Report warns effort to eradicate child poverty by 2020 in Wales must speed up dramatically

The Welsh Government’s progress towards its target of eradicating child poverty by 2020 needs to speed up dramatically if it is to be achieved, research released today shows.

Meeting the target of eradicating child poverty by 2020 will mean the rate has to fall four times more quickly over the next 10 years than it did over the past decade, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation commissioned study shows.

The latest figures also show almost one in four people in Wales across all age groups – 680,000 – are in poverty.

The research, carried out by Anushree Parekh and Peter Kenway of the New Policy Institute, shows that the child poverty rate fell quite quickly from the early 2000s up to 2005/06, but has risen again since then.

Although the rate is still less than a decade ago, the proportion of children living in low-income households has gone up by 5% over the past five years to 33% – around 200,000 children.

Half the children in poverty belong to working families where the income they get from their work is insufficient to take them out of poverty. The child poverty target cannot be met just by getting families into work, says the report. In-work poverty must come down too.

Yet the employment situation is very bleak. Some 300,000 people are currently either unemployed, economically inactive but wanting work – for instance sick or lone parents – or in a part-time jobs because they cannot find a full-time one. That is almost one in six of the working-age population and a 50% increase since the employment high-water mark in 2004.

Since then a number of factors have combined to make things worse:

Unemployment has more than doubled.

The rise in unemployment has been greater among men than women, especially among 16 to 24-year-olds – up 23,000 and 5,000 respectively.

Among those aged 25 to 64, unemployment has risen by 22,000 among men and 14,000 among women.

The number of people with a part-time job because they cannot find a full-time one has risen by 23,000.

At the same time, disability is also an issue affecting poverty in Wales, with a third of low-income, childless working-age adults being either disabled themselves, having a disabled partner or both being disabled.

Rowntree’s policy and research manager Chris Goulden said: “The changes to disability benefits will increase the numbers actively seeking work. In an already difficult labour market, this will make it even harder to find work and escape poverty in Wales.”

Report co-author Dr Peter Kenway said: “Eradicating child poverty by 2020 is now a monumental task and we need to go beyond this single target. Making life more tolerable for children in poverty is just as important. The quantity, quality and affordability of services, from play and childcare to health and transport, must be reviewed to ensure that they meet the needs of low-income families. This requires urgent action across the Welsh Government and cannot just be the responsibility of a single child poverty minister – it needs commitment and leadership from the very top.”

Shadow Minister for Communities Mark Isherwood said: “Child poverty can be eliminated by 2020 if Labour Ministers look at a more child-focused NHS, raise educational attainment, work with the UK Government and prioritise the wellbeing of all children.”

Plaid Cymru’s social services spokesman Lindsay Whittle said: “These findings are a stark reminder of the size of the task we face in Wales to eradicate child poverty. This task is being made even more difficult on a daily basis as a result of the staggering cuts being imposed on Welsh families from the Tories and Lib Dems in Westminster.”

Bill Gray, interim head of Save the Children in Wales, said: “Today’s findings underline that tackling child poverty needs to be at the very top of the new Welsh Government’s political agenda if we are to stand any chance of reaching the 2020 target.

“Families are telling us they are really struggling with rising food and fuel prices, childcare costs and lack of jobs and the fear is that the situation is going to get worse.”

A Welsh Government spokesman said: “There is no higher priority for us than ensuring that children and young people whose lives are affected by poverty have the same chances in life as everyone else in Wales. That is why Wales was the first of the UK nations to pass legislation on child poverty. Local authorities are now required – by law – to set out what actions they are taking to tackle this serious issue in their area.

“We are also developing our Anti-Poverty Action Plan which will help establish a system of collaborative working across the Welsh Government as well as with our community partners to tackle the very serious issues causing poverty in Wales.

“However, our ability to reduce poverty in Wales is clearly dependent on actions taken by the UK Government, particularly in non-devolved areas such as tax and welfare payments. We share the concerns of many people about the pace of the UK Government’s welfare and benefit reforms and the potential impacts these changes will have on people in Wales.”