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Swansea Council’s poverty truth commission cited as a good project

A POVERTY truth commission in Swansea ought to be adopted by other councils to help understand what it really feels like to be on the breadline, a report has said.

Swansea’s cabinet approved the creation of a poverty truth commission in 2019 but it was finally launched last month. The idea is to hear directly from people who are struggling to better inform policies to help.

A report by Audit Wales said the scale of the poverty challenge, and weaknesses in the way it was addressed, made it difficult for the Welsh Government and the country’s 22 councils to deliver “the systemic change” needed to alleviate it.

The report said a lot of money was given to councils to tackle the impact of poverty – a figure estimated at more than £1bn in 2021-22 – but the total level of spending, it said, was unknown. This made assessing the impact or value for money of this funding hard to measure.

The report said no authority in Wales had a dedicated poverty budget or could identify the total amount of revenue spending to tackle poverty although council officers who were interviewed said the funding was essential.

Much of the funding was in the form of grants, which often had short timescales and deterred councils from developing longer-term plans to deal with underlying causes.

The report said tackling poverty was a long-standing Welsh Government priority but that levels remained “stubbornly high”.  It said 23% of people in Wales lived in poverty in March 2021 based on the number of householders on less than 60% of the average wage and data from the Department for Work and Pensions. This was a higher proportion than England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.

Audit Wales estimated that 34% of children were living in poverty in March 2021 – again the highest proportion in the UK. The figure for poor pensioners in Wales was 19%.

Audit Wales said poverty wasn’t just about a lack of money. “It is also the consequences of this lack of resources and how this impacts them in ways that those not in poverty often find hard to comprehend,” said the report.

The main characteristics of poverty in Wales, it said, included housing, fuel and energy problems, and emotional issues such as feelings of shame and stigma.

Data suggests that poverty is most acute in urban and valley areas of Wales, with Swansea and Carmarthenshire mid-table, and Monmouthshire and Gwynedd the least deprived.

The report, called Time for Change – Poverty in Wales, made eight recommendations including an actual target to alleviate poverty.

Another recommendation was that councils should designate a cabinet member as poverty champion and a senior officer to lead the agenda. Another was that the Welsh Government should make it easier for councils to apply for grants to tackle poverty.

Swansea Council’s governance and audit committee was told at a meeting on January 11 that the authority had a poverty cabinet member and senior officer, that poverty was a corporate priority, and that a more detailed action plan would be developed.

Cllr Lesley Walton said listening to people in poverty, such as via truth commissions, was key. “They treat everybody who attends as an equal representative whatever your status or reason for being there,” she said.

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