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Wednesday, 07 March 2018

Almost quarter of people in Wales living in poverty - highest in the UK

Written by Johanna Carr

Nearly a quarter of people in Wales are living in poverty - the highest rate in the UK, a report has claimed.

Despite an overall gradual decline in the number of people living in poverty over the last 20 years, the report says progress on child poverty has stalled with nearly a third of children (30%) in Wales affected.

The monitoring report, Poverty in Wales 2018, released by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) on Wednesday, also warns that poverty is increasing among pensioners, single people and couples with children.

The overall poverty rate in Wales for 2013/16 was 23% compared to 27% in the three-year period 1994/97.

The report, which found there were 710,000 people in Wales living in poverty - including 185,000 children, 405,000 working-age adults and 120,000 pensioners - said rising living costs, especially housing costs, combined with cuts to working age benefits and poor quality jobs had led to an increased risk of living in poverty for families both in and out of work.

Chief executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Campbell Robb, called on the UK and Welsh Governments to work with businesses to "redesign the job and housing markets" to benefit those living in the most deprived areas of the country.

"We share a moral responsibility to make sure everyone has a decent standard of living and the same chances in life," he said.

"Low-paid, unstable jobs, rising living costs and insufficient benefits mean that many people in Wales are locked in a daily struggle to make ends meet.

"Poverty restricts the choices people can make, leaving families in impossible situations like choosing either to heat their home or pay their rent."

The report used someone living in a household whose income, after housing costs, was less than 60% of the median income as its main poverty indicator.

It also highlighted how Wales had achieved success in reducing worklessness, increasing employment and improving adult skills.

It concluded: "Rising poverty rates, despite increases in skills and employment, suggest that the labour market is not currently finding enough jobs which offer pay and hours that will take people out of poverty."

The JRF said it was calling on the Welsh Government to create more and better jobs and reduce costs by building more affordable homes and ensuring high-quality and affordable childcare is available.

It also said Cardiff Bay needed to improve the prospects of the next generation by closing the educational attainment gap and ensuring young people leave school with the skills they need.

A spokeswoman for the Welsh Government said "preventing the scourge of poverty" was a "fundamental priority" and its Economic Action Plan, published in December, sought to increase the availability of good quality jobs.

She said further plans to support people including those furthest from the jobs market, to increase their employability would be published next month, while the government was working to secure the provision of affordable housing across Wales and had committed to delivering 20,000 new affordable homes by 2021.

"We are also investing unprecedented amounts, over £90m this year and a proposed further £187m over the next two years, through our Pupil Development Grant to improve outcomes for our disadvantaged learners to reduce the attainment gap," she said.

"The answers to economic disadvantage require a joined-up response across all parts of government, and through our work that is what we are doing."

Commenting on the report, the Welsh Conservative's shadow economy secretary Russell George said the Welsh Government needed to take action to drive up standards and create quality jobs but it was "difficult to have any faith after two decades and four major economic relaunches produced the such bleak results".

"After 19 years of devolution Welsh workers continue to endure the lowest take-home pay in Britain," he said.

"Life can be a daily struggle for people on low wages, and it can be hard enough to keep up with the rising cost of essentials, let alone scrape enough savings together to get on the housing ladder."

The report found that:

  • The overall poverty rate for 2013/16 was 23% compared to 27% in the three-year period 1994/97;
  • The poverty rate for pensioners was 18%, a fall from the 1994/7 rate of 26% but an increase on the 2010/13 rate which was 14%;
  • The poverty rate for working age adults was 23%, a slight decrease from 24% in 1994/97;
  • The child poverty rate was 30%. The figure for the UK as a whole was 29%;
  • Pensioners had the lowest poverty rate, followed by working-age people without children. Poverty was highest among families with children;
  • The poverty rate for Wales was higher than for England, Scotland and Northern Ireland;
  • Since 1997, workless households had fallen from 23% to 16%, while employment had risen from 66% to 73%. But in the last decade, working-age poverty rates had risen.

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