AUSTERITY is a political choice. It is a choice to stop supporting local services. It is a choice that inequality is acceptable.

These are not my conclusions, but those of the UN expert, who recently examined austerity’s effect on the UK. Phillip Alston, the UN ‘rapporteur’ on extreme poverty, actually used even starker terms.

He said, the Westminster government has inflicted “great misery” on its people with “punitive, mean-spirited, and often callous” austerity policies driven by a political desire to undertake social re-engineering rather than economic necessity.

For the last 10 years unprecedented cuts have been forced on communities to mop up the mess made by the banks in the City of London.

In Wales we have felt their effects more than most.

One in three Welsh children live in poverty. And by 2022 a third of Welsh households will be reliant on benefits for household budgets to be met.

The UN report is only 24 pages long, but it makes for extremely start reading. Alongside its extremely critical commentary, the report concludes that the levels of austerity in the UK was in breach of four UN human rights agreements relating to women, children, disabled people and economic and social rights.

Here in Wales we must do all we can to counter the destructive effects of Tory austerity by taking control of our own affairs.

Plaid Cymru is calling for powers over welfare to be devolved – not powers for powers’ sake, but devolution for a purpose, to empower us with the tools we require to deal with poverty.

The rollout of Universal Credit has been an unmitigated disaster, and coupled with the Tory austerity agenda which has seen year-on-year cuts to budgets for eight years has caused abject misery to some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

If we took control of welfare here in Wales we could build a system which reflects our shared social values based on fairness and compassion.

We could end the punitive measures which curtail people’s benefits unfairly unless they conform to Draconian tests and meet ever stricter measures in terms of qualification.

But there is also more Welsh Government can do with the powers we already have.

They need to produce a clear and coherent strategy to tackle poverty which should include better support for disadvantaged children and the unemployed.

In-work poverty is becoming a bigger issue all the time, with reports that many who use foodbanks are actually in employment.

The solution has to be ensuring that people are paid a fair wage, which is why Plaid Cymru will keep making the case for a Real Living Wage for all workers.

Action also needs to be taken to support the homeless, including strong initiatives to supply food and shelter to those in dire need and social programmes to help people get back on their feet.

Poverty should not exist in a rich developed state in the 21st century, and governments at both ends of the M4 need to look themselves in the mirror and ask whether they’re contributing to the problem or doing enough to alleviate the suffering of their fellow citizens.

It was Mahatma Ghandi who said, “A nation's greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” It’s about time politicians took heed of his wise words.