Welsh Government needs to set ambitious new targets to reduce child poverty levels in Wales, according to the Children’s Commissioner.
Rocio Cifuentes said that with the highest levels of child poverty in the UK and the ongoing cost of living crisis, continuing without a specific, measurable plan of action is unacceptable.
The commissioner said that the cost of living crisis could have a devastating impact on children from all over Wales, and of all backgrounds. And she added that young people from ethnic minorities, and disabled children could be particularly vulnerable.
According to figures published last year by the UK Government, people in Pakistani and Bangladeshi households were consistently the most likely out of all ethnic groups to live in low-income households.
The charity Scope estimated in 2019 that families with disabled children face extra costs of £581 per month.
She added that the Welsh Government should publish a new child poverty action plan to show how it will target support at children over the coming months, and how those actions will reach financially marginalised communities.
She added that the UK Government also needed to do more to support families, and criticised the removal of the Universal Credit uplift.
The Commissioner, who started her job last month, also announced a new national consultation to hear about the issues that matter most to children, young people, and their families.
Cost of living crisis
“We know that the cost of living crisis is having, and is going to keep having a huge impact on children and their families across the country. It’s going to affect children of all backgrounds and in every corner of Wales. There will be worried parents and children who want to know exactly what the Government will be doing to help them.
“What I’d really like to see is a clear plan from the Welsh Government on how they are going to target support at children, how they are going to listen to families, and how they are going to do all they can to support them through this crisis, so that I can hold them to their promises. And they really need to make sure that the support reaches communities who we know traditionally don’t always get the support they need.
“I know there has been a council tax rebate for many families across Wales, but in the context of unprecedented utility bill hikes, historically high fuel prices, and a population with already the highest levels of child poverty in the UK, it doesn’t go far enough for families.
“And we’ve just been through a really traumatic two years that my own office’s research has shown has had a disproportionately high impact on children from ethnic minorities, and disabled children. So we are going from one crisis straight into another, and both crises have been and will be particularly devastating for those groups.
The Commissioner also pointed to UK-wide policies that she says are adding to the strain families are under.
“The removal of the £20 uplift in Universal Credit was a huge blow to families. There really is no logic to this at a time when families are most in need. Family finances didn’t suddenly get better as restrictions were eased; people need this money now more than ever.
“The two-child limit on Universal Credit payments is another significant issue. Children in bigger families are being punished through absolutely no fault of their own, at a time when many are having to choose between heating their homes and eating.
“I’m hoping to work closely with my counterparts across the UK to continue challenging the Government in Westminster on these issues, which have a massive impact on children in Wales.”
Listening to children
The Commissioner said she will spend her first few months in post listening to children and young people’s views and experiences, and the views of parents and professionals, with a national survey expected in the autumn.
“I’m starting this job after a period of significant disruption and upheaval in children’s lives. Over the next few months, my team and I will be listening to children all over Wales to hear what matters most to them, and what they want me to be fighting for as their commissioner. What they tell me will shape how my team and I work over the coming years.
“Of course, there are clearly visible issues, like the current cost of living crisis, for which Governments in both Cardiff and London have a duty to protect our children from.”