Wales’ poverty is not inevitable – and it’s time for change

The Lansbury Park estate in Caerphilly, one of Wales’ poorest areas. Picture from Google Maps

John Griffiths AM, Chair of the Cross Party Group on Poverty

Rachel Cable, Head of Oxfam Cymru

It is a sad fact that 24% of people in Wales are living in poverty, and a frustrating fact that this figure has remained largely unchanged for a decade.

This poverty does not just affect one group:

  • Wales has the third highest child poverty rate in the UK
  • Over 100,000 pensioners in Wales are living in poverty
  • The number of people living in in-work poverty is on the rise.

Over half the people living in poverty in Wales today are in work, which means that this poverty is often harder to see.

Did you know that more women than men are living in poverty? Women are consistently over-represented in low paid, part-time, insecure and temporary work.

They face the double burden of poverty and discrimination, and continue to be paid less than men, even at the top, often struggling to find roles that allow them to earn a living while also coping with the lion’s share of domestic work and childcare.

The true extent of women’s poverty could be hidden, as poverty is measured at a household level on the assumption that resources and income are shared equally – so again, poverty that is harder to see.

A stark juxtaposition to this are the positive headlines we often see about employment rates rising.

But we must be clear that this is not the reality for the quarter of the Welsh workforce who are paid less than the Living Wage, and the many tens of thousands who are employed on zero hours contracts.

Work

Links are increasingly being drawn between low pay and poor quality employment that means for many, work is no longer a guaranteed route out of poverty.

Oxfam Cymru recently published new research focusing on decent work for low paid women in Wales.

The research highlighted several recurring themes, including:

  • Balancing work with caring responsibilities; pay and working conditions
  • How the Welsh Government could influence employer behaviour
  • The provision of childcare
  • The perceived low value of work in specific sectors
  • The challenges that insecure contracts and limited investment present

The Welsh Government is responding to this agenda by establishing a Fair Work Commission to promote and encourage fair work across Wales.

The Fair Work Commission must be ambitious, it must seek to deliver fair work for all in Wales.

Change

As winter approaches, we know all too well that people across Wales will pause before turning on their radiators, making a choice between heating and eating. No-one should have to make this choice.

Whilst purse strings are being tightened right across the UK, current poverty levels are actually costing the Welsh Government £3.6 billion annually. This represents £1 in every £5 of spending on public services.

Poverty also brings additional costs from lost tax revenues and costs to our social security system.

Meanwhile, people are queuing up at food banks right across Wales. From Ceredigion to Caerphilly, food bank usage is on the rise; last year alone, Trussell Trust gave out nearly 100,000 three-day food bags.

Above all, this is what we must remember: poverty is not inevitable. We are part of one the richest economies in the world, and we should all be impatient for faster progress.

Whilst not all political power is concentrated in Wales, the National Assembly has powers it can put to work and should act boldly, it should be a progressive advocate for change.

Our political parties must recommit to tackling poverty in Wales.

Today is the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. In Wales, we are marking the day by holding the first meeting of a new cross-party group on poverty in the National Assembly for Wales.

It is time for change.

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