Helen Mary Jones writes that a Welsh Child Payment of £35 a week to children in poverty will be the priority for a Plaid Cymru government.
Whilst in the midst of a global health crisis, another crisis which has plagued Wales for years has been sharply exposed; the crisis of child poverty.
Child poverty figures in Wales have been on the up for years, with the most recent figures reflecting that 29.3% of children in Wales are living in poverty, a 1% rise compared to 2017-18. Wales was also the only UK nation to see a rise in child poverty rates in 2019.
These children and their communities were already struggling after years of austerity, with many not having access to healthy food and other necessities, let alone the little things that make life feel good, like being able to take a small present to your friend’s birthday party.
These families have now been pushed even further into poverty, with many more families newly descending into poverty as a result of the pandemic, with evidence demonstrating that the coronavirus crisis has and is hitting the poorest hardest.
In fact, research from Turn2Us reveals that families with children are much more likely to have lost income as a result of Covid 19, with 71% of children living in families where at least one parent has had their employment affected. These figures indicate that child poverty is bound to rise even further and much faster without substantial interventions.
Further figures reveal that more than two thirds of children in poverty are in households with at least one working parent. With the job market more fragile than ever, with fewer hours available for those who were already facing job insecurity, child poverty in Wales will increase rapidly if direct and significant policy isn’t applied.
It simply isn’t good enough that a third of children in Wales were living in poverty even before a global pandemic took hold of our economy, and that the outlook now is even more bleak than before. I will never understand why the current Welsh Government abandoned its anti-poverty targets.
In my experience, what gets measured gets done. And over the last twenty years too many Government anti-poverty initiatives have been about managing poverty, ameliorating its worst effects, rather than ending it. We have to be more ambitious than that.
The causes of poverty are complex and structural, and ending it will take action on many fronts. But one thing we do know. The best way in the short term to lift a child out of poverty is to give her or his mother money. So that’s what we’d do, for a start.
A Plaid Cymru Government would provide targeted payments to families living in poverty, introducing a Welsh Child Payment of £35 a week to children eligible for free school meals.
This immediate action to help 65,000 children living in poverty would support families in Wales living below the poverty line.
“We would start saving money for each child entitled from our first week in power, so that families would receive a small cash sum once agreement was reached.”
Such an intervention would not require reorganisation of administrative infrastructure, and would be delivered through Local Authorities. Implementation of this policy would begin from day 1 of a Plaid Cymru Government, and the payments would be made as soon as Plaid Cymru receives agreement from the Department of Work and Pensions that payments would not count as income (for the purpose of means tested benefits).
We are optimistic that we could convince the Westminster Government to allow this. It would cost them nothing, after all. And they were happy to allow Scotland devolved power over the administration of benefits.
While we negotiated with Westminster, we would start saving money for each child entitled from our first week in power, so that families would receive a small cash sum once agreement was reached.
Perhaps enough for some new summer clothes or a trip to the seaside, things most of us take for granted that we can provide for are children, currently way out of reach of families living in poverty.
We would raise the income threshold below which families are entitled to free school meals to ensure more children and families living with in-work poverty benefit, as well as continuing to press for devolution of the administration of welfare.
And we would, with local authority partners, run a high profile, targeted, uptake campaign to ensure that these benefits are taken up by all who need them.
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Plaid Cymru believes that no child in modern Wales should live in poverty. We must break the cycle of poorer prospects and school attainment for children from lower income families – poverty in Wales can be ended if the political will is there.
We enshrined the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in Welsh law a decade ago. Any government in power in Wales must ensure it is respecting and fulfilling each and every right laid out in the Convention. That’s not happening.
What on earth is the point of teaching primary age children that they have the right to be ‘Happy, Healthy and Safe’ if we leave them in poverty, with all the breaches of their rights that entails?
None of us should be prepared to put up with this systematic breach of our children’s rights. Plaid Cymru will end it.
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