Select Committee on Work and Pensions Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by Children in Wales (CP 20)



  Established in 1992, Children in Wales is the national umbrella organisation in Wales, bringing together organisations and individuals who work with and for children and young people. One of its achievements in recent years was to campaign for the establishment of the first Children's Commissioner in the UK. The role of Children in Wales is to contribute to making the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child a reality in Wales; to fight for sustainable quality services for all children and young people; to pay special attention for children in need (especially the most marginalized); and to promote children and young people having a voice in issued that affect them.

The extent of child poverty and the causes of it

  1.  The Government has identified its strategy clearly in a range of documents DWP (2001), (2002), (2003) and is clearly making positive progress on its targets. We believe it should be congratulated for that as should the devolved administrations that have all made it a policy priority. This strategy needs to continue to be prioritised and well resourced.

  2.  Because there is a long time lag in getting child poverty data it is not always possible to see the effect of government policies. We therefore believe that the Government should prioritise quicker data collection so there is not such a delay in publishing recent data. The current approach contrasts greatly with the speed with which other data is collected and published such as the retail price index etc.

The impact of child poverty on children and families and are specific groups particularly affected

  3.  Child poverty has important effects both on children's childhood, Ridge (2002) and when they become adults, Bradshaw (2003). CPAG (2003) has outlined the effects that income poverty can have on children in schools and it is clearly an area of policy where must could be done to improve practice. As Bradshaw has outlined there are specific hard outcomes, eg, lower educational achievement but also "soft" outcome such as low self-esteem etc that have a profound effect on children and young people in the short and long term.

  4.  The Government should focus its attention more on the here and now of children's experiences when they are experiencing poverty rather than focussing on the effects child poverty will have on them as future employees. In Wales there is considerable evidence of the link between bullying and child poverty as well as low self-esteem.

  5.  We would like the Government to move away from the one size fits all approach and acknowledge that for some families work will never be an option and develop strategies to move this significant cohort of children out of poverty by alternative means. In a country like Wales where significant areas are under European Objective One designation jobs are very much at a premium in some areas such as the previous coalfield.

  6.  There are also specific groups where child poverty is a significant issue such as families which contain someone with a disability, Bangladeshi families or larger than average families. There are also those families, which are in severe and persistent poverty. We would argue, as these are the families where child poverty is most entrenched that the Government needs to develop specific strategies for these families.

The extent and causes of regional variations in child poverty

  7.  Average household income is significantly less in Wales than in other parts of the UK. This has translated itself into higher deprivation scores on a range of domains. Whilst we would acknowledge the Welsh Assembly Government's positive attempts to reduce these inequalities they will continue to need adequate resources to target and reduce these inequalities.

The effectiveness of the Government's strategies to reduce child poverty and whether the child poverty targets will be met is enough being done across Governments and are further initiative needed

  8.  The setting of a 20-year target with sub targets of child poverty reduction of 2004, 2010 and 2019 is important for several reasons. These will include that child poverty has been acknowledged as a problem and it focuses all stakeholders to develop policies, which have an impact in meeting the targets, which have been set. Reducing child poverty is an issue for all sectors and more needs to be done to engage all stakeholders with the issue.

  9.  51% of families in Wales who live on income support in Wales have a social fund loan, which they are paying back. This will mean that a families income will often decrease substantially due to high repayment rates. As you will be aware there has been a recent review by the House of Commons on the Social Fund in 2002 that examined its operation in detail. CPAG and the Family Welfare Association have outlines alternative costed proposals based on a child's life cycle and it is an issue which we feel the government should strongly consider. The Social Fund is one policy where there are still links to the Poor Law view on the undeserving poor. We do not believe that this has a place in a welfare system for the 21st century.

  10.  If the Government were also to act to licence loan sharks and reduce their exorbitant rates of interest, it would have a dramatic positive effect on "poor" families. It could be argued that they have no place in a modern welfare system and alternative community based banks sould be developed strategically across the UK. Member organisations of children in Wales have a wealth of experience in this field.

  11.  Ridge (2002) has shown how schools are a key arena for showing "poor" children how they are different in some way from those children not in poverty. In terms of the choices these children have to make, they are significantly different from "non-poor" children. These differences may include a range of "extra" activities including shool trips, sports and after school activities. Some of these school trips are now considered to be essential as they are linked to educational activities. They are no longer seen as voluntary as schools have built parts of their curriculum around them. The issues and possible strategies are outlined in a recent CPAG (2003) document that outlines how schools can do more to reduce the effects of child poverty.

  12.  We would like all non-devolved and devolved policies to be "child poverty" proofed so that there is clarity about the effect they will have on children and young people experiencing poverty. Clearly policies such as transport and leisure can have a negative effect on children. There is now much evidence of how by improving them they could significantly affect the quality of life of these children. Wales has significant rural areas where these issues are particularly significant. The Government's commitment to floor targets DWP (2003) is one which should help improve these services.

  13.  In terms of measurement, we welcome the Government's attempts to agree a measure. Whilst the 60% median income captures income poverty it does not capture other aspects of poverty and social exclusion. This is especially so as the relationship between poverty and social exclusion is one which is constantly debated. We would therefore argue that deprivation measures should also be included. Townesend (1997) argues that the increase in the spread of polarisation is a factor that is worrying and which we believe is worth measuring and developing policies to reduce.

  14.  The Government's use of the minimum wage, tax credits and up rating of child benefit have been innovative and have had a positive effect on many families. However the failure of the Government to extend the minimum wage to under 18s is unhelpful in reducing child poverty rates. Whilst we understand the Government's motivation to let 16-18 year olds stay on in education our experience suggests that until education becomes more inclusive, many young people have decided by their mid teens that formal education is not for them. By not having a minimum wage for the 16-18 year age group they are more open to exploitation.

Comparisons between child poverty within the UK and other countries

  15.  Esping Anderson (2002) has outlined how changing conditions in society will have an effect on child poverty. He argues:

    —  the family structure that underpinned post war policy is no longer dominant;

    —  the employment of mother/father/carer requires new caring institutions for small children;

    —  widespread youth unemployment and huge entry barriers to housing markets inhibit young people's ability to form families;

    —  families are increasingly unstable and this often goes hand in hand with poverty;

    —  the quality of childhood matters ever more for subsequent life chances.

  If his arguments are accepted, we would like any policy which is developed to take account of this as we feel it may develop Government's thinking further.


    —  the Government's commitment to ending child poverty is a positive one on which it should be congratulated;

    —  the current work on developing new child poverty measures is welcomed. Any new measure should include both income and deprivation measures;

    —  any child poverty strategy which is developed needs to contain both a focus on those in work but also those where work is not an option;

    —  the Social Fund needs to be re-designed so it does not increase the depth of poverty experiences for families;

    —  the Government should build on its experiences of involving those with experiences of poverty in future policy development;

    —  any strategy which is developed should be supported by a media strategy so that there is a more general understanding of what poverty is and the negative effects it has on children's lives.

  The Government policy work has obviously had a significant positive impact on the numbers of children and young people who live in poverty. However, as the Government targets in energies on children who are well below the 60% median income levels, a significant level of resources will have to be allocated.

Mike Lewis,

Policy Director

Catriona Williams,

Chief Executive

11 September 2003

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