There’s more to poverty than being out of work
The recent consultation on the new EU funding framework had a strong focus on tackling poverty through increasing employment: ERDF programmes would create jobs; and ESF programmes would give people the skills needed to do those jobs. No one would argue with the positive impact this would have on the Welsh economy and on Welsh communities. Indeed, the Wales Co-operative Centre believes that co-operatives and social enterprises can be the engine house of such an economic regeneration. UK figures show that the social enterprise sector is growing faster than the economy as a whole, and these businesses employ more people relative to turnover. You get more bang for your ERDF buck with a social enterprise.
There is a big “but” coming. That is: if the new funding framework only allows spend on job creation and developing skills for work, we are not addressing the impact of poverty on large sections of the Welsh population. We would be ignoring, for example, the issue of in-work poverty. With zero-hours contracts on the rise, an increasing number of people in work lack the financial stability that used to come with having a job. And people who are beyond working age are disproportionately likely to live in poverty: a jobs-based EU funding framework will do nothing for them.
The Wales Co-operative Centre currently delivers community projects that are designed to mitigate the impact of poverty and allow people to take control of their own financial circumstances, whether they are unemployed, in work or retired. For example, we lead the Welsh Government funded Communities 2.0 project which helps people get the benefits of being online. Age Cymru Swansea Bay manage a Communities 2.0 initiative which brings the internet into the homes of older people. Peripatetic advice workers carry laptops and support their clients to set up internet banking, to save money online and more. Using digital ways of achieving financial inclusion transforms the lives of older people. Rather than relying on others, they are in control of their own money. Savings in utility bills can amount to hundreds of pounds a year, making people feel more confident about switching on the heating as winter comes.
We believe there should be a place in the tackling poverty strands of the new EU funding framework to allow this kind of work to continue. The argument for an emphasis on jobs is well made, but poverty in Welsh communities is not just about unemployment, it is also about people being able to manage their lives so that they are better off, in work or not. Let’s hope the final framework has breadth as well as depth.