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Solving poverty: pipe dream or policy goal?

October 14th 2019

In the week of the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, Victoria Winckler asks if ending poverty is just a pipe dream or if it is a realistic goal for public policy.

This Thursday, 17th October, is the UN’s International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.  We’re joining with organisations around the world to say that it is unacceptable that people are trapped in poverty, whether it is in Wales, Wellington or the Western Sahara.

In Wales alone there are many visible signs of people really struggling to get by: people sleeping rough, food bank collection points in supermarkets, children without a warm coat, older people dying from cold-related illness. We see these things so often that we risk no longer seeing the scandal under our noses.

Yet poverty is not inevitable.

Poverty is the result of the way that our economy and society is organised.  Poverty exists in Wales because work does not pay enough, because social security benefits are insufficient, and because the life’s basics – especially a home and heating – cost too much.

And because these can be shaped by the UK and Welsh Government, they can be changed.

Take the example of pensioners. In the mid 1990s, more than a quarter of Wales’ pensioners had an income of less than 60 per cent of the median. Thanks to pension credit, the triple lock on state pensions and the exemption of pension households from a number of welfare reforms, the proportion fell by more than ten percentage points in the mid 2000s.

Similarly, it is no coincidence that the increase in poverty amongst households where there is someone in work has occurred at the same time as wages have stagnated and in-work benefits have been frozen.

So how can we solve poverty?

The solutions to poverty lie in changing the economy and labour market, reforming social security system and resetting the housing market.

  • They involve people being paid a fair wage, on decent terms and conditions, with some job security.
  • They require a fair social security system to support people when times get tough, that doesn’t involve a five week wait for money or penalising children for having their own bedroom.
  • And they need affordable, good quality housing, whether in the social or private sectors.

Poverty is not always with us nor a fact of life.  Solving it is in the gift of governments, businesses and public bodies. It can and should be done.

The generosity of our regular supporters helps us to speak out on poverty and inequality – please join us Wales #joinagainstpoverty 

Victoria Winckler is Director of the Bevan Foundation

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