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More forecasts of sharp increases in poverty, and especially child poverty, are emerging. Government Ministers themselves have acknowledged that 200,000 more children could be in poverty as a result of the benefit cap, according to the Independent. This is in addition to the forecast increases in poverty arising from other changes in benefits, such as the impact of families facing a cut in Housing Benefit because they have a ‘spare bedroom’, loss of Employment and Support Allowance, and so on.
In these forecasts there is no good news for Wales, with its already high levels of benefit claims and below average wages.
Even though most of the levers for addressing income poverty lie at Westminster, with the tax and benefit system and National Minimum Wage, there is still a lot that the Welsh Government can do. Its remodelling of Communities First is one attempt at action, as is the revised version of the Tackling Poverty Action Plan due later this year. Within Welsh Government, we are told that the Directorate Chiefs have termly meetings and that there is pressure to ensure tackling poverty is a high priority across Ministerial portfolios. Carl Sargeant has poverty in his brief, but it sits alongside the not inconsiderable demands of other aspects of his portfolio such as local government. Meanwhile responsibility for welfare reform sits with Leighton Andrews, again alongside the not undemanding education brief.
So, if poverty is the priority that the Welsh Government claims, and if it is going to get worse not better, perhaps it’s time for poverty to be the sole responsibility of a Minister or Deputy. He or she could drive that co-ordinated action, as well as encourage and take action on new ideas to tackle it. The various rumours about reshuffles said to be swirling around Cardiff Bay all focus on personalities – the bigger question is whether the portfolios are right.
A Minister for Poverty? Yes, and fast.