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How can a Welsh Benefits System lift children out of poverty?

June 30th 2020

How can the Welsh Government better support children trapped in poverty as we recover from Covid 19? Steffan Evans sets out the Bevan Foundation’s latest ideas as it continues its project looking at the Welsh Benefits System.

Two children working hard in school

2020 was meant to be the year that the Welsh Government ended child poverty, yet even before the coronavirus outbreak 180,000 children, nearly three in every ten were still living in poverty. Amongst the measures used by the Welsh Government to end child poverty are schemes such as Free School Meals, the Pupil Development Grant – Access and Healthy Start Vouchers. With more families likely to be struggling as a result of the pandemic, these schemes are more important than ever.

Whilst the Welsh Government has taken some positive steps to ensure families get access to Free School Meals over the course of lockdown and recognised their importance by extending them over the summer holiday, the Bevan Foundation has uncovered some weaknesses in how the scheme, alongside the Pupil Development Grant – Access and Healthy Start Vouchers work on a day to day basis and believes the Welsh Government should take further action.

What’s not working?

Many struggling families are missing out on Free School Meals and help with school uniform costs because even though they have a poverty-level income they have a parent in work. This is a problem that is likely to have worsened as a result of Covid 19 and can have a devastating impact on families.

One mother who spoke with the Bevan Foundation in the course of its research said:

“It kills us, he (her partner) has his wage at the end of every month, by the time we’ve paid our rent and council tax that’s £500 gone and half of the time he’ll have like £700 pay £800 pay, lucky if he has that so obviously by the time I get packed lunch stuff, that costs me £20 a week if not more.”

Another mother added:

“School meals are averagely priced, but, when you’ve got three children of school age, you’re talking nearly £10 per day, so it’s kind of never been an option to be honest even to consider them having school meals. I think the Government just assume that you have this amount of money, you can just get by.”

Families being locked out from accessing support is not the only issue we encountered. We heard from parents who are put off applying for support towards the costs of school uniforms or school meals by complex application forms and the stigma of asking for help. There are also concerns that the schemes are not always enough: for example, the Free School Meals Allowance is sometimes not enough for a drink as well as food.

What can we do?

Every child in Wales should have access to a healthy and nutritious diet, good quality education, adequate clothing and a warm and secure home. The experiences of the past few months have shown how important Free School Meals, Pupil Development Grant – Access and Healthy Start Vouchers can be in ensuring families are guaranteed such a standard of living but more can be done. That is why the Bevan Foundation is calling on the Welsh Government to bring all the existing schemes together as part of a broader Welsh Benefits System and change them to make them more effective.

Amongst individual changes that the Bevan Foundation is calling for are:

  • For the Welsh Government to amend the eligibility criteria for Free School Meals, Pupil Development Grant Access and Healthy Start Vouchers so that a child in any family that receives Universal Credit is eligible.
  • For the Welsh Government to amend the eligibility criteria for Free School Meals so that children whose families have no recourse to public funds can receive a dinner.
  • Over school holidays families should receive a Free School Meals allowance to help with the cost of providing meals.
  • The Welsh Government and local authorities should work together to automatically enrol children in families who are eligible for Free School Meals, Pupil Development Grant – Access and Healthy Start Vouchers.
  • The Welsh Government should provide each child entering year 7 with a free, 4G enabled laptop to support their learning and equip them with digital skills.
  • The Welsh Government should explore the potential of introducing a Welsh Child Payment of £10 a week per child for all families receiving Universal Credit, in line with the model being proposed in Scotland.

You can read all of the Bevan Foundation’s analysis and recommendations in full by clicking here.

Steffan Evans is a Policy and Research Officer at the Bevan Foundation 

Lifting children out of poverty: the role of the Welsh Benefits System from Bevan Foundation on Vimeo.

 

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