Rise in Welsh child poverty “down to UK Government cuts”

(Title Image: Wales Online)

“It should concern us all” – that was the verdict of the Local Government & Housing Minister, Julie James (Lab, Swansea West), as the Welsh Government’s child poverty report for 2019 showed an increase (pdf).

The key findings in the report are:

  • The proportion of children living in poverty increased from 28% to 29% in 2018-19; child poverty rates in Wales are lower than England but higher than in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
  • 68,700 children live in workless households (100,600 in 2011), though the majority of children in relative poverty live in a household where at least one person is working.
  • 44% of single parents live in poverty as do 39% of children living in a household with at least one disabled person.

Despite efforts to increase employment rates – to rates higher than the UK at present – 29% of children live below the relative poverty line. Some estimates show that continuing UK Government policies will result in 37% of children living in poverty across the UK by 2022.

In response to the report, the Minister said she will undertake a review of Welsh Government anti-poverty programmes to ensure they have “the maximum impact” on child poverty.

Keen to deflect blame from Whitehall, Shadow Communities Minister, Mark Isherwood AM (Con, North Wales), contested the idea that employment in Wales was higher than the UK, as the latest figures showed the opposite. Average wages in Wales were also the lowest in Great Britain. Child poverty rates in 2019 are barely any different to what they were before the Great Recession.

Leanne Wood AM (Plaid, Rhondda) was in no doubt that UK Government policies were to blame. She expressed dismay, however, that the Welsh Government opted not to pursue policies which could alleviate poverty – reversing cuts to the school uniform grant, reversing changes to the income threshold to receive free school meals and keeping the family fund for disabled children.

“Tonight in Swansea some children will go to bed hungry….Some will go to bed in a cold and damp house. Some children will change their school sometimes as often as every year as their parents move from one short-term privately rented house to another. There are now more children living in poverty in working households than in workless households, mainly due to the prevalence of low-paid, insecure work.”
– Mike Hedges AM (Lab, Swansea East)

Dawn Bowden AM (Lab, Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney) linked child poverty to poverty amongst women – particularly single-parent households, in which 46% live below the poverty line and 90% of whom are women. Women also make up 58% of working-age benefit claimants.

Vikki Howells AM (Lab, Cynon Valley) pointed out that Penrhiwceiber in her constituency has the highest rate of child poverty in Wales and that the biggest increase in poverty has been amongst working households. Various welfare reforms pursued by the UK Government were contrary to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, particularly articles stating children have a right to benefit from social security.

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