Combatting child poverty in Wales
Lori Beckett, Visiting Professor, Bangor University
Yes, Cymru the nation is hamstrung by successive UK government policy choices, which sees local families battling the damage done by de-industrialisation, unemployment, exploitation of the working poor, Universal Credit, benefit cuts, Brexit, and more recently the cost of living crises.
Yes, this causes punishing hardship and unacceptable deprivation to those on low incomes, including the working poor, and seriously impedes social and economic regeneration. This is a dangerous situation as it fuels cynicism in government at all levels and erodes trust in our social institutions, paving the way for right-wing populism, which raises critical questions about the moral and political imperatives confronting Wales.
All the more reason to stay steadfast as a small nation, strengthened by a proud people with a devolved sense of social democracy, marked by a solid sense of history and self-determination in or outside the UK/EU. As such, Wales already boasts an impressive suite of progressive policies, not least the 2015 Well-being and Future Generations (Wales) Act and the 2018 Children First needs assessment, not to ignore those named in Welsh Government’s consultation draft 2023 Child Poverty Strategy.
These policies put Wales on the front foot to combat child poverty, a robust response to the claim that child poverty is a policy choice (Child Poverty Action Group, 2017), justified in view of the UK Westminster Governments’ neoliberal ideologies and economic policy dogma like austerity.
This is what I have argued in my edited book, just published, which showcases the work of the Bangor Poverty and Learning in Urban Schools (PLUS) team, Child Poverty in Wales. Exploring the Challenges of Schooling Future Generations.
The Bangor PLUS team is composed of a determined group of school staff, multi-agency workers and academic partners who joined forces with resident families and critical friends to push back against child poverty, especially its ongoing influence on schooling success. They first came together for the 2018 Children First needs assessment, rolled out in five areas across Wales.
The team here identified its needs assessment as a first ethnographic sketch of lived experiences, and built on it to interrogate concepts of child poverty and human rights. They co-developed case stories and an argument that a ream of progressive policy texts, no matter how well intentioned, are not enough to make a difference to the lives, learning and life chances of children, young people and resident families.
The team then set out to conjoin the local and the national, and they did this initially through a process of policy advocacy, not so much for a different set of progressive policies, but to make numerous submissions and representations to draw attention to more considerate policy implementation. They engaged with politicians, power brokers and policy-makers, and invited representatives and others in positions of authority on-site.
They argued for more adequate funding and support for even more strategic facilitation to have an impact on the causes, effects and consequences of child poverty.
The Covid lockdown in 2020 meant the Bangor PLUS team had to step back while everyone had to majorly reconfigure their work practices, but they re-grouped in the 2021 new year to re-affirm their commitment to publish. Reflecting on the course of working these past five years it became apparent that policy advocacy as we enacted it was cordially received with no subsequent actions taken.
The decision was made to DIY, hence local solutions to child poverty.
For example, food insecurity is effectively met locally with community food gardens that supply the local Hive café serving up to 70 hot meals in the Church hall on Tuesday nights, all staffed by volunteers. As well, fuel poverty is best addressed by a plan to invest in and roll out green energy, likewise a potential joint venture between the local community and ADRA housing association.
Another local solution is to build a Learning Centre on Maritime Heritage Conservation in Port Penrhyn, to tap the social and economic benefits that are supposed to come with the northwest slate quarrying area being inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Bangor PLUS team ally these local solutions to responsive educative programs dubbed the Not-NEET projects that guard against children, young people and adults joining the ranks of those not in employment, education and training. This all lends itself to coordinated work in the local school community, considered as a geographical unit marbled across Wales, a focal point for school community development aka social and economic regeneration to spark regional development.
This is all spelled out by contributing authors and especially in the Appendices in my edited book.
This then presented a platform for lobbying: in reply to Welsh Government’s consultation, it was argued that a more strategic way forward should be both top-down and bottom-up.
This means being more activist in orientation, rallying the Senedd, all its political parties, trade unions, the media, peak industry groups, and indeed local school-communities, resident families, community organisations, service providers, multi-agency workers, critical friends and academic partners along with other partner organisations.
The Bangor PLUS team have been told it has developed a model way of working that could interconnect with other city-based teams across Wales, but truth be told, there is much work to do to consolidate this local school-community as a viable entity that can effect school-community development.
Shoring up partner organisations like the local school, GwE, Bangor University, other educational institutions, Gwynedd Council, local businesses, and the National Trust in Penryhn Castle, among others, takes inordinate effort done better with political will.
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