One in three children in Wales lives in poverty. That means around 200,000 children in Wales live in households with less than 60% of the UK median income.
The major focus of my role as Deputy Minister for Children is to co-ordinate Assembly Government action to tackle child poverty. We have made a clear and ambitious commitment to support the UK Government‘s drive to eradicate child poverty by 2020.
The child poverty agenda is too quickly dismissed as a Westminster issue by some. Although tax and benefits are key levers in reducing poverty, by using the multi-billion pound Assembly Government budget we can transform the life chances of thousands of Welsh children living in low income families.
We have made early use of our new law-making powers to add weight to our action to tackle child poverty. The Children and Families (Wales) Measure, which became law in February 2010, demonstrates our commitment to providing support to those families and children in greatest need. It specifically places a duty on Welsh Ministers to publish a new statutory Child Poverty Strategy for Wales in 2010 and to keep this under review.
We recognise the key role played by other partners. Therefore the legislation also places a duty on specific Welsh public bodies to identify, and take action, to assist in the goal of eradicating child poverty by 2020.
Children and young people growing up in poverty are vulnerable in a number of different ways. We know they are at more risk of poor health, poor education attainment, having lower skills and aspirations – and are more likely to be low paid, unemployed and welfare dependent in adulthood. Our new Child Poverty Strategy and Delivery Plan – to be published for a 3 month public consultation shortly - sets out how we will address the needs of low income families with children and ensure that our cross-government range of policies, resources and services will achieve our new objectives to improve outcomes and reduce the inequalities that currently exist.
The complex and wide ranging nature of the issues that determine child poverty mean we are clear that our new strategy must include a policy response that is sufficiently comprehensive in dealing with both the many causes and the effects of poverty.
At the local level, the potential range of issues facing families in poverty can vary enormously. Integrating support from agencies as diverse as the NHS, schools, youth justice, Jobcentre Plus and the third sector as well as local authorities is not easy.
The programme of support which each family will need to help them escape poverty needs to be holistic and tailored to their individual circumstances.
Tackling poverty reaches across every area of Government policy. Evidence shows that employment – particularly - full time employment - is highly protective against poverty.
We are fully committed to promoting parental employment in a way that is consistent with family life. Amongst other things, our new child poverty strategy aims to provide parents of children with the skills necessary for paid employment as well as help young people take advantage of opportunities into employment.
We also need to continue supporting the parenting of children and improving the home environment in which some children live as we know this can have a major impact on their developmental, education and health outcomes. Programmes we already have in place such as Flying Start and Genesis Wales 2 are helping to remove barriers to employment by making free childcare available so parents can work or learn new skills.
Child poverty is not an issue that will disappear overnight. Our new Child Poverty Strategy and its associated Delivery Plan is about taking a fresh look at how we can inject a new impetus and put in place the right programmes and support across central and local government to help low income families with children out of the poverty trap.