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Solving Poverty in Wales: Party Leadership Candidates Special with Rhun ap Iorwerth AM

September 10th 2018

As we continue our series of articles by party leader candidates on poverty, today it is the turn of those standing to be leader of Plaid Cymru. First up, Rhun ap Iorwerth AM, shares his vision for solving poverty.

More than 1 in 5 people in Wales live in poverty. That poverty rate figure of 23% is the highest of all the UK nations, and it’s a matter of national shame. The absolute numbers are startling – 710,000 people live below the poverty line, and this includes 185,000 children.

 

Given that this isn’t exactly something that’s crept up on us, we should surely now have understood the magnitude of the situation, grasped the need to act and be in a position where things are getting better. At the very least the situation should be ‘under control’, surely, with a clear plan in place to turn things around.

 

Well, I fear it’s not under control. By 2021-22 it’s estimated that 27% of the Welsh population will be living in poverty, with the figure for children rising to an unfathomable 39%. It’s a scandal, and it’s a scandal that has to be addressed on many levels.

 

We shouldn’t be seeing the kind of in-work poverty that’s so prevalent. In 5 Welsh local authorities, Blaenau Gwent, Pembrokeshire, Gwynedd, Conwy and my own constituency Ynys Môn, more than 30% of workers are paid less than the voluntary living wage.  We must make a more committed push towards the universal implementation of that living wage.

 

As well as continuing to push up the minimum wage to living wage levels at a UK level, we have to make a concerted effort through a new National Economic Plan for Wales to build an economy that offers better paid jobs. We can’t continue to have so many workers who are underemployed or in low-paid, unstable jobs while living costs continue to rise and benefits are insufficient to make ends meet.

 

Government needs to work with business to look at how the job market can be redesigned to help those people living in the most deprived areas of Wales – that’s not happening to a great enough extent at the moment.  We need to bring prosperity to the nation, grow prosperity within the nation and spread it.

This includes ensuring our education system provides for our economy the skills it needs. Confident learners become highly skilled members of the workforce, able to earn better wages.

There are other factors to tackle, including poor transport links restrict access to jobs and services. We need to transform our public transport links and investigate how best to ensure they’re affordable for those looking for work or on low wages. Fuel poverty has to be addressed with a new vigour, and we have an opportunity with a publicly owned energy company in Wales to break the stranglehold of the big six energy companies. Childcare is a major barrier, too. Government support packages must reach those looking for work, and we need to encourage modern workplace practices.

 

Many of these issues are devolved, and whilst Welsh Government is financially constrained, there’s no in-built constraint on laying out ambition. So I want firmer targets on poverty, and in particular on how we move towards the eradication of child poverty.

Of course, action at UK Government level must be at the very heart of tackling poverty – not least through the welfare system. When the welfare system gets it wrong, people suffer. Universal credit has been a disaster – both in terms of its conception and its delivery. It’s inflexible and unfair. Whilst we’re not yet at the point of being able to devolve the welfare state, we should certainly by moving towards the devolution of the administration of welfare, so we can make decisions about how to use the welfare state to address our needs.

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