Jeff Cuthbert, Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty and Vaughan Gething Deputy Minister for Tackling Poverty
Members may wish to be aware that today we are jointly launching the Tackling Poverty Action Plan 2013, which builds upon the activity we announced last year.
Since then we have seen a gathering storm that threatens the most vulnerable communities in Wales. People are facing difficult times, with a flat lining economy, a shake-up of welfare, cuts to public spending and rising living costs. These factors mean many in Wales will find it difficult to make ends meet. We are likely to see growing strain on our health, social and housing services at a time when they are already under pressure.
You are aware the Welsh Government does not have control of either the benefit system or the key economic levers. If we did, we would be using them very differently. As a result of the UK Government’s austerity measures, the Welsh Government will be losing £3 billion from its budget over the next two years. So there is a limit to what we can do to make life better for those people in Wales who will feel the impact of all these changes.
Despite this bleak backdrop, we remain deeply committed to tackling poverty and the current climate makes it more important than ever that we continue to drive forward this agenda by prioritising the needs of the poorest and protecting those most at risk of poverty and exclusion.
Our brief is to tackle poverty through everything that we do as a Welsh Government. Collectively we are determined to leave no stone unturned in finding ways of preventing and reducing poverty in Wales. This plan signals that, right across Government, we will use our resources to help those most in need and seek to prevent future generations experiencing poverty. This is why Communities First has been re-focussed as a community focused tackling poverty programme. It enables us to reach into the communities most affected by poverty, and join up what we do across Government to help the people living there.
Given the seriousness of the challenges we face, we have adopted a new approach with this plan. We will do more to help improve the educational attainment of children from low income families; we will help more people into jobs, especially in households where no-one has a paid job; we will reduce the number of young people who are not earning or learning in Wales; and we will work to ensure that all people, regardless of how poor they are or how deprived the area they live in, have equal and fair access to essential services. We believe that if we can make progress in these four key areas, then we will be having a transformative impact on the lives of tens of thousands of people in Wales.
Helping people into work is crucial to helping people out of poverty. We will focus our efforts where we can make the biggest difference and this includes a new target to create 5,000 training and employment opportunities for households where there is no adult in work, starting with at least six of our Communities First areas. We want to do this because unemployment can have an impact on so many aspects of life.
Broadly our approach can be described in three strands: preventing poverty, helping people into work, and mitigating the impact of poverty.
To be clear about the scale of our ambitions we have put numbers on them. We have identified what steps we are taking so that we can be held to account, and we have set out the ways in which we will measure the progress being achieved – even if we are working against the odds.
The Welsh Government understands the importance of focussing on both working to get people out of poverty and at the same time mitigating the everyday impact poverty has on people and communities. This plan sets out the things that we are doing in Wales to make a difference. Some of these things will have a direct impact and some will help in less direct but equally important ways.
We are committed to making progress by working across government and with the wider public, private and third sectors. We know we will have to make some tough choices and we will be guided by evidence of what is likely to have the most positive impact for people in Wales, both now and in the future. The implementation of the Plan will be kept under review. We will make changes in the light of experience.
As a Government we are not claiming this plan provides all the answers. However, we are doing more than any other government in the UK and it demonstrates our commitment to tackle poverty head-on and make the lives of the most deprived in Wales better.