FMQs: Wales only using a fifth of Covid-19 testing capacity; talks continue with UK Treasury to ensure £500 care worker bonus is tax-free

Only a fifth of Covid-19 testing capacity being used

Leader of the Opposition, Paul Davies MS (Con, Preseli Pembs.), has serious concerns about coronavirus testing rates in Wales:

“….we know that the total number of tests in the last 24 hours was 3,054, which means that just a fifth of capacity has been used. And more worrying, according to official figures, no extra tests were carried out between 28th June and 5th July for healthcare workers across Wales. Clearly, this shows that more testing could and should be done.”
– Leader of the Opposition, Paul Davies MS

On the possibility of future local lockdowns, he added that if local lockdowns were introduced, then the public would have a right to clear reasoning from the Welsh Government – including appropriate scientific evidence.

The First Minister said the fact that there was capacity to carry out 15,000 tests was a good thing, but there was an assumption that “more tests are better” when it’s more complicated than that; they need to be carried out for the right reasons and a low number of tests is an indication that new cases of Covid-19 are at a low level.

On local lockdowns, the First Minister is pressing the case for Wales to play a full part in a future joint UK biosecurity centre to pool intelligence and evidence from across the UK. That evidence would form the basis of any decision to introduce local lockdowns if needed.

Care workers still waiting for their Welsh Government £500 bonus

Adam Price MS (Plaid, Carms. E. & Dinefwr) turned to the pledged £500 bonus for care workers in Wales – which still hasn’t been paid out yet due to a dispute over whether it’ll be taxed by the UK Treasury.

“I’ve been contacted by the owner of a care home in my constituency. His employees….are hard-working and undervalued, and he urgently wants the Welsh Government to honour the promise made in May that every worker in a care setting would receive £500. Now, waiting for Westminster has never served us well in Wales and, yes, the UK Treasury needs to find its moral compass by making the payment tax-free.”
– Adam Price MS

He went on to say that care work has been dogged by “low pay and zero-hour contracts” for decades. Was it now time to ensure care workers had a proper living wage as the first step towards receiving the same pay as NHS staff?

The First Minister confirmed that “constructive discussions” were ongoing with the UK Government to ensure the bonus was tax-free.

On pay and working conditions in the care sector, he described it as a “challenge for all of society” to properly value and fairly reward those working in an otherwise neglected and undervalued occupation.

“I want to be positive in my reply to Adam Price’s question because I agree with him that the result of coronavirus ought to be that, as a society, we have to be prepared to find the money to make this a sector that recognises the significance of the work that it does every single day.”
– First Minister, Mark Drakeford (Lab, Cardiff West)

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