Poverty Trap Snares Welsh Children
Efforts to wipe out poverty in Wales have stalled in the last two years, according to a damning new report. Across Wales 640,000 people live in poverty, including 180,000 children, and there is no real sign that things are getting better, according to the think-tank the New Policy Institute.
Wales’s child poverty rate has fallen from 36% in the late 1990s, but has not moved from 28% since 2004/05. First Minister Rhodri Morgan has promised to put the issue at the centre of his third term. Labour is planning legislation to give all public bodies a duty to help eradicate child poverty by 2020.
But this new report, an update on research published in 2005 by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, says Wales is still a “low-pay economy” and calls for a wider strategy to address poverty at all ages.
The report’s co-author Peter Kenway said, “A single year’s figures must always be treated with caution and next year may show them to have been a blip. But with unemployment and worklessness no longer falling and no sign that tax credits are to be increased substantially, it is hard to see where the impetus for further progress on poverty will come from.”
The report classes poverty as those with an income less than 60% of the national average. It warns that children raised in households with so little income face future disadvantage and a cycle of on-going poverty.
“Wales stands out within the UK for its high rates of working-age sickness and disability,” Mr Kenway added. “Given how many children are disadvantaged by this, the new Assembly Government should take the lead in developing a comprehensive anti-poverty strategy that includes working-age adults as well as pensioners and children.”
The report says that 1% of children in Wales are in situations where “they are almost certain to be very seriously disadvantaged” such as living in care or in homelessness. One-in-four children in care get no qualifications. A further 14% of all 16-year-olds in Wales get no GCSEs and a quarter of 19-year-olds have qualifications worth less than GVNQ level 2.
Carwyn Jones, Assembly Education Minister, last week told the Western Mail he is determined to address the poor school results of children in care as part of his new portfolio. But Liberal Democrat education spokesman and South West Wales AM Peter Black said many of the root causes of poverty need to be addressed at UK level and are beyond the Assembly’s power.
He said a review of taxation, benefit and incapacity payments were needed as well as an increase and simplification of tax credit payments. He believes benefits and disability payments discourage claimants from seeking work. A closer working role between both governments is vital if the issue is to be tackled, he said.
“The Assembly can do some things. We can put better training in place and provide childcare and direct Objective One funding for job opportunities,” Mr Black said. “One of the problems is that the Assembly can do only so much. The biggest driver on this is the UK government.”
An Assembly Government spokesman said, “The latest figures show that the number of children living in relative poverty in Wales has fallen below that of Great Britain as a whole for the first time. Pensioner poverty has also fallen, from 26% to 20%. We will continue to build on this progress and address any inequalities that remain.”
Some of the main points of the report:
- Among full-time workers in Wales, 13% of men and 19% of women earn less than £6.50 an hour. Both proportions are about a quarter higher than in England
- Low pay is even more prevalent in West Wales where 30% of full-time workers are classed as “low paid”
- The unemployment rate for “young adults” is 10%, more than double the rate for over-25s (4%)
- One-in-10 16-to-18-year-olds are not in education, training or employment
- The number of out-of-work single parents and disabled people who want a job has been growing since 2004
- More than 15% of children live in workless households
- More than two-in-10 children live with disabled parents
- About 110,000 Welsh pensioners live in poverty
- The South Wales Valleys and parts of Cardiff are particular pockets of poverty – but low income is experienced across the whole of Wales