‘On a cliff edge’: Rural and west coast of Wales see rise in child poverty

Child playing with a block on wooden floor

Child poverty is continuing to grow in rural mid and west Wales, including the counties of Pembrokeshire, Ceredigion, Powys and Gwynedd, according to new data.

Pembrokeshire is now the county with the highest child poverty rate in Wales (31%), once housing costs are taken into account.

The counties with an increase in child poverty between 2015 and 2020 were:

  • Ceredigion – 30.3%, an 1.7% increase
  • Pembrokeshire – 31.3%, an 1.2% increase
  • Blaenau Gwent – 31.2%, an 1.1% increase
  • Powys – 29.3%, an 0.7% increase
  • Gwynedd – 28.9%, an 0.3% increase
  • Carmarthenshire – 29.3%, an 0.1% increase

Newport, Merthyr Tydfil, Rhondda Cynon Taff, the Isle of Anglesey and Cardiff all have child poverty rates between 30.7% and 29% but saw a small drop overall.

Ellie Harwood, Wales Development Manager for Child Poverty Action Group, said that although there had been overall progress Wales’ child poverty rates remained “unacceptably high”.

“In particular, the child poverty rate is increasing in some rural and coastal counties, with Pembrokeshire now the local authority with the highest child poverty rate in Wales,” she said.

“Whichever way you look at these figures, they show that child poverty exists in every corner of Wales, from the valleys to the coast, in our rural heartlands and our inner cities.

“With the pandemic threatening to push many more families into hardship, we need the Welsh Government to commit to a new child poverty strategy that sets out ambitious and measurable targets for eliminating child poverty altogether.”

 

‘Urgency’

The greatest number of children living in poverty continues to be in Cardiff, where nearly 20,000 children are growing up below the poverty line.

The high cost of housing in the capital means families must spend more of their incomes on rent, leaving them with less money to cover other essential living costs.

Many of these families find that, once their housing costs are paid, they do not have enough money to meet their children’s needs and are left with no option but to turn to crisis help like food banks, and are increasingly reliant on free school meals, the Child Poverty Action Group said.

The impact of poverty on children is well documented, with children from low-income families more likely to experience worse physical and mental health; do less well in school; and have fewer opportunities in the future.

End Child Poverty is calling for an urgent Government plan to end child poverty including:

  • Uprating of housing assistance in line with inflation;
  • Retain the £20 uplift in Universal Credit introduced at the start of the pandemic, which the Government has indicated will end in April 2021(a move supported by over 63k people and counting who have signed a petition to the Government);
  • End the benefit cap and the two-child limit on benefits;
  • Invest in all children with an increase to child benefit
  • Extend Free School Meals to all families in receipt of Universal Credit and those with No Recourse to Public Funds

 

Anna Feuchtwang, Chair of End Child Poverty which commissioned the research, said that the UK Government had a great challenge if it was serious about ‘levelling up’ disadvantaged parts of the country.

“This new data reveals the true extent of the hardship experienced by families on low incomes – the overwhelming majority of which were working households before the pandemic,” she said.

“The children affected are on a cliff edge, and the pandemic will only sweep them further into danger.

“The Prime Minister must urgently admit to the true extent of child poverty in our country rather than resorting to his own inaccurate statistics. An ambitious plan to put this shameful situation right would be transformational for millions of children.

“As a matter of urgency, we are calling on the Chancellor not to go ahead with planned cuts to Universal Credit which would see families lose out on £1000 a year. Given today’s data, this cut is unconscionable.”

The report is based on data published by the Department for Work and Pensions in March 2020, and on estimates of the effect of housing costs on poverty rates produced by the Centre for Research in Social Policy at Loughborough University, based on survey evidence.

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