Inspiring change - some lessons from Wales
The Bevan Foundation, as part of this year’s Monitoring Poverty in Wales 2013 project, has compiled examples of the good work being carried out by a range of organisations to address poverty and social exclusion in Wales. The case studies included in this pamphlet very clearly show the limitations of the dominant thinking around anti-poverty policy and provides a valuable insight into the approaches to poverty reduction taken by organisations working with those experiencing poverty first hand.
The primary aim of this pamphlet is to illustrate some of the ways in which action is being taken to reduce poverty in Wales, focusing on those organisations which help people who are furthest from the labour market. It is interesting that despite people in working families being the majority form of poverty, and in-work poverty receiving considerable attention from policy-makers and the media in recent years, there are a lot more examples of organisations working with those far from the labour market.
One explanation for this is that those further from the labour market might be in deeper poverty than those in work, and may face additional disadvantages such as disability. In Wales between 2009-10 and 2011-12, for instance, 62% of those in working families in poverty were in ‘deep poverty’, compared to 75% of those in workless families. There might also be a presumption that in-work poverty might be something that is to be dealt with in the workplace, for instance, through in-work training. It will be interesting to see if there is a growth of in-work provision as poverty evolves in Wales.
The pamphlet also challenges the priority attached to economic incentives and disincentives where the dominant view is that ending poverty is simply a matter of luring and cajoling people out of poverty, using a mixture of fatter carrots (e.g. ‘to make work pay’) and meaner sticks (e.g. ‘sanctions’ for benefit recipients). Rather, the examples featured in this pamphlet show the complexities of the traps that people actually find themselves in, with people often facing multiple challenges, and the limits of approaches to poverty reduction that fail to address these. For instance, many of the examples featured cite problems of confidence, or a focus on training and education rather than ‘work first.’
Finally, the pamphlet also highlights some of the innovative ways in which the third sector in Wales is working to reduce poverty. For instance, Grow Enterprise Wales, as well as providing work experience, training, and employment support, has recently started their own driving school. 15 hours a week of volunteering enables individuals to get free driving lessons with a car donated by a local dealership. The role of transport was expounded on during the pamphlet launch back in September. It also fits into past thinking as an enabling good – not only does it improve employability, but eventually might help reduce (for instance) food costs if it enables people to travel to cheaper out-of-town supermarkets. In another scheme, costs are also the focus. Cymdeithas Tai Eryri is an affordable housing provider, which has a Community Energy Wardens programme. This offers work placements to the long-term unemployed where those on placement work with residents in deprived communities to cut energy costs.
It is unquestionable that the third sector plays a key role in alleviating the effects of poverty in Wales and further afield. As such, accounts such as those gathered in this pamphlet raise several important questions:
- Is the dominant thinking around anti-poverty policy properly grounded in the lived experiences of people in poverty and those providing assistance to them?
- Do policy makers do enough to learn from the innovations and successes of voluntary sector organisations working to reduce poverty?
- What support might be provided to such organisations so that they may better achieve their objectives?
 Less than 50% of median income after housing costs