24 Nov

From poverty to sustainable prosperity


Prosperity without poverty: A framework for action in Wales. Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 8th Nov 2016. https://www.jrf.org.uk/report/prosperity-without-poverty

The publication of “Prosperity without poverty: A framework for action in Wales” is a welcome and necessary reminder that Wales doesn’t have to be blighted by widespread, longterm poverty. This Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) research offers practical proposals to re-gear a fight against poverty that seemed to many to have stagnated.

This is, of course, a framework for action, not a readymade roadmap to inclusive prosperity. The Welsh Government must work with other key players – including communities – on the details of a programme. But this well-researched strategic approach offers valuable guidance.

Healing divisions

The societal divisions revealed during the Brexit referendum campaign and in its aftermath should concentrate minds on how to tackle poverty, and make some of the report’s proposals especially relevant.

Its call for the UK Treasury to guarantee continuity of the funding available to Wales under current EU structural fund programmes is a case in point.

Likewise, the emphasis on galvanising local community action. This could play a dual role: providing frontline knowledge and insights, and helping to build bridges and overcome the kind of alienation spotlighted by the Brexit experience.

Crowd-source solutions?

Appointing recognised experts to propose policies for government has its place in the approach to developing an effective strategy. But it’s not enough to spark the necessary creative action. Expertise can be found in many places, not least the communities actually living the effects of poverty.

Is it time to crowd-source solutions to poverty? To tap into community nous? To enrich strategies by bringing together experts and citizens in a new kind of relationship that goes beyond the usual consultations?

The goals of the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act include a more equal and inclusive Wales; its ways of working stress longterm thinking and collaboration. Working in the spirit of the Act and drawing on the JRF framework, the Welsh Government may finally devise an effective anti-poverty strategy – one that doesn’t compromise our planet or leave Welsh communities in the lurch again a few years down the line.

Jobs: sufficient and right

The JRF paper rightly notes that “for many years the main problem in Wales has been insufficient jobs”, and that research shows “that when labour demand picks up strongly, those working too few hours for too little pay have seen both improve”.

As poverty in Wales often means poverty while in work, opportunities to work more hours for suitable pay would ease personal poverty and boost local economies.

However, as the report recognises, growth must be inclusive: economic growth alone will not guarantee enough extra jobs, access to jobs, or terms and conditions sufficient to lift people out of poverty.

Any economic growth should be environmentally and socially sustainable. Boosting growth even with a good spread of jobs is not enough. The challenge is to promote the right mix and spread of jobs, not just more seeming solutions that turn out to be short-term fixes, potentially harmful to the environment and to the people who should benefit.

Practical proposals

The JRF report proposes practical measures for creating “prosperity without poverty”, including:

  • Prioritise inclusive growth in the strategies for city regions
  • Accelerate and broaden the commitment to ‘better jobs, closer to home’
  • Refocus Welsh Government business finance on inclusive growth
  • Incentivise growth in disadvantaged areas in Wales through area-based economic development initiatives.

Area-based initiatives, it suggests, should include consideration of a New Enterprise Zone across the whole of
the valleys area, and ‘growth poles’ at strategic locations in city regions.

These ideas should certainly be considered, but care must be taken to avoid obvious traps, such as too broad-brush an approach with its danger of too little impact; or growth at the cost of environmental harm with inevitable climate and human costs – again.

Green starters … 

We suggest that priority be given to promoting ventures that both respect the environment and improve communities and people’s lives, now and in the long term.

Bearing in mind that greening the economy boosts employment,  here are some options to stimulate discussion:

  • Making energy efficiency a genuine infrastructure priority could create local jobs across the country.
  • Green skills training would be needed, of course; this investment would pay dividends in better work options and a higher skills base, widening the often-elusive route out of poverty.
  • Or what about considering some Green Growth Community Enterprise Parks?
  • Or a One Planet Living centre for the valleys – a southern equivalent of the Centre for Alternative Technology, specialising in post-industrial sustainability.

Ethnic minority poverty

Finally, a word about an aspect of inclusivity that seems to have dropped off the radar. Surprisingly, in light of other recent JRF publications (see below), there was no more than a passing reference in “Prosperity without poverty” to ethnic minority poverty in Wales (“reducing the disability and ethnic minority employment gaps”).

“Breaking the links between poverty and ethnicity in Wales”, written for JRF by Egino and the People & Work Unit, shows how to tackle poverty linked to ethnicity. In other Egino blogs we reported on the perceptions and proposals that emerged from a series of roundtables held earlier this year to consider those proposals.

Ensuring that minorities and disadvantaged groups are not left on the margins needs to be part of the purposeful dialogue that should follow publication of this hugely useful report.

Related publications

We can solve poverty in the UK. Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 6th Sep 2016. https://www.jrf.org.uk/report/we-can-solve-poverty-uk

Breaking the links between poverty and ethnicity in Wales – A JRF Viewpoint. Anna Nicholl, Chris Johnes and Duncan Holtom, 18th Feb 2016. https://www.jrf.org.uk/report/breaking-links-between-poverty-and-ethnicity-wales

Why ethnicity matters for local authority action on poverty. Anna Nicholl and Roshi Naidoo, 14th Oct 2014. https://www.jrf.org.uk/report/why-ethnicity-matters-local-authority-action-poverty

Poverty and ethnicity in Wales. Duncan Holtom, Ian Bottrill and Jack Watkins, 3rd Oct 2013. https://www.jrf.org.uk/report/poverty-and-ethnicity-wales




27 Apr

Improving employment opportunities for ethnic minorities in Wales

Non-white groups in Wales have persistently higher unemployment rates than the White Welsh group, in a context where unemployment in Wales is relatively high compared to other parts of the UK. Why is this the case? What changes could bring about a more level playing field in the labour market?

These were some of the questions debated in a series of roundtables organised by Egino, working with the People & Work Unit, and supported by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, to discuss the JRF Viewpoint Breaking the links between poverty and ethnicity in Wales.

Higher risk groups

Some groups are at particular risk, e.g. Bangladeshi men are over 7 times more likely to be in low-paid jobs than otherwise comparable White men.

Being female is a major risk factor: In Wales, more than 50% of women from ethnic minorities are projected to remain unemployed up to 2020.

Christine O’Byrne, Policy and Research Lead at Chwarae Teg, the Welsh charity which promotes women’s progress in the workplace, stressed that gender is central to tackling poverty: “Women are more likely to be in poverty than men and we know that women face multiple disadvantage, so as a woman you would be disadvantaged in the economy, and as a woman from an ethnic minority group you’d be even more so. A lot of work needs to be done.”

She identified public procurement as a tool for influencing employers and their recruitment practices: “There’s a lot of discrimination that goes on in recruitment and much more positive action could be taken that will help women in general and particularly women from minority ethnic groups to do well in the workplace.”

Low-paid sectors

Dr Rachel Bowen, Policy Manager for the Federation of Small Businesses, drew attention to the tendency for certain ethnic groups to cluster in traditional, often low-paid sectors and occupations. This explains some differences in earnings as well as income for people starting their own businesses: “We need to be sure that people are choosing to start businesses that best suit their skills, their ambitions, rather than going into something that seems appropriate to their particular ethnic background or their gender. We know that, from the research people tend to concentrate in occupations that are traditional to their particular background. We need to challenge that so that everybody can achieve their true potential.”

Practical proposals

Practical solutions were the main focus of discussion throughout the roundtable series. Ideas flowed – ideas like:

  • Working with major employers to open up opportunities, as the Ethnic Youth Support Team is doing in Swansea.
  • Ring-fencing opportunities in publicly funded contracts so that people with the skills can get a better look-in locally.
  • Supporting small businesses willing to offer work placements.
  • Persuading City Regions to incorporate good practice at an early stage of development.

Ali Abdi, Community Partnerships manager for Grangetown Community Gateway, was particularly keen on proposals for working directly with individuals to overcome barriers and to address inequalities in recruitment: “… looking at name-blind and address-blind applications to make employment processes more equal … putting pressure on big employers to have more positive recruitment processes, so they address their BME issues and can have a more diverse workforce.”

Over-arching issues

Big, over-arching issues also generated debate including, of course, racism and discrimination, which continue to be negative factors; there was also concern that racism has become islamophobia.

There was wide agreement that legislation and strategies are not making a sufficient discernible difference. Do policies just need more “teeth”? Or is the answer a Welsh Government action plan to tackle employment barriers?

Action and action planning – this theme emerged again and again whatever topic was under consideration in the roundtables which discussed the analysis and proposals in the JRF Viewpoint Breaking the links between poverty and ethnicity in Wales.

For more about the issues debated in the roundtables see this and our other  podcasts and blogs.

JRF Viewpoint: Breaking the links between poverty and ethnicity in Wales Viewpoint authors: Anna Nicholl, Chris Johnes and Duncan Holtom

Print copies are also available, in English and Welsh, from [email protected]

Blog author: Lila Haines, Egino

Note: This blog represents the author’s views and interpretation, and not the position of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation or any other organisation or individual cited.