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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Poverty of delivery

An essay by Professor Dave Adamson reported in the Western Mail today concludes that the impact of government policy in reducing poverty in Wales in the past 12 years has been “at best marginal”.

Professor Adamson, who helped shape the Welsh Assembly Government’s Communities First initiative, claims:

There has been little change in poverty levels in many communities since 1996;

Many adults in deprived areas expect to be limited by illness and this illness is not always due to industrial disease;

Educational failure is the foundation of poverty in Wales, and;

It was difficult to see any specific impact from WAG policies on poverty.

The most interesting part of these conclusions relates to the failure of educational policy. We have long known that too many young people leave school without educational qualifications, training or employment. We also know, because the Rees Commission said so, that not enough 18 year olds in Wales are fulfilling their potential and going on to higher education. Professor Adamson goes further:

In reference to statistics which suggest that 25% of the population in Wales at any one time will have failed to achieve five GSCEs, and will continue to fail to benefit from adult educational opportunities, Prof Adamson says: “This educational failure is the foundation of poverty in Wales and relegates a significant proportion of the population to labour market failure and consequent patterns of low income, unemployment and benefit dependency.

What this suggests is a lack of joined up thinking by the government in their approach to tackling poverty. They are spending money on capacity building schemes such as Community First with apparently little effect and yet they are failing to mainstream this provision or take it through to its conclusion in their budget priorities.

In particular, although the Foundation Phase for 3 -7 year olds is important in helping young people achieve their potential, the Welsh Government has not allocated sufficient money to deliver it within the envisaged timescales. There is also the under-investment in school buildings, and in further and higher education that is undermining other efforts to help communities.

It is education and training that drives our economy, but it also offers the means by which people are able to pull themselves out of poverty. Until the Labour-Plaid Cymru Government recognises that fact and starts investing accordingly then I suspect that Professor Adamson's conclusions about the marginal impact of government policy will remain valid for some time.
Professor Dave Adamson makes many excellent and valid points. Until one has lived on such council estates one can not truly know what it means to be living in such chronically dreadful, stressful, hopeless, and essentially meaningless chronic mess that be-devils such communities.

My family lived on such estates (in Wales and later one in London when my father moved us through a council house exchange from Wales to a huge council estate in Abbey Wood, South East London) and finally back to Wales through another council house exchange to Llansbury Park, Caerphilly. But I have also seen the same (but only as an observer passing through) in areas of Chicago, East St. Louis, south east Washington DC.

Such dreadful situations have been turned around BUT this has come from initiatives that have involved mothers in the effected communities. Meaning: if the effected community is not engaged/on board/involved, throwing money at the problem will have very little, if any, impact on solving the underlying problems of grinding poverty and general feeling of hopelessness. Put another way, using 'professional' to solve a problem that they don't relate to will have benefits limited to employing said professionals.

Why not engage the effective communities with professionals that have come out of those communities? Until you have lived it, you don't know how really difficult it is to escape it, to deal with it from one grinding day to the next – parents become detached, children become aimless, and brain rot sets in or rather continues from one generation to the next. Throwing abstract professionals and money at the problem will GET US NO WHERE. As evidenced by the lack of progress over the last 12 years.

It is not a lack of "joined up thinking" but rather a lack of understanding and experience of what it is to live in a community burdened with apathy, lack of hope, a feeling of merely floating in a sea of floating decaying sewage/flopsum/nothingness/hopelessness, not engaged in any real way with policy, given into a regime of merely surviving at the bottom of the economic pile.

One other thing, where success does happen, those that gain qualifications and get their first shot at a higher standard of living leave the effected communities – there needs to be some kind of incentives to encourage those that break out to stay in their community, their success will have far less impact on their home community if they up and leave – obviously this means an element of ‘gentrification’ BUT FROM WITHIN the community.

What evidence? Me going to university had a HUGE impact on my siblings, even one that had given up and left school without a single O level, even he went onto Cardiff University where he got a joint law/sociology degree and a shot at becoming a lawyer – three out of us four children ended up with six degrees and professional training qualifications, this from a family where the father could not write a letter, had a stutter for much of his early married life, a father often off sick but not with an industrial disease, where both parents left school early without qualifications, where the local lads sniffed glue and aerosol cans, and where our next door neighbor’s kid killed a man in a frenzied pointless knife attack (probably high on aerosol or glue).

As an aside, I noticed that Chicago insists that every employee lives within the city boundary as a condition of employment.
PS I meant Chicago public employees (i.e., employees of the city municipality) are required to live within the city boundary limit - e.g., city cops, city lawyers, city librarians, public/city museum staff, teachers, Chicago's City Colleges lecturers, etc.

Essentially, what I am saying is, the WAG should not throw money in the wrong way at such complex problems found in Wales's poorest communities. WAG needs to apply resources in a sensibe way. My gut feeling tells me: fat chance of that, but at least as a Welshman who lived on some of the worst council estates I took the time to give a few pointers.
I'm sure that there must be some examples of "good practice" from the 140 odd Community Firsts areas that there are in Wales; that can be replicated.

G. Lewis
Bridgend Lib Dems
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