Leanne Wood talks about how growing up as a teenager in the Rhondda in the aftermath of the Miners’ Strike moulded her politics and her personality.
Times weren’t easy financially within the Wood household in Penygraig. Unemployment hit the family hard.
Leanne recalls: “My father worked in a builder’s merchants’ yard and in 1984 he was issued with a redundancy notice because the demand for builder’s supplies had decreased as a result of the general unemployment level.
“He was out of work for quite a few years during the mid-1980s and my mother worked part-time as a school kitchen assistant. That was the only income coming into the house.
“Things weren’t easy for my family, my sister and I. I’ve got memories of what struggling with money feels like. I understand what struggling means. It’s things like friends going to dance classes and on school trips that we were not able to go on and having toys our parents were not able to afford."
At Tonypandy Comprehensive, Leanne remembers queuing up for free school meals. “We were stigmatised for having free school meals. We used to have to stand in a separate queue from the paying children. We had to have a coloured ticket and we were marked out, even though I’m pretty sure we were in a majority in my school.”
Leanne added: “During the 1980s I also remember taking food into school for the children of striking miners. Food collections were organised and I recall carting heavy tinned food into school.
“The idea that today people who are on or below the breadline can’t afford to put a basic meal on the table for the family is an absolute scandal in what is one of the richest states in the world.
“It should not be happening. It’s wrong and it is one of the reasons that I’m keen to speak out about food banks and to support their availability. I would prefer to have a society without them. The fact that they are there is good enough, as they are a lifeline for so many people.”
Leanne believes that not having it easy in her own upbringing has given her her political values “and turned me into the person I am today”.
“I know what it feels like to struggle with money to have to watch every penny and to see family members having to go without to provide for children,” she said. “That has helped me understand the problems that face many people in our communities today, particularly in the valleys where I grew up and now live.
“It’s no accident that my political background and the basis of my political activity is in the Rhondda. In the 1980s, I could just see so much injustice in the community I lived in and the more I read and looked at it, I felt that it was only through politics that we can realise some of the solutions to the problems that I saw around me.”
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