THE next Welsh Government needs put our youngest children, particularly those in low-income families, at the heart of every decision during the next Senedd says Save the Children in its Manifesto.
Even before the Covid-19 crisis hit, nearly one in three (180,000) children in Wales were growing up in the grip of poverty. The charity believes this figure could rise significantly as a result of the pandemic, increasing the struggles that families face and driving many more into hardship.
Reducing poverty is key to tackling the attainment gap and improving children’s outcomes in the early years, giving all children the best start in life. The impact of child poverty is felt in both a child’s educational and home environment, with the long-term effects on young children a particular concern.
Latest figures reveal that almost a third of children in Wales are living in poverty – the highest percentage of any UK nation. 31% of children in Wales were still living in poverty, compared to 30% in England and 24% in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Answering our questions on whether what the Welsh Government was giving in one hand was being taken away by councils in the other hand by way of rises in council tax and council precepts the First Minister said: “One of the reasons councils need to raise funds is to help them and the things that they do to tackle poverty. All of those services are local authority provided services”
He also said that one of the real priorities of the next term will be to make council tax fairer here in Wales. He said that the fairness of the system is not as the government would like it to be and that he would use all of the research Welsh Government carried out in the last five years to make practical ways for paying for these services fairer.
The charity calls on the next Welsh Government to:
· appoint a Minister for Children and establish a Cabinet Sub-committee on Children to ensure coordination and better scrutiny of children’s issues. Also publish a renewed Child Poverty Strategy with a Delivery Plan.
· support parents to engage in their children’s learning and development at home and work with schools and other early years’ service providers to promote the importance of family support and parental engagement.
· extend the eligibility for free school meals to all children, including over the school holidays, where a parent or guardian is in receipt of Universal Credit or equivalent benefits.
· Ensure that all children living in poverty, regardless of age and parental work status, have access to a high quality coherent and integrated childcare system.
Melanie Simmonds, Head of Save the Children in Wales said: “The early years are a crucial time in a child’s life. Even before the pandemic, there was a significant gap in development between children in poverty and their peers in the early years.
“Over the past year we’ve repeatedly heard from families living on low incomes how they have had to cut back on essentials such as food, heating and clothing for children and are sinking deeper into debt. Many parents also didn’t have the tools, resources and skills to adequately support their child’s learning and development at home which led to a lot of stress and anxiety.
“The role of Welsh Government and local authorities in the next five years will be crucial to make sure we are going in the right direction in reducing child poverty.”
During the pandemic we have seen communities and services pulling together to support those most in need. Save the Children has been working closely with partners on the ground in communities such as Bettws in Newport to deliver emergency grants to help buy basic household items and food vouchers for families most affected by the crisis. Gifts in kind and donor support also meant the charity was able to deliver hygiene packs, family resource packs, and provide digital devices and support to help parents with home learning.
Before lockdown, Stacey Eddolls from Newport was having some success with her cake-making business, selling produce at local fairs and events. But when lockdown was imposed in March last year her business stalled and she has had to claim Universal Credit. Stacey’s partner was also made redundant during lockdown as the company he worked for suddenly closed. Money became tight and they had to budget in terms of paying for food, gas and electricity and running the car.
“We’re being careful in terms of budgeting our money as things are still tight but Universal Credit has helped. I try to make sure we have food in the freezer that I can stretch out and make healthy meals out of. If I buy a chicken I will try and make several meals out of that and I know where to shop and get the best prices for food and fresh produce. It’s a big help that I can be creative with food and with my cooking.
“We have to be careful with how much gas and electricity we use, especially by the end of the month. We sometimes just wear our hoodies and extra layers of clothes but as we live in the top flat it does get windier up here and the cold gets in more.”
The family received a Save the Children Emergency Response Grant to buy a new washing machine when theirs broke earlier this year. They also received an early learning pack and Lego toy set for their young daughter.
“The washing machine was a real lifesaver as I became really stressed about how I’d be able to cope with doing all the washing,” Stacey says, “We couldn’t go to my partner’s parents to do it due to lockdown restrictions and being in the top flat we don’t have a garden to dry the clothes. It was all piling up and it was really stressful so when I got the phone call to say we’d been given the grant it lifted my mood straight away and we’re really grateful.”
A short bilingual film giving a snapshot of life on the Bettws estate over the past year has also been released by the charity. Children and their teachers share on camera how the Covid-19 pandemic affected their lives on the estate, especially when schools shut and consequent local lockdowns meant they had to adapt to home learning again and miss out on seeing their teachers and friends.
View Save the Children in Wales’ Manifesto for the Senedd Elections 2021: https://www.savethechildren.org.uk/what-we-do/uk-work/wales