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The unacceptable cost of poverty – and what we can do about it

November 8th 2016

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s latest report – Prosperity without Poverty – sets out a challenging agenda to reduce poverty in Wales. Victoria Winckler asks will it work?

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After nearly four years of hard graft, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s report on reducing poverty in Wales – prepared in conjunction with the Bevan Foundation – is now out. You can read it here.

More than just another poverty report

Reports about poverty in Wales are hardly rare – and we here at the Bevan Foundation have done our bit to add to the pile. But there are some important ways in which this latest output is different to the rest of the pack:

  • it is all about solutions that are proven to work

Unlike many publications that focus on the problems, this report is all about the solutions. And not any old solutions either – these are solutions where the approach has been found to work. Indeed the project spent more than half its duration on these extensive evaluations of everything from the effect of the type of school on poverty (makes no difference) to the role of good parenting (makes quite a lot of difference). So, policy makers and campaigners can be pretty confident that the recommendations in the report will deliver a bang for their bucks.

  • It tackles the root causes of poverty

This report is a first because it focuses on the root causes of poverty – the unequal distribution of resources because of the way that the economy, markets and public services work.  And most importantly of all it puts the economy and labour market centre stage,  talking about creating jobs locally, reducing low pay and increasing skills at all stages of life.

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Astonishingly, these issues are conspicuous by their absence in most of the regional employment and skills strategies that are guiding our economic development today.

  • Everyone must take action

This is more than just a another shopping list for the Welsh Government too – although it does of course include many recommendations directed at the Welsh Government. But it recognises the critical role of employers, of providers of goods and services and of local authorities in reducing poverty too. For all Wales’ problems with poverty, there’re very few that we’re aware of that have an anti-poverty strategy – the City and County of Swansea and Caerphilly CBC. This is astonishing and must change.

Compelling case for action

The report is also a first because it sets out a compelling business case for action. The case isn’t based on the moral case for reducing poverty – as usually seen in the personal experiences of people in poverty or on the way it blights individual lives. It is based on an estimate that poverty costs Wales’ devolved public services around £3.6 billion a year. That’s not taking into account social security benefits or loss of tax revenues – that is simply the cost of poverty  to our education, social services, NHS and housing.

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Many of the recommendations we’ve set out do not come cheap. Part-time childcare for all 2-4 year olds, improving the quality of teaching, paying the Living Wage in social care – all these have potentially significant price tags. But some cost very little – strategies for low paid sectors, linking payments for apprenticeships to outcomes or creating an enterprise zone in the Valleys all have very modest costs.

More importantly, no government can afford to see around 20% of its budget go simply on dealing with the consequences of poverty. Big ticket some of the recommendations may be, but it really is time to ‘spend to save’.

We’ll wait to see what the reaction to the report is, but in our view the case for action and the recommendations for change are the most persuasive and robust that Wales has seen.

Victoria Winckler is Director of the Bevan Foundation. She was a member of the JRF task group with worked on the UK strategy to solve poverty and co-wrote Prosperity without Poverty: a framework for action in Wales

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