A pause for thought on poverty
With the Welsh Government’s Tackling Poverty Action Plan said to be imminent, the latest figures on poverty should give Ministers pause for thought.
Most importantly, the widely-reported drop in the proportion of people living in poverty doesn’t make the need for action any less urgent. Overall, there are still about 638,000 people living in poverty in Wales – just over one in five. Wales is no longer at the bottom of the UK league table, but the figure is still far too high for any civilized society, and the Tackling Poverty Action Plan is no remains as important as ever.
Second, while there has been a slight decrease in poverty in every age group in Wales, the largest number of people living in poverty is working-age adults, not children or pensioners. Important though it is, child poverty will not be addressed unless the low incomes of their parents is addressed. So instead of just thinking about poverty as it affects children, the Welsh Government needs to think about tackling poverty amongst adults, perhaps prioritising those with children, if it is to make a real dent in the rate of poverty.
The Tackling Poverty Action Plan will doubtless stress that “work is the best route out of poverty” and make much of various initiatives “helping people into work”. But this claim is getting a bit thin. The risk of poverty for children in workless households is more than three times as great as for those in households with at least one adult in work. But the majority of poor children are not children living in households with Mam or Dad on benefit, but in households where Mam or Dad works at Tescos or as a home care assistant. In the UK as a whole more than 6 out of 10 children in poor households have at least one parent in work. Efforts to “help people into work” will do little to reduce the poverty experienced by the children of the working poor, nor will programmes that target only those on out-of-work benefits (including Free School Meals) be of any help.
Reducing poverty is therefore about much more than getting “helping”, “nudging” or “forcing” people to work (chose the verb according to your political views). It’s about the pay and conditions at work (in which terms and conditions such as flexibility and hours are at least as important as pay), it’s about the availability of decent, affordable childcare, it’s about having enough jobs to go round, it’s about benefits to help people on low wages (such as housing benefit, child benefit, council tax benefit and Working Tax Credit) and it’s about all the free benefits that help people on low incomes to get by.
Let’s see what the Tackling Poverty Action Plan has absorbed these messages.
Victoria Winckler is Director of the Bevan Foundation
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