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Monday, November 20, 2006

Tackling poverty

There is no doubt in my mind that defeating child poverty is one of the big issues confronting politicians today. That is why I hope that other parties will take up the cause in the same way that Labour have done for their Assembly manifesto, albeit imperfectly.

It is worth noting that Labour's aspiration has been formulated in the context of them having already been in government for nine years, raising the question of what has been done so far and how effective has it been?

Furthermore as Keith Towler from Save the Children points out in today's Western Mail many of the tools of government that need adjusting to eliminate child poverty lie with the UK Government and not with the Assembly. His organisation's research sets out the shocking truth of poverty in Wales today:

Parents in Wales today are having to choose between heating their homes or giving their children nutritious meals, as they struggle desperately to pay for basic necessities.
Save the Children commissioned face-to-face research with 200 low income families in Wales, and the results reveal:

95% of low income parents in Wales have gone without to make sure their children have enough;

Eight out of 10 said their children have missed out on activities such as after-school clubs, school trips, and inviting friends for tea;

More than one in 10 low income families have resorted to borrowing from loan sharks to make ends meet.

Keith Towler, Save the Children's programme director in Wales, said, "It is outrageous that there are children going to school in Wales without a warm coat this winter. We've spoken to parents who've had to choose between heating their homes and feeding their children properly. Children living in Wales today are clearly missing out on a happy, healthy childhood."

A commitment from the Assembly Government to deal with this will be no good unless there are also changes to the tax and benefit systems. Save the Children's idea of a £200 seasonal grant from the UK Government for the poorest families is a start but the disincentives to work currently built into the benefits system need to be eliminated as well. Measures should also be taken to remove the poorest people from paying tax altogether, something that the Liberal Democrats have commited themselves to and which is incorporated in our current tax proposals.
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