Free Childcare Plan In Poor Areas

Free childcare for two-year-olds in Wales’ most disadvantaged areas are among plans unveiled to tackle problems of child poverty.

The Welsh Assembly Government’s plans aim to see councils required by law to bring in the childcare provision.

It comes a day after figures showed a rise in the number of children living below the poverty line.

The Conservatives said the assembly government’s targets to halve child poverty by 2010 were now unrealistic.

It has been reported that 29% of children in Wales currently live under the poverty line, in households with incomes below 60% of the average – an increase of 1% over the previous year.

The assembly government’s policies are designed to improve life opportunities for disadvantaged children, encourage financial inclusion, and also persuade more people to claim their entitlements for tax and benefits support.

New Welsh laws

The plans include new laws to place a requirement on local authorities to secure free childcare for two year olds in the poorest or most “disadvantaged target areas” – although the coalition government’s One Wales agreement also includes a pledge to provide “universal affordable childcare” by 2011.

There is also a proposal for a new law to place a duty on councils and other public bodies such as national parks and the fire service to demonstrate their contribution to ending child poverty in Wales.

The assembly government’s consultation paper makes clear however that “no additional funding will be made available to public agencies for them to carry out [these] duties.”

Challenging targets

The Minister for Social Justice and Local Government, Brian Gibbons, admitted securing a significant reduction in child poverty would be extremely challenging, within the context of increasing household costs on basics such as fuel and food.

“I agree it will be more difficult to achieve this in an adverse economic situation, but the lesson is not to abandon the field of play, but to redouble our efforts,” he said.

Dr Gibbons also admitted although there had been a great deal of success in the early years of Labour’s attempt to halve child poverty by 2010, there had been a degree of “stagnation” more recently, which implies a failure to maintain the necessary momentum to achieve the government’s own targets.

According to the Welsh Conservative leader, Nick Bourne, the assembly government’s targets on reducing child poverty were now “totally unrealistic.”

The draft strategy will be out to consultation until the end of September.