The poverty challenge
Big Lottery Fund Policy Manager Rob Roffe on the shocking extent of poverty in Wales and how BIG is addressing disadvantage.
When I first started looking into the extent and causes of poverty in Wales, I could barely believe the statistics:
• 23 percent of the Welsh population live in poverty
• 32 percent of Welsh children live in poverty
This equates to 400,000 working-age adults, 200,000 children and 100,000 pensioners. Wales has a population of just over 3 million, so you soon begin to appreciate just how big an issue this is. It’s why poverty is one of several areas that we are considering for future investment. The raw statistics are pretty damning on their own, but it isn’t until you start to dig beneath the numbers to explore the issues that you begin to fully appreciate the many disadvantages that those in poverty face. Poor health; low educational attainment; sub-standard housing; digital exclusion; worklessness; all go hand in hand with an existence below the breadline.
Disabled people are more likely to find themselves in poverty than others and a third of those in poverty are either disabled themselves or have a disabled partner. And it doesn’t just affect those without jobs – half the children in poverty come from working families, so having a job is just part of the solution. It really is a complicated picture.
By far and away the most devastating fact is that poverty tends to run through the generations – if you are born in poverty, you are much more likely to stay there.
How to break this cycle? This is just one of the many questions that the academics and think tanks are debating at length. What causes poverty? What impact will the recession have on poverty? What impact will the changes to Welfare provision have on poverty? How effective will the Welsh Government’s new Poverty Strategy be? Will it get worse before it gets better?
Of course, no one has a definitive answer. The debate, whilst interesting, is detracting from the pressing need to support those who are enduring the lived experience of poverty and social disadvantage. I’m the first to admit that it is difficult to know where to start when faced with such a challenging list.
Through our existing funding programmes BIG is, quietly but successfully, addressing some of this disadvantage. Through People and Places we are supporting projects that encourage individuals to work together for strong communities, social justice and better rural and urban environments. Whether it is through projects that improve local community facilities, support financial inclusion or provide advocacy that supports individuals to access services and entitlements, they all make a small but significant contribution to addressing disadvantage.
We hope that Community Voice will strengthen the ability of communities to influence and shape the services that they receive, making them more responsive to community needs and focusing on the ‘wicked issues’ that disadvantaged communities face.
Whilst BIG can’t hope to eradicate poverty, we can support improvements to the lived experience of those who are enduring it, as well as supporting them to find routes out of poverty in an effort to break the cycle.
Working to address these challenges is all the motivation I need to get out of bed and come to work every morning.