‘One in four children being brought up in poverty in Wales is a disgrace’
Mike Hedges – MS for Swansea East
We have recently had a Senedd committee report that said Wales needs a dedicated
minister responsible for child poverty and clear targets to tackle the scourge of children
living in poverty.
Latest statistics show 28% of children in Wales are living in relative income poverty which is defined as households where the total income is less than 60% of the UK
We have also had a resolution foundation report saying that on an all-British context around 3.8 million people experienced destitution in 2022.
The charity said that is more than double the number in 2017 with the number of children being destitute rising to over one million.
The organisation defines destitution as when someone cannot afford what they need to meet their most basic physical needs which are to stay warm, dry, clean, and fed.
I prefer the term children living in poverty rather than child poverty which seems to indicate that it is something to do with the child.
That any child is brought up in poverty is wrong but that tens of thousands in Wales, estimated at one in four children, by Children in Wales, are affected this way is a disgrace and an inditement of the Conservative government at Westminster.
When a child in Wales talks about being hungry, cold, and worried about their parents
whilst sounding like something from Victorian times it is the reality for many children in Wales today.
Whilst the Welsh government has made progress on providing free school meals to younger children in Wales following on from the provision of free breakfasts in primary schools, Children who can eat a healthy and nutritious breakfast prior to the start of the school day are healthier and are more likely to achieve their full educational potential.
Currently all children in years 1, 2, 3 and 4 receive free school meals. All children in Years 5 and 6 will be receiving Universal Primary free school meals from September 2023.
Whilst this a huge movement in the right direction we also need it to be expanded into
secondary schools, children do not become less hungry because they start secondary school.
This leaves the school holidays with one mother telling me that she hated the school
holidays because she had to provide ten extra meals a week for each child. Many of us are campaigning for the reintroduction of free meals during the school holidays.
Children living in poverty is not inevitable but caused by the action or inaction of
governments. We must never accept it or become immune to the suffering it is causing.
One of the great successes of the Labour government in Wales is flying start. This has had a major benefit for children entering nursery at the age of three. Flying start is a programme to create positive outcomes for children.
When some children start nursery school at three, they can be two years behind others in terms of development, then something needs to be done.
It is incredibly difficult to reduce this gap over the eight years children are in primary
education, these needs addressing before they start nursery school. The key is providing an opportunity for children to develop between 2 and 3 in such a way that they start school with development at least consistent with their chronological age.
The challenge is ensuring all those in need of flying start are provided with it. We owe it to our children to ensure that they all have an equal opportunity. I have heard from parents and carers about the positive impact Flying Start has had on their families.
Too many of the people living in Wales are employed on “flexible” contracts with no
guarantee of weekly income based on variable hours and the government set minimum
There was a time when the way out of poverty was into employment but following
the development of “flexible contracts” and “agency” working all at the minimum wage, it is no longer the case.
For those in work it can make for a precarious life where sickness or an arbitrary cut in hours can plunge people into absolute poverty, literally without any money.
Increasing numbers of companies are taking on staff on ‘zero-hours’ contracts which
provides employers with a pool of people who are ‘on-call ‘and thus puts all the financial risk on to the employee whose income is not guaranteed.
A variation on zero-hour contracts is where there is a guarantee of as little as one hour a day and when people arrive at work, they then discover how long the shift is going to be.
Then there are people on benefits, with universal benefit sanctioning claimants for
minor failures. An example is the person who was unemployed and on benefits whose
biggest fear was that they would have a job interview and job centre interview at the same time in which case they could not avoid being sanctioned for missing one of them.
Then we have PIP refused to many disabled people leaving them in a serious position
financially following an arbitrary decision. According to the DWP’s own statistics, 59% of appeals are won by the claimant because the tribunal reached a different conclusion based on the same facts.
Examples I have come across include people severely disabled refused PIP and people
with degenerative disease being asked when they will be fit to work. Children living in poverty is caused by low and variable weekly wages and a benefit system that is not fit for purpose leading to the use of food banks which are the soup kitchens of the 21st century.
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