The Welsh Language Commissioner has expressed disappointment following the publication of the 2021 Census results which shows a decrease in the number of Welsh speakers. The census indicates that 538,300 declared that they spoke Welsh, a reduction of 23,700 in the numbers from the figure in 2011. As a percentage it has fallen from 19.0% to 17.8%, which is the lowest percentage ever recorded in a census.
According to Gwenith Price, Deputy Welsh Language Commissioner, this demonstrates that there is considerable work to be done,
"These results are naturally extremely disappointing and it means that the plans in place by the Government, local authorities and relevant partners are not sufficient as they stand at the moment and are not having the necessary effect.
"It is clear that the implementation of the strategy needs to be looked at again and the Commissioner would welcome contributing to the discussion about how to amend and strengthen the strategy and use the Welsh Language Measure (Wales) 2011 to its full potential.
"A reduction in the percentage of the population aged 3-15 who said they could speak Welsh unfortunately proves that statutory education reforms are currently not sufficient. The increase in the percentage of pupils who receive Welsh-medium education is also very small.
"The proposed Welsh Language Education Bill must therefore do more than introduce minor adjustments to the current system, and guarantee an opportunity for all learners to develop into confident Welsh speakers.
"I recognise that the 2021 Census was carried out during the coronavirus pandemic following lockdown and remote learning periods for children, and that could have had an impact on the Welsh language skills identified by parents, and the perception of their children's Welsh language skills for example.
"Nevertheless these reasons should not deter from the fact that there has been a lack of meaningful progress in the education sector's contribution to increasing the number of Welsh speakers and it would be unwise to attribute these disappointing results to the effects of the pandemic alone.
"I accept that there are other mitigating factors beyond the Welsh Government's control that hamper its efforts. But that means that the Government must invest much more in the elements that are within its power to influence.
"There were more people born outside Wales living here in 2021 than in 2011 and based on previous censuses we know that people born outside Wales are much less likely to state that they can speak Welsh than those born in Wales.
"It is positive to note that there is an increase in the percentage of Welsh speakers in some of the south-east areas and further analysis will help us understand the reasons for that.
"It is clear that we need to continue to invest in our traditional Welsh speaking communities. I welcome the commitment of the Welsh Government who have recognised the importance of these areas to the Welsh language by establishing a Commission for Welsh speaking communities and investing in Arfor 2. But these results show that this is not going to be sufficient and further consideration needs to be given to the support that can be offered to our communities."
"The goal of one million Welsh speakers by the year 2050 is still within our reach but efforts will need to be increased over the next few years if we want to see that figure become a reality."
You can read more of the 2021 Cenus results here.
The Commissioner's last 5 year report also analyses the Welsh language situation in the years 2016–20 and the next one will fully address the results of the 2021 Census. You can read the latest report here.