Action Plan Won’t Make Poverty History
The long-awaited Welsh Government’s Tackling Poverty Action Plan was launched yesterday, to remarkably little fanfare. “A soft launch”, say officials, although not that “soft” given four Ministers were involved.
After a lot of rumour about the poor quality of earlier drafts, the final version is a refreshing surprise. The simple fact of publishing an action plan on the subject is a welcome start. Its organisation into preventing poverty, routes out of poverty and mitigating poverty are reasonable too, and it also, in a welcome move, distinguishes between what the Welsh Government is doing now and what it plans to do. Those plans include commitments on childcare, transport and housing, amongst others, on which AMs and others will need to hold the Welsh Government to account.
But it’s only a start. Some of the actions in the plan are unlikely to have any impact on poverty whatsoever – dental health promotion and high immunization rates for example. Quite why they are included is a mystery. Other actions such as ‘Team Around the Family’ fall into the trap of assuming that low-income families are dysfunctional and need help, even though the reality is that the vast majority of people in poverty have no difficulties other than their low income.
But the biggest challenge is around employment. The plan makes great play of “work is the best route out of poverty”, but the reality is more complex than that. Working certainly reduces the risk of poverty, but it by no means eliminates it. In-work poverty is a substantial and growing problem that the Welsh Government needs to address explicitly. The plan also refers to the Welsh Government’s action to increase the number of jobs, which raises many questions about whether its action is sufficient. The plan focuses a great deal on helping people into jobs. This is all very reasonable, but implies that the cause of unemployment is the individual who lacks skills or motivation. Some may do, but many more do not. The conundrum of how to increase the number of decent quality jobs in Wales remains, and remains largely unanswered.
And last, this is without question a plan only for the Welsh Government itself. Any idea of a collective effort, whether from the rest of the public sector or the third sector is absent. This is a major flaw – it’s local authorities, charities and health boards at the front line – they need to be brought into the fold.
People in Wales are facing a tsunami of poverty and hardship – that the Tackling Poverty Plan is at last published is a start, albeit a modest one, but there is much, much more to do.
Victoria Winckler is Director of the Bevan Foundation
Times are changing and so must our responses to poverty.
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