‘No easy solution’ to tackling poverty in Wales with cost-of-living crisis exacerbating problems

There is “no easy solution” to tackling poverty in Wales, a report commissioned by the Welsh Government has found.

The major review has highlighted how the current cost-of-living crisis has deepened long-standing challenges in the country – where almost one in four people lives in poverty.

Academics have now called for a whole public sector response to help those in the nation struggling to make ends meet.

Four key areas have been suggested for the government to focus on, including helping to reduce the cost of household bills, creating access to better paid work and improving public transport links.

Dan Bristow, from the Cardiff University-based Wales Centre for Public Policy (WCPP) – which undertook the work, said: “Attention has rightly been focused on the response to the immediate energy crisis, but now is the time to start planning for the response over the medium and longer-term too.

“The continually evolving situation owing to the coronavirus pandemic, cost-of-living crisis, war in Ukraine and the implications of changes to UK and Welsh Government budgets, as well as other factors, point to the need for a dynamic approach to addressing poverty in Wales.

“That said, our work shows that there is no easy solution, just the hard work of leading a whole public sector response, and a relentless focus on delivery.”

In the 20 years prior to the pandemic, poverty rates in Wales had reduced slightly from 25% to 23%, with much of the improvement coming in the early 2000s, the report said.

However, since then poverty rates have remained largely stagnant and for much of the period have been higher than in England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.

Recent data has shown that around 31% of children in Wales, almost one in three, are currently living in income poverty.

Researchers said that as well as providing higher quality and wage jobs, flexible and affordable childcare and transport are vital for creating pathways out of poverty and social exclusion.

Some accounts given to the study showed many face long journeys by public transport to get to places of work, with services taking up to four times as long as by car and often not arriving into cities and towns for the start of the working day.

Issues in people’s immediate environments and neighbourhoods – such as lack of quality housing, appropriate infrastructure and green space – are also a barrier to rising out of poverty, the report found.

While the paper emphasised the emotional and psychological burden carried by people living in poverty and the need therefore to provide them with mental health support, and “rehumanise the system” to ensure people are being treated with dignity.

Social justice minister Jane Hutt said she welcomed the review and said the government was working “tirelessly” on a long-term approach to tackling poverty.

“This year alone, the Welsh Government will spend £1.6 billion on schemes targeted towards the cost-of-living crisis and on programmes which put money back in people’s pockets,” Ms Hutt said.

She gave examples of schemes such as the council tax reduction scheme, free prescriptions, the roll out of free school meals for primary school age pupils, and subsidised childcare.

There has been widespread criticism from political parties in Wales of the UK Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng’s mini-budget, which was announced on Friday and saw him make sweeping tax cuts.

Mr Kwarteng has argued the move puts more money into people’s pockets, but Wales’ First Minister Mark Drakeford called the budget “authentically shocking” and said it was a “giant experiment” that will leave families worse off.

A debate tabled in the Senedd last week calling for the exploration of a Universal Basic Services (UBS) system in Wales has received cross-party support for Labour Party members, Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru.

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