Three questions about tackling poverty
The latest version of the Welsh Government’s Tackling Poverty Action Plan was published this week.
With not one but two Ministers (Jeff Cuthbert and his Deputy Vaughan Gething) now responsible for solving one of Wales’s toughest problems, what should we be looking for in this new, refreshed plan?
1. Does it do what it says on the tin?
Unlike its predecessor version, the new Tacking Poverty Action Plan should live up to its promises. It should both set out to “tackle” poverty and provide a plan for doing so. A plan is not a list of what every Welsh Government Department is doing that is loosely related to people on low incomes, but actions clearly targeted on reducing the number of people living in poverty and ameliorating poverty’s worst effects.
2. Does it understand the complexities of poverty?
People on low incomes are not an undifferentiated mass of “the poor”. Some have incomes only just below the poverty threshold, whereas some have well below the 60 percent median income line. Some are only on a low income temporarily, while others endure it for many years. And a substantial and increasing proportion of people on low incomes live in households where someone is in work.
Understanding the nuances of poverty matters, because it ought to shape what the Welsh Government does. ”Helping people into work” won’t reduce poverty if all it does is swap out-of-work low income for in-work poverty.
3. Does it recognise the importance of equality to poverty in Wales?
Inequality – of the gender / race / disability kind – runs through income inequality like letters in a stick of rock. Disability, for example, has a massive impact on the likelihood of people living on very low incomes. It shapes not only whether an individual is likely to work and if so, for how many hours and at what rate of pay, but also shapes the work behaviour of the rest of a disabled person’s family. Ethnicity, too, affects low income with certain groups having very much lower pay and employment rates than others. Poverty statistics hide gender differences, but the extraordinarily high levels of poverty experienced by (mostly female) lone parents and much greater incidence of poverty over women’s lifetimes show that gender is also a factor.
However good, bad or indifferent the Tackling Poverty Action Plan may be, the new Ministers face a massive challenge. Even in the good times, poverty levels have remained unchanged and all the forecasts suggest they will only get worse over the next five years.
If the answer to these 3 questions is yes, then the Welsh Government is at least in the right place to start to reduce or ameliorate poverty. If the answer is no, then what we have is fine words and good intentions but nothing likely to make any impact.
Victoria Winckler is Director of the Bevan Foundation. This blog post is one of a series on aspects of poverty being published in the run up to Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s report Monitoring Poverty and Social Exclusion in Wales 2013, due in September.