- by Michael Trickey
As the financial squeeze bites and the threat of a double dip recession looms, two new JRF publications illustrate the scale of the challenge faced by policy-makers and politicians in Wales.
The Institute of Fiscal Studies report warns of a significant increase in child poverty and decline in real median household incomes across the UK, not least due to the direct impact of the UK tax and benefit reforms.
This is particularly bad news for Wales. It comes on top of the worrying recent JRF findings that showed we have lost half the improvement in the rate of child poverty that we gained between the mid 1990s and mid 2000s. To meet the goal of abolishing child poverty, there would have to be an unparalleled rise in the numbers of families in full-time work in Wales, an increasingly fragile hope as Welsh unemployment rises to the highest level for decades. Given that so many of the crucial tax and benefit policy levers lie outside the remit of devolved government, the big question for the Welsh Government is what can it do to mitigate the situation?
The answer may have something in common with a new report tackling the question of where next for housing policy in Wales? This says that the Welsh Government can use its new powers to make a real difference to the significant housing problems faced by thousands of people in Wales. Homelessness is rising and budget pressures will require significant innovation in securing the provision of affordable, good quality housing.
It is not all gloom. The Welsh Government and housing organisations worked effectively together to exceed the recent target of 6,500 new affordable homes through common purpose and creativity. This emphasises the need for policy areas such housing, health, regeneration, skills and community development to work closely together to tackle crucial issues such as poverty. This requires a certain amount of realism – realism about what can be achieved through action at the devolved level and a clear, deliverable vision. Targets and expectations which defy belief can be demotivating.
The Assembly’s understandable and necessary focus on legislative powers should not drive out the real potential to galvanise the whole system – government and social partners – around a national programme to combat poverty. It is notable that much practical progress was made around preventing homelessness without legislative change.
The forces bearing down on those in need have become much more toxic in the last year. It is going to require the kind of drive seen in war-time across all sectors in Wales to deliver an effective response.
- Michael Trickey is Wales advisor to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the social justice charity. Previously, he was a senior civil servant in the Welsh Assembly Government. He’s also on Twitter – @michaeltrickey