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Ministers ‘dodging accountability’ in new child poverty strategy, Senedd hears

WELSH ministers are dodging accountability by refusing to include concrete targets and milestones in the new child poverty strategy, the Senedd heard.

MSs quizzed Jane Hutt as the social justice minister gave a statement about this week’s publication of the Welsh Government’s child poverty strategy.

Ms Hutt described the strategy as a cross-cutting, whole-of-government policy document that sets out priorities for meaningful action to tackle child poverty.

“Ending child poverty must be an absolute priority for governments at all levels,” she said.

The minister announced that the Welsh Government will be producing a monitoring and impact framework, which will be reviewed by Rod Hick, from Cardiff University.

Mark Isherwood pointed out that 28% of children were living in relative income poverty in 2022, arguing little progress has been made in reducing child poverty in the past decade.

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The Conservative shadow minister said the strategy does not include measurable targets, instead using generic national milestones from the Future Generations Act.

Mr Isherwood highlighted calls from Barnardo’s Cymru and the children’s commissioner to ensure progress against the strategy can be transparently and regularly monitored.

He said: “It is the case, is it not, that the Welsh Government has a number of levers to tackle child poverty under its control, so why hasn’t it established real targets and milestones within the strategy, or is this just another case of Welsh Government dodging accountability?”

Highlighting Monday’s launch of a Welsh benefits charter, Ms Hutt raised the importance of maximising people’s incomes to addressing child poverty.

She said a compassionate, person-centred and streamlined benefits system is at the heart of the charter, which all 22 councils have signed up to.

She said: “We saw, in 10 years of Labour government, child poverty going down because of the ways in which we used tax and benefits.

“In thirteen years of austerity, it’s gone up.”

Sioned Williams, for Plaid Cymru, welcomed publication of a new child poverty strategy “at last” after years of pleading with the Welsh Government.

But she also raised concerns about Welsh ministers’ aversion to setting targets, describing a previous progress report as a “cut-and-paste job” which listed actions, not outcomes.

She said: “The Welsh Government is committed to tackling child poverty as an absolute priority, but the strategy doesn’t actually evidence that….

“I have no doubt, minister, that you want to see child poverty eradicated, as do we all here, but we need a clearer road map and signposts to know that we are nearing that goal.”

Jane Dodds, the Welsh Lib Dem leader, told the meeting on Tuesday January 23: “My plea to you is: if the things that you say are going to work, we have to do it urgently.

“And if you say they are going to work, then my question is: why not have targets?”

Ms Hutt said targets risk being overly simplistic, detracting from good government and the evidence of lived-experience poverty.

She said Prof Hick is a globally recognised expert on measuring poverty.

She added that a targets-based approach would not take into account all those who have responsibility for addressing child poverty, principally the UK Government.

Jayne Bryant, who chair’s the children’s committee, focused on care-experienced children as well as disabled children and young people who are more likely to be affected by poverty.

Jenny Rathbone welcomed the new strategy’s focus on children’s rights.

The Labour backbencher, who represents Cardiff Central, called for monitoring of the new benefits charter to show councils’ progress on increasing the uptake of eligible benefits.

Plaid Cymru’s Mabon ap Gwynfor called for an increase in the housing support grant in the Welsh Government’s 2024-25 draft budget.

The Dwyfor Meirionnydd MS said: “A third of the people in temporary accommodation currently are children, and they don’t get the same chances in life because of that.

“So, if we’re serious about tackling child poverty, we absolutely need to tackle housing.

Ms Hutt reiterated that the Welsh Government’s budget is worth £1.3bn less in real-terms than when it was set in the 2021 UK spending review.

Labour backbencher John Griffiths highlighted that the equality committee he chaired during the previous Senedd term recommended devolving the administration of benefits to Wales.

Ms Hutt said developing a coherent, streamlined Welsh benefits system is central to delivering the child poverty strategy.

She pointed out that the UK Government has rejected calls to assess the merits of devolving the administration of the same benefits to Wales as have been devolved to Scotland.

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