Earlier this year, we formed a team to take forward Nesta’s new strategy in Wales with an aim to improve the lives of tens of thousands of people by tackling some of our most significant societal challenges.
It feels timely that we formed the team just as a new government came into power. Our three missions - A fairer start, a healthy life and a sustainable future - align closely with much of what Welsh Government is looking to achieve over the next five years.
Our goal is that, by 2030, the UK will have eliminated the school readiness gap between those born into deprivation and their peers, with similar gains at age 16 among students receiving free school meals. The programme for government shows a similar ambition in Wales, but there are some key questions that need to be addressed if we are to make this shared ambition a reality.
The next Senedd term will be one of radical reform in education, with conditions ripe for innovation. How can we make sure that innovation really does serve disadvantaged pupils and 'ensure educational inequalities narrow and standards rise'?
Given everything we know about how fundamental the first five years of a child's life really are, we need to ensure that reform begins from the earliest years: how can we use innovation approaches to ensure that we have coherent and responsive systems that meets the needs of children and families in the present, as well as laying foundations for a healthy future? This includes mental health, too, for the youngest children and their parents and carers.
And with a commitment to extend the Childcare Offer to parents in education and training, how can we build on what we know about quality provision to ensure that it is accessible, supports children’s developments and an equitable start in life.
Our goal is that, by 2030, the UK will have reduced household carbon emissions by 28 per cent from 2019 levels, and will be on track to reach zero by 2048. The programme for government shows a clear commitment to achieving this but we need to tackle some substantial questions if we’re going to get there.
With some good work already underway in the social housing sector - particularly the Optimised Retrofit Programme - there’s a real chance for us to accelerate this work in Wales with new ideas and a stronger, more rigorous use of innovation methods. Perhaps the most important question to answer is how do we create the jobs that are necessary to achieve it?
There are clear opportunities identified to create additional green job and training opportunities through retro-fitting as well as building new homes for social rent that are likely to be influenced by the recent recipients of the Innovative Housing programme. These could be further enhanced through more effective use of data to target retraining opportunities for different workforces.
Finally, while our primary goal is to halve the prevalence of obesity by 2030, we are also exploring loneliness as a key driver in reducing the number of healthy years lived. Our initial work aims to help grow the evidence base on how loneliness drives ill health - we’re committed to helping governments and others make better informed decisions about how best to tackle the challenge.
The significant focus on mental health, wellbeing and loneliness provide a good foundation for further, rigorous exploration of the challenge that loneliness causes. And while some potential solutions are put forward - such as a framework for social prescribing across Wales, a theme explored in Y Lab’s HARP programme with Arts Council of Wales - we’re really keen to get stuck into the research and start talking to people across the country to more effectively match the right solutions to the right communities.