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Poverty: still here but it doesn’t have to be

October 15th 2020

As we continue to mark #ChallengePovertyWeek, Tamsin Stirling a trustee at the Bevan Foundation argues that whilst poverty is still here it doesn’t have to be

Empty shelves after panic buyin

Food poverty, fuel poverty, period poverty and now mask poverty – the housing association where I am on the board is bulk buying face masks so that tenants who do not have enough money to buy them can still get access to them. These are just some of dimensions of poverty, each describing one of life’s essentials that are out of reach for too many people. And that is before we think about the overall poverty affecting so many children, young people, families and older people across Wales meaning that people are not able to live in dignity and participate in everyday life in a way that those of us lucky enough not to experience poverty can take for granted.

For me, poverty is both violent and violence. It says to people your humanity is not enough, you are somehow ‘other’, you don’t matter as much as other people. People are so often blamed for their poverty – people are profligate, they don’t work hard enough, they can’t budget properly, they shouldn’t have children if they can’t afford them – on and on the narratives go. But poverty is largely the result of political priorities and policy decisions – like homelessness, an issue that I have researched for many years.

Poverty in 2020

I am really angry about the levels of poverty in Wales in 2020. And unless clear action is taken to prevent it, things are going to get worse in the coming months and years. On homelessness, the response to the pandemic has shown that we can take effective action to get people off the streets and out of unsafe accommodation. The Homelessness Action Group has set out its recommendations for how homelessness can be ended in Wales and the Welsh Government is committed to developing an action plan to put these recommendations into action. It remains to be seen whether the focus required to implement the necessary measures will be sustained and sufficient resources invested.

On poverty, since devolution, we have had various plans, strategies and commitments. Yet the proportion of people living in poverty in Wales is rising and we can anticipate that the impact of Covid-19 will accelerate this rise. I wonder why, as a society, we tolerate such high levels of poverty and whether things can change? I think some of it has to do with the blaming of people living in poverty, but I think that there is also a fatalism about poverty. A sense that poverty has always been with us and it always will be. However, it is clear that policy decisions can have dramatic impacts on poverty – take the state pension triple lock and its impact on levels of poverty amongst those of retirement age. And there are certainly policy decisions that will increase poverty – removing the uplift made to Universal Credit near the beginning of the pandemic is a clear example here.

This is why the work of the Bevan Foundation on poverty and social justice is vital. Their work not only identifies different aspects of poverty, but, very importantly, sets out solutions. Their latest publication Transforming Wales: how Welsh public services and benefits can reduce poverty and inequality is a great example. I urge you to read it.

Tamsin Stirling is a Bevan Foundation trustee @TamsinStirling1 

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