Swansea University honours champion for children’s rights

Gwenda Thomas

Swansea University has conferred an honorary degree on Gwenda Thomas, long-standing Welsh Labour Politician and pioneer for children’s rights.

Mrs Thomas was presented with the DLitt (Doctor of Letters) award today (Tuesday 10 January) at Swansea University’s Great Hall by the Registrar of Swansea University, Mr Raymond Ciborowski, during the degree ceremony for the School of Management.

Gwenda Thomas was born in Neath and educated at Pontardawe Grammar School.  She is best known for her role as a Welsh Labour Politician, but prior to this she was a civil servant, having served in the County Courts branch of the then Lord Chancellor's Department as an Executive Officer, and then at the Benefits Agency.

She represented her home village of Gwaun Cae Gurwen as both a community and county councillor for many years. She was appointed Chair of the Social Services Committees of West Glamorgan County Council and, following local government reorganisation, of Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council - becoming the first woman to chair a major committee.

Until her ministerial appointment in 2007, Gwenda was Chair of the Governing Body of Ysgol Gynradd Gwaun Cae Gurwen Primary School.

In the first Assembly (1999-2003), she was Chair of the Local Government and Housing committee. 

In the second Assembly (2003-2007), she was Chair of the Assembly’s Equality of Opportunity Committee and was appointed in December 2003 by the First Minister for Wales, Rhodri Morgan AM, to chair the Safeguarding Vulnerable Children review.  The review’s report – Keeping Us Safe – was published on 3 May 2006. 

In 2007, in the Third Assembly she was appointed as Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services.  She retained the position of Deputy Minister for Social Services when the coalition government of Labour and Plaid Cymru was announced on 19 July.

In the Fourth Assembly, she held the position of Deputy Minister for Children & Social Services, with her responsibilities amongst others being childcare, child trust funds and parenting programmes.  She was a prominent Ministerial sponsor of the Children’s Rights Measure, passed by the Assembly in 2011, which requires that Ministers have due regard to the rights of the child, as defined in the United Nations Charter on the Rights of the Child, in making decisions, developing policy and drafting legislation in all areas.  She worked across the Assembly political divide and had a particularly notable part to play, along with Helen Mary Jones, in ensuring that the Assembly was given the opportunity of voting on and passing a strong and pervasive Children’s Rights Measure.

She is a patron of the Wales Observatory on the Human Rights of Children and Young People based at Swansea University.

On receiving her award, Mrs Thomas said: “It was with much humility and gratitude that I received Swansea University’s invitation to accept the honorary degree of Doctor of Letters. I had great pleasure in accepting this honour.

I have been privileged to serve the people of Neath Port Talbot at community, county, county borough and National Assembly levels, over the last thirty-five years. I was particularly pleased, and proud, to have had the opportunity of leading the process that led to royal assent for the Social Services and Wellbeing (Wales) Act. This would not have been achieved without the tireless work and dedication of so many people and organisations, including Swansea University.

I would like to take this chance to offer my heartfelt thanks to everyone who has supported the advancement of social care in Wales.”

Mr Raymond Ciborowski said: “Gwenda Thomas has, throughout her career, shown herself to be a champion for the most vulnerable members of our society.  In her governmental roles, she has played a significant part in protecting children and laying down policies intended to safeguard future generations.  

“We are very grateful for her patronage of the Wales Observatory on the Human Rights of Children and Young People, based at Swansea University.  She is entirely deserving of this honorary award.”