‘More than a third of Welsh children living in poverty,’ Audit Wales
More than a third of children in Wales are now classed as living in poverty, an Audit Office report has warned.
The Audit Office has called for renewed focus across every level of government in Wales to address the issue.
The report includes a key recommendation for a new national strategy and targets to tackle poverty.
The investigation by the auditor general for Wales said that dealing with poverty remains a priority for Welsh government and local councils, but said that different approaches and “complicated” working environments meant “ambitions, focus, actions and prioritisation vary widely”.
The Audit Office said the cost-of-living crisis was making the situation worse, and that 34% of children in Wales had been predicted to be living in poverty in March 2021.
In-work poverty rose by 18% in Wales in 2021, the report said.
The report stated: “Poverty in Wales is not a new phenomenon and tackling poverty, particularly child poverty, has been a priority for both the Welsh Government and councils in Wales.
“The current cost-of-living crisis means that more people are being affected and families who have been living comfortably are moving into poverty for the first time.
“We found that many of the levers that could be used to alleviate poverty are outside of Wales’s control. The Welsh Government adopted a Child Poverty Strategy in 2011, which was revised in 2015, but this is out of date and the target to eliminate child poverty by 2020 was dropped.
“We found that councils and partners are prioritising work on poverty, but the mix of approaches and a complicated partnership landscape mean that ambitions, focus, actions, and prioritisation vary widely.”
It added: “Councils find it hard to deliver preventative work because of the sheer scale of demand from people in crisis.”
Auditor General for Wales Adrian Crompton said the report was a chance to offer “some reflections” on the issues for those in charge across the country, the BBC has reported.
“For the Welsh government, I would certainly not question the sincerity of their commitment, not that of local authorities around the country, but there are things we can do to improve the way we address the issue,” he said.
The Audit Office report also recognised that neither the Welsh government nor local authorities were able to change several key factors outside of their control, such as welfare benefits, taxation, social security payments, employment law and minimum wages.
Responding to the report, the Welsh government said it will carefully consider the findings, the BBC has reported.
“We are doing everything we can to tackle poverty and help people through the very difficult cost of living crisis by providing targeted support to those who need it most and through universal programmes which put money back in people’s pockets,” said a Welsh government official.
“However, we won’t be able to protect everyone given the size and scale of the financial problems caused by the UK government’s mishandling of the public finances.”
Welfare system ‘cruelty’
The report also notes “no council has created a single gateway into services. As a result, people have to complete multiple application forms that often record the same information.”
Sioned Williams MS, who is Plaid Cymru’s Spokesperson for Social Justice and Equalities introduced a proposal for a change in the law on this issue in the Senedd last week.
The proposal was passed with cross-party support, although no member of the Welsh Government voted in favour of it.
Sioned Williams MS said: “The deficiencies, disparities and during the last decade of Tory Westminster rule, downright cruelty which characterises the UK Welfare system, has caused hardship for tens of thousands of Welsh people and has seen the Welsh Government forced to step in to support low-income families where Westminster has failed Wales.
“Plaid Cymru have long campaigned for the devolution of the administration of Welfare to Wales and we are glad to be moving forward on this through our Co-Operation Agreement with the Welsh Government.
“But while we wait for progress on that ambition, the support available from Welsh coffers has rightly been fast multiplying and thus evolving into a whole patchwork of payments which are mainly, but not solely delivered by Local Authorities.
“The payments are sometimes means tested and sometimes linked to certain benefits, with eligibility conditions varying, forms and regularity of payment differing and modes of application mainly separate and often complicated.
“I was very glad that my proposal was passed by the Senedd last week and I call on the Welsh Government to act urgently to increase take up of Welsh and local authority support by requiring public bodies to streamline and make consistent the method of application for such benefits, especially given the recommendations of the Auditor General for Wales’ report.
“It’s crucial that every penny of support available in Wales reaches the pockets of those who need it as easily and quickly as possible.”
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