Five key tests for the new First Minister

By Sarah Rees, Head of Oxfam Cymru

The clock is ticking in the race to be Wales’ next First Minister.

Whoever succeeds will face five key litmus tests of their first 100 days in office.

Test 1: Tackling Wales’ pressing poverty problem

Wales’ poverty rate has remained stubbornly high for years, with one in five people (21%) living in poverty. The child poverty rate is even higher, with more than one in four children (28%) growing up in poverty. Ending this injustice must be at the top of the incoming First Minister’s to do list.

It won’t be easy: the causes and symptoms of poverty in Wales are complex and wide ranging. That’s why it’s crucial for the First Minister to recognise that tackling these issues effectively requires a whole government approach, underpinned by an ambitious, time-bound and targeted Anti-Poverty Strategy aimed at driving and delivering cross-departmental action.

Test 2: Caring for our carers

There is a need for action to better value and invest in care, and all those who provide it. Right now, too many women – because they almost all are – live in poverty because they look after someone. Without the people who care for our children, our sick, elderly or disabled, our economy and country would grind to a halt, yet carers’ contributions to our society remain largely invisible.

The Make Care Fair Coalition has laid out a range of policy options aimed at tackling this systemic issue, but an immediate priority must be addressing Welsh childcare provision.

Last year, Oxfam Cymru research revealed that a lack of affordable, available childcare is trapping parents in poverty or leaving them on the precipice of poverty while also having significant impacts on parents’ mental health, careers and future family plans.

Both candidates have repeated the Welsh Government’s existing pledge to expand childcare provision to all two-year-olds in Wales but have offered little detail on when and how this will happen. What’s really needed is a new childcare roadmap for Wales, guided by a new Independent Expert Advisory Group, which ensures that any future provision delivers for both parents and providers and is underpinned by the sustained investment so sorely needed.

Test 3: Re-establishing crumbling climate credibility

The third key test is ensuring that Wales meets its legally binding climate change targets. Around the world, climate breakdown created by rich countries, like Wales, is crippling national economies while droughts, cyclones and floods force people from their homes.

Against this sober backdrop, the Welsh Government’s climate action appears alarming off track, with its own advisers saying there is a worrying gap between climate ambition and delivery.

Welsh Ministers’ caution on coal is a prime example. More than two years on from the world declaring that coal was being consigned to history at the global climate summit COP26, it’s deeply concerning that it’s being left to the courts to decide on whether plans to expand coal mining in Wales should proceed. The new First Minister must prioritise following Scotland’s lead by implementing a de facto ban on coal.

Of course, the transition to net zero must be fair as well as fast and who foots the bill is a key question the new First Minister must address. He must press the Prime Minister to implement a series of common-sense taxes on the biggest and richest polluters to fairly raise the revenue needed for climate action. As illustrative modelling suggests, such action could result in a significant financial windfall for Wales to accelerate climate action. Wales should send the Prime Minister a clear message: there can be no more buck passing: it’s time the biggest polluters pay up for the damage they’re causing.

Test 4: Leading a truly globally responsible Wales

And the new First Minister must show global solidarity in other ways too, with the fourth test being whether Wales lives up to its moniker as a globally responsible nation; a country which ensures that our policies do not have harmful consequences and ripple effects elsewhere in the world.

Being globally responsible also means unapologetically standing on the right side of history during times of unprecedented humanitarian crises. As a top priority, the First Minister must step up where the previous First Minister failed, by unequivocally backing calls for an immediate and lasting ceasefire in Gaza.

And, with Wales’ existing International Strategy coming to an end in 2025, the incoming First Minister must ensure that he applies the Welsh Government’s reported enthusiasm for racial justice to our current and future overseas partnerships, ensuring a safe, feminist, decolonial approach.

Test 5: Building a wellbeing economy for Wales

Underpinning all of the First Minister’s efforts on poverty, climate, care and international solidarity must be concerted action to build an economy that works for people and planet; moving away from reliance on failed economic measures and rhetoric and instead focusing on meeting people’s needs while simultaneously protecting the environment.

Wales should be proud of the fact that we are the first nation in the world to embed the protection and prevention of harm to future generations in law; but the new First Minister must go further, by building an economic strategy centred on a set of well-being economy objectives which ensure everyone can thrive and prosper, with no one being left behind – whether in Wales or internationally.

Tests the new First Minister can’t afford to fail

History will judge our new First Minister by his deeds, rather than his words. Never more have we needed our First Minister to be brave, visionary and hopeful.

Poverty isn’t inevitable, in Wales or anywhere else. Our next First Minister must use his first 100 days in office to demonstrate his commitment to ending this injustice for good, by building the kinder and radically better Wales we all want to live in.

This article was originally published by IWA