With the commencement of another academic year, this week we will focus on the worrying rise in child poverty, particularly across Wales.
According to Child Poverty Action Group, 3.9 million children live in poverty across the UK; 46% of children from black and minority ethnic groups live in poverty; 75% of children growing up in poverty live in working families; and, 450,000 fewer children would live in poverty if child benefit was increased by £10 a week.
The final point is a particularly salient one, as the Welsh Government does not have power over welfare reforms in Wales, despite the fact that during a Cost of Living and Food Insecurity debate in the House of Commons earlier this year, it was revealed that Wales not only has the highest rates of poverty in the UK (with almost one in four people living in poverty), but also has the highest rates of child poverty in the UK.
According to a report published in the summer, child poverty rates across the UK actually declined between 2019/20 and 2020/21, from 31% to 27% (its’ lowest level in seven years).
Yet, Wales has bucked this trend. According to recent data from Loughborough University, 34% of children in Wales are growing up in poverty. Only the north east of England and London has higher rates of child poverty in the UK.
With the removal of the universal credit safety net after the end of the pandemic restrictions, a cost of living crisis and winter approaching, it is feared that child poverty rates will rise sharply in the coming months.
Indeed, the Bevan Foundation are already reporting that in Wales, 13% of Welsh households often struggle to afford everyday items; 57% are cutting back on heating, electricity and/ or water; 51% are cutting back on adult clothes; and, 39% cut back on food for adults between January and July of this year.
As of July 2022, the number of people in Welsh households with one or two children who were having to cut back on food for children had nearly doubled since November 2021.
It is worth noting that while Wales has broadly followed the same trends as the rest of the UK in recent years, a report commissioned for Welsh Government by GSR (Government Social Research) in 2013 suggests that child poverty has historically remained higher in Wales than the rest of the UK.
While the Children’s Commissioner for Wales has called on the Welsh Government to set ambitious targets to address child poverty in Wales, setting targets alone will likely be insufficient.
This is partly because child poverty rates mirrors other issues in Wales such as higher overall poverty rates than the rest of the UK; higher rates of deprivation (according to the Office for National Statistics, the Central and Gwent Valleys were amongst the ten poorest areas in the UK in 2019); and a chronic lack of investment in vital infrastructure, which we have highlighted in recent weeks.
The introduction of free school meals via the Co-operation Agreement with Plaid Cymru is a welcome tool in the fight against child hunger, however child poverty is symptomatic of a wider problem in Wales – one that does not allow us control over our own finances or even allows us the freedom to instigate welfare reforms.
Until Wales is independent, we will continue to fall behind the rest of the UK in all areas of development.
This is an article written by Maria Pritchard of Yes Milford Haven and published in the Pembrokeshire Herald newspaper on 09.09.2022