support. Local government services are important to people, from parks to social services to road maintenance to education. They need adequate funding.
Mike Hedges is the member of the Welsh Senedd for Swansea East.
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