The proportion of Welsh speakers in Wales has fallen to a record low, new figures show.
In 2021, an estimated 538,000 people in Wales aged three and over (17.8 per cent) reported being able to speak Welsh.
That is a decrease since 2011 when 562,000 – or 19 per cent – spoke the language, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
The ONS said one of the main factors contributing to the overall decline is fewer Welsh speakers aged three to 15.
The data was collected by asking people to rate their own ability to understand spoken Welsh, and to speak, read and write Welsh.
In 2016, the Welsh Government set a target of having one million speakers in Wales by 2050.
Opposition politicians described the new data as “deeply disappointing” and said the Welsh Government had fallen further behind in meeting its language target.
Samuel Kurtz, Welsh Conservative shadow minister for the Welsh language, said: “This is a deeply disappointing statistic which shows that the Labor government is further away from meeting its Cymraeg 2050 ambition than it was when it set its target of reaching one million speakers in 30 years’ time.
“What’s behind this? Self-reporting is a flawed measurement model, and with such a long-term strategy, with responsibilities being transferred from minister to minister as we approach 2050, there is little accountability around decisions that affect language.
“While we fully support the ambitions of the Cymraeg 2050 target, the census data shows the stark reality of a tired government, in power for too long and without ideas.
“Positivity around the language, showing that it is cool, modern and usable in everyday life is the way we can ensure that the most beautiful language on earth can flourish in its homeland.”
Delyth Jewell, Chair of the Senedd Committee on Culture, Communications, Welsh Language, Sport and International Relations, said: “Today’s announcement is undoubtedly disappointing.
“The data confirms that it will take a long time and sustained support to reverse decades of decline in the number of Welsh speakers. It shows the real urgency to stop this decline.
“The great Welsh historian Raymond Williams once said: ‘To be truly radical is to make hope possible rather than despair to convince.’
“The Welsh Government must now be truly radical in its aim to achieve one million Welsh speakers. A goal shared by all parties.
“This means being clear and robust about what is expected of us all in Wales and putting in place increased levels of funding and resources to meet the challenge.
“Without it, it is difficult to see how we will reach the common goal by 2050.”