Social rights champion honoured by Swansea University

Helen Mary Jones

Swansea University has conferred an honorary degree on Helen Mary Jones, long-standing Plaid Cymru Assembly Member and campaigner for equality and social justice

Ms Jones was presented with the DLitt (Doctor of Letters) award today (Tuesday 10 January) at Swansea University’s Great Hall by Professor Elwen Evans, Head of the College of Law and Criminology at Swansea University, during the degree ceremony for the College of Law and Criminology.

Helen Mary Jones has contributed to social rights and social politics in Wales in relation to equal opportunities, tackling abuse against women, and, in conjunction with Swansea University, instilled a new Welsh law ensuring the democratic rights of young people and children. 

She managed the Cynon Valley Crime Prevention Bureau between 1989 and 1994, reducing crime and the fear of crime through engaging young people in their communities and in the decisions that affected them.  During this period she also managed a youth employment project for young people with a history of offending which led to her role as Project Worker, then Project Leader of the Barnados Youth Offending Project.  This highly effective project introduced programmes to divert serious young offenders from custody and first time offenders from the criminal justice system in South Glamorgan.   Helen’s innovative approach sought to empower young people and succeeded in cutting the reoffending rate down to under 10%.

Between 1996 and 1999, Helen was Deputy Director of the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC), Wales, where she had profound influence, bringing together all major women’s voluntary organisations in Wales to form the Wales Women’s National Coalition; successfully introducing the EOC’s first Welsh Language Scheme across the UK; and supporting,  through the Wales Women’s National Coalition and in collaboration with other equality bodies, the successful lobbying for the inclusion of equality clauses in the first Government of Wales Act.

As Shadow Minister for Health and Social Services, she played a key role in the Assembly’s response to the Waterhouse Report on abuse in children’s homes, including the establishment of the role of Children’s Commissioner, ensuring that children and young people played an active part in this appointment. 

As Chair of the Children and Young People’s Committee between 2007 and 2011, Helen led the scrutiny of the One Wales Government’s delivery for children and young people.  During this time, supported by an expert group convened by Swansea University’s College of Law, Helen played a key role in challenging the Welsh Government on the drafting and further development of the Rights of Children and Young Person’s Measure, Wales 2011, helping to ensure the delivery of a pervasive law enshrining the UNCRC into Welsh domestic law.  This, possibly the pinnacle of her political career, ensured she also contributed to the impact case study submitted for the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014, considered a significant part of the College of Law at Swansea’s contribution.  It was during this period she also co-authored a book chapter with Professor of Policy Analysis at Swansea University, Mike Sullivan, which unmasked the resistance of the civil service, and some politicians, in Wales to the pervasive law and described those factors associated with its eventual passage.

Helen serves on the Board of the Wales Observatory on the Human Rights of Children and Young People, based at what is now the College of Law and Criminology at Swansea University.

On receiving her award, Helen Mary Jones said: “I am very proud indeed to have been offered this great honour by one of Wales’ foremost institutions. During the passage of the Rights of Children and Young Person’s Measure 2011 through the National Assembly the scrutiny process was greatly enhanced by the expert group convened by the Law Department at Swansea University.  The information and advice provided by the group enabled key backbenchers – including myself as Chair of the Children and Young People’s Committee – to effectively influence the Government and transform the tokenistic draft into a truly pervasive Measure, with far reaching positive implications for children and young people in Wales. 

It has been a great privilege to continue my involvement with the University as a member of the Advisory Board of the Wales Observatory on the Human Rights of Children and Young People based in the Law Department. The Observatory is an outstanding example of a University combining academic excellence with social impact. I am delighted to accept this honour and I look forward to continuing to work with the University to promote the rights of children and young people in our nation.”

Professor Evans said: “Helen Mary Jones has made improving the lives of the vulnerable and protecting the welfare of future generations her life’s campaign.  The vital work we are carrying out in the College of Law and Criminology’s Wales Observatory on the Human Rights of Children and Young People is helped enormously by her support.

“As Head of the College of Law and Criminology at Swansea, I am hugely proud to say we worked with her to influence a landmark change in legislation for children in Wales and we greatly look forward to working with her in the future.”