Is it just the economy, stupid ? #povertyinwales
Guest blogger Michael Trickey, Wales Advisor for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, looks at the complex patterns of poverty in Wales
Amid the swirl of data the picture is complex but the patterns of poverty in Wales appear to be changing. While the overall number living in poverty has not changed significantly in recent years, the number who is in poverty and in work has shot up. For the first time in Wales, as reported by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation report Monitoring Poverty & Social Exclusion in Wales2013, there are more people in working families in poverty than people in non-working families.
At the same time, levels of economic inactivity in Wales remain stubbornly high, food banks report rising demand, there are worries about pockets of deepening poverty. Along with uncertainties about the impact of welfare reform, from sanctions to questions of administrative competence, there are serious concerns about ‘a decade of destitution’.
Poverty as a term seems to cover a growing myriad of different circumstances and plights. The complexity is illustrated by two other elements in the JRF report. It highlights a regional dimension in Wales: in-work poverty features strongly in parts of rural Wales whereas out-of-work poverty is highest in the South Wales Valleys. Another stand-out finding is the reminder that disability is a big factor in poverty. JRF reports that 235,000 working-age adults in Wales were disabled and not in work, although a third wanted work.
There are many for whom work can never be the answer. But even for those for whom it is a possibility, the tabloid stereotyping into ‘strivers’ and ‘shirkers’, though more muted in Wales, masks uncomfortable truths.
The numbers in work and for whom work is not proving to be the route out of poverty should be of concern to everybody. Whether this is about part-time working, poor pay rates, or insecure jobs, the drive to make work pay needs to take account of a fragmented and difficult labour market and the challenges around affordable childcare, transport and other enablers.
And for those not in the labour market, the Welsh Affairs Committee report on the Work Programme confirms the challenge of supporting long-term jobseekers .
A recovering economy is an essential part of the mix. The rise in employment is encouraging but alone is not enough. The debate on the kind of recovery, including the Living Wage, is timely but we have to continue to look more widely than economic levers. This will continue to as much a social issue as an economic one. And here, the dissonance between economic recovery and continuing public austerity is unlikely to make the widely shared commitment to tackling poverty any easier.