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What will it take to end poverty?

October 21st 2019

As the month of activities to mark the International Day for Eradicating Poverty draws to a close, Victoria Winckler asks what it will take to put poverty on the political agenda.

The previous First Minister said many times in the early years of his tenure that ‘tackling poverty’ was his number one priority.  We had a Tackling Poverty Action Plan, various working groups, and no end of statements on the subject. Come the 2016 election, all mention of poverty had disappeared.  This was despite (or maybe because) the number of people in poverty increased by roughly 50,000 during the previous administration – it might have been “tackled” but it certainly hadn’t decreased .

The current First Minister’s manifesto put poverty – albeit child poverty rather than poverty for people of all ages – back on the agenda after its brief disappearance. However we wait to see much of the action promised becoming a reality. Meanwhile the numbers of people in poverty’s grip continues to increase steadily.

Poverty isn’t a fad, to be tossed around like a political hot potato

Too many people in Wales are locked into a low income by the combined effects of badly paid jobs, high costs of living and an unfair social security system. Poverty blights lives and costs the public purse literally billions. It is not a fashionable idea, to be picked up or dropped at whim: it is a reality, here in Wales, and it is completely avoidable if politicians so wished.

Managerialism is not the answer

In the last month, there have been calls from various people for a Minister for poverty and for a child poverty plan. The problem with these asks is that they are simply managerial devices, completely free of content. It is entirely possible to have a Minister and plan that deliver precisely nothing if they focus on ineffective action. You only have to look at the last Tackling Poverty Plan to realise that actions to improve child dental health might have helped them to have better teeth but did not address a problem that was measured by pounds in families’ pockets.

Indeed, if there is to be a Minister responsible then the most obvious one to carry the can is the First Minister – only that role can oversee the breadth of action needed if the Welsh Government are to achieve a reduction in poverty. This is the approach in New Zealand where Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has also taken on the role as Minister for Child Poverty Reduction.

How can poverty become a political priority?

Many Assembly and local government politicians are all too aware of the existence of poverty in their area. Some of their offices issue food bank vouchers and most field endless queries about housing and debt. So, perhaps unlike in England, the question is not so much one of persuading politicians that there is a problem, but of persuading them that they can and must take effective action.

This is one of the things that the Bevan Foundation is seeking to do, by highlighting changes to devolved matters which could make a real difference.  Keeping social housing rents to affordable levels, increasing take up of the real Living Wage in the private sector and enhancing so-called ‘local welfare’ schemes are all examples of what an anti-poverty Welsh Government could do.

Public opinion matters

However there’s one thing that usually makes politicians jump, and that is public opinion. If enough people tell their local councillor or their Assembly member that it is simply unacceptable that children are going to school hungry and that families are forced to visit food banks, then just watch solving poverty become a top priority. Sadly too many people are becoming inured to the daily signs of hardship and destitution before us, leaving us with the hand-wringing but not much more.

We want to end poverty in Wales. It is a human-made problem with terrible human consequences. It can be and must be solved.  Please join us against poverty in Wales today – your support will help to find the long-term solutions Wales urgently needs.

Victoria Winckler is Director of the Bevan Foundation






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