'Jobs, jobs, jobs' the priority for 'most disadvantaged' in Welsh Covid recovery, says economy minister

The economy minister has said employment for the "most disadvantaged" will be prioritised as part of plans for Wales' recovery from the pandemic.

Ken Skates told ITV News previous recessions show young people, disabled people, women and people from black and ethnic minority backgrounds are hit hardest.

It comes as the latest Welsh unemployment figures reveal a 4.6 per cent increase in joblessness - the highest anywhere in the UK.

Wales' unemployment rate is, however, still lower than the UK total of 4.8 per cent, according to the figures released on Tuesday.

But Mr Skates said: "There are still more than 4 per cent unemployed in Wales, and for them we are investing in employability and skills programmes, in job creation wherever possible, to ensure their experience of unemployment is kept to an absolute minimum."

Unemployment figures show there were 42,000 fewer people working in Wales during this latest quarter than between April and June. Credit: PA Images

Mr Skates agreed an excessive number of low paid, low skilled jobs is contributing towards poverty in Wales.

"It's a key part of the structural challenge we've faced in Wales for decades, for decades," he said.

But when challenged on having decades to correct that challenge, he said the proportion of people in Wales without qualifications has "more than halved".

He said: "We are under no illusion whatsoever about the challenge that people are going to be facing during the winter and during 2021, in staying in work or getting back into work."

The creative sector - a fast-growing industry employing more than 56,000 people in Wales - has been one of the hardest hit by the pandemic, with doors closed to events for months.

In June, the Wales Millennium Centre cancelled all of its 2020 shows, with 250 jobs at risk, and predicted it could lose £20m this financial year.

The Welsh Government announced a £53m fund for cultural organisations, but Mr Skates said "protecting lives" has been the priority in decision-making.

"[The creative sector] is so important to the Welsh economy, but the decisions that have been made are absolutely the right ones - to protect lives.

"If we don't protect lives, it won't just be loved ones who are gone, it will be livelihoods, businesses, because the pandemic would cut deeper into the economy."

More than 9 per cent of the Welsh workforce is employed in tourism - an industry the economy minister said will "bounce back" after Covid. Credit: PA Images

Another vital industry - employing more than 9 per cent of the Welsh workforce - is tourism, which Mr Skates said would "bounce back" after the pandemic.

"The strategy for tourism and hospitality has been to secure as many businesses as possible during this difficult period, to help them hibernate.

"In addition, our strategy has been to make sure that when the recovery comes, when we return to something of a normal, they are able to bounce back.

"That's why we are investing £1.7bn in businesses during the course of this pandemic - it's the most generous package of support for businesses anywhere in the UK."

But research has found that 40 per cent of north Wales businesses across tourism, hospitality, retail and leisure could fold if there are any more lockdowns.

Businesses across Wales have been devastated by the pandemic. Credit: PA Images

On his hope for the future of Wales and its economy, Mr Skates said: "We've got the people, we've got the energy, we've got the resource, we've got the ideas.

"I think we had the momentum before we went into coronavirus to be a strong and responsible nation, a nation that puts wellbeing at the forefront of our economic strategy.

"To drive wellbeing, we have to have an environment that is more resilient, an economy that provides work for every household, and we have to make sure that people have the competence to be able to get decent, fair paying, fair jobs.

"We are working relentlessly for that end goal of a better wellbeing level in Wales, and I'm confident that we will be able to deliver it in the months and years to come."