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Plans to tackle child poverty need ‘overhaul’

Wales needs an ‘overhaul’ in how it addresses child poverty, according to the Children’s Commissioner for Wales.

Professor Sally Holland has called on Welsh Government to show more ambition in tackling the issue, and to  publish a new ‘Child Poverty Delivery Plan’ setting out how Government as a whole will address the financial hardship faced by families.

In a report published today (March 4th), which takes into account the views of hundreds of children and parents across Wales, she has outlined several practical steps Welsh Government, local authorities and schools could take to help protect the most vulnerable children and young people from the impact of poverty.

Welsh Government’s Child Poverty Strategy, which was last revised in 2015, sets out Government’s current long-term objectives, which include ‘improving outcomes for the poorest’ and ‘addressing the poverty premium’.

But the Children’s Commissioner has said that Government need to tighten their focus on the practical changes which ‘will help families in the here and now.’

She said Welsh Government should write a new Child Poverty Delivery Plan, focusing on concrete and measurable steps to make a positive difference to children living in poverty.

Prof Sally Holland said:

“Over the last year we’ve listened to children, young people, parents and professionals from all over Wales. It’s clear that the basic needs of many aren’t being met. Children and young people have told us that they go hungry at school, that their families struggle to afford the uniform and equipment they need for school, that they can’t afford sanitary products, that they miss out on opportunities to socialise and take part in activities, and that they have a poorer quality of life, well-being and self-image.”

“Welsh Government has a Child Poverty Strategy which outlines its long-term ambitions, but at the moment there’s no clear plan to say how they’re going to address the issues facing children in the here and now. Too often I see individual Government departments reacting to situations and launching new initiatives which lack coordination, without any efforts to review effectiveness.”

“It’s right to say that a lot of the pressures faced by families in Wales come from Westminster: take the problems related to Universal Credit for example. However, the truth is that there are several decisions that are within Welsh Government’s gift, and much more they could be doing to help families in the here and now.

“This is why I want Government to write a new Child Poverty Delivery Plan. This new plan could sit alongside a revised version of their Child Poverty Strategy, but whereas the Strategy is broad and fairly non-specific, the new Child Poverty Delivery Plan would include concrete, measurable steps that will make a difference straight away to families. A child who’s too hungry to learn needs help now, not years down the line.”

In her report, A Charter for Change, the Children’s Commissioner makes 10 recommendations to Welsh Government, which include:

  • Making more children eligible for free school meals
  • Giving more children access to Holiday Hunger schemes
  • Making more families eligible for a grant to spend on school costs such as uniform and equipment
  • Making sure school uniform policies across Wales are affordable, flexible, and fair

The report also outlines steps that local authorities and schools can take to help limit costs for families.

Alongside the report, the Children’s Commissioner has published a set of resources to help schools consider the impact of their current policies on families’ finances and make plans for changes together with children in their school.

Costs of the school day

According to the Children’s Commissioner, one of the most common financial concerns raised by parents and young people related to the costs of the school day.

This included the cost of equipment, school dinners, school trips, and other one-off costs like school photos and fancy dress events.

The report also blames ‘strict’ school uniform policies for putting more pressure on struggling families, claiming that the rules enforced by some schools could mean families paying an extra £100 a year per-child.

The report also praises initiatives like Denbighshire’s county-wide uniform recycling scheme and calls for these to be available throughout wales.

Working with Citizens Advice Denbighshire, Denbighshire’s uniform recycle scheme provides recycled uniforms in community centres and through pop-up shops. One of several initiatives offered is the opportunity for parents to buy a blazer for £15, and be reimbursed the £15 when the blazer is returned when they need to buy the next size up.

In 2017/18, the scheme helped 900 children with their uniform, with 300 families being provided with follow-up details for advice.

Lesley Powell, CEO of Citizens Advice Denbighshire, said:

“The concept of the scheme arose from seeing one of our client’s struggle to provide school uniforms for her children.

“The scheme has developed and expanded across the County in partnership with Denbighshire County Council so we can provide good quality recycled uniforms to children and additionally provide advice and support to families to increase financial resilience and improve well being.”

Councillor Huw Hilditch-Roberts, Cabinet Lead Member for Children, Young People, Education and the Welsh Language, said:

“We were delighted to be working in partnership with Citizens Advice Denbighshire on this innovative approach and are equally as delighted that it has been cited as an example of best practice.

“It has been hugely successful due to the commitment of volunteers and the generosity of people in providing school uniforms.  Buying school uniform can prove costly to a lot of families and many people have now been able to buy uniforms at affordable prices without having to break the bank.

“We are looking forward to monitoring the success of this year’s initiative, with a view to rolling the scheme out to other communities in Denbighshire in the future”.

Professor Holland added:

“It sounds like a paradox but free education, for many families, is unaffordable.

“Financial demands are flying at families from all sorts of angles and it’s the children who pay the price when their parents can’t keep up with the costs.

“If we’re serious about levelling the playing field and giving all children an equal opportunity to learn and grow, we need Welsh Government to show real ambition and leadership in helping the thousands of families across Wales who are really struggling.

“When he put himself forward to be leader of his party, the First Minister said that tackling child poverty would be a priority. I welcome that, but am impatient to see concrete proposals on what that will mean for children and their families.

“By listening to the recommendations I’ve outlined in my report, I’m confident Welsh Government can make a real difference.”