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




26 Apr

Ethnicity and educational barriers in Wales

Poor education and skills are key predictors of poverty. But people from ethnic minority groups are often well qualified, or over-qualified for their jobs – so why are poverty levels linked to ethnicity still high in Wales?

In a roundtable held in Butetown, Cardiff’s most diverse community, national and community organisations and academic experts debated problems within education that reinforce the links between ethnicity and poverty in Wales. The event was part of a series organised by Egino and supported by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation to discuss  the JRF Viewpoint Breaking the links between poverty and ethnicity in Wales.

Educational achievement: a mixed picture

Presenting the Viewpoint’s analysis and proposals Dr Duncan Holtom, one of the authors, noted that educational attainment in school varies across ethnic groups, with some, such as Gypsy and Traveller children, notably underachieving. But there has been progress: the educational attainment of children from the Pakistani and Bangladeshi groups, for example, has now risen to the average in Wales. And educational attainment is not the main cause of higher levels of poverty among ethnic minority groups.

Over-qualified and under-paid

Often, ethnic minority groups and immigrants cannot convert their educational attainment into higher wages as well as the White majority can; and they’re more likely to be over-qualified for their jobs.

One reason is the quality of careers advice, criticised across ethnicities. Other problems relate to parental engagement and the relationship between schools and parents.

There’s a strong association between being entitled to free school meals and educational achievement,but the data isn’t available in a way that allows a clear understanding and targeting for impact.

“A national disgrace!”

Participants echoed these and other Viewpoint findings, sometimes expressing them more graphically!

  • 70% of those in poverty leave school without 5 good GCSEs – “a national disgrace”, said one contributor.
  • Another claimed there is no evidence ethnicity is being taken seriously by the schools inspection system.
  • One described the careers service as “a basket case”.
  • And there was the heartfelt if rhetorical question: “if you can’t see your culture reflected in the system why would you buy into it?”

Role models

A lack of role models was identified as a serious deficit in Welsh schools, even in those with a high proportion of pupils from ethnic minorities.

Participants called for schools to recognise the need for more ethnic minority teachers, and for the Welsh Government to develop an action plan to encourage people from ethnic minorities to become teachers, with appointment targets for schools.

Follow the evidence

Professor David Egan, Director of the Wales Centre for Equity in Education, highlighted three areas where there’s ample evidence that intervention works:

(1) Early years investment;

(2) Early and purposeful intervention as soon as pupils start to fall behind;

(3) Access to the labour market.

Commenting on the roundtable debate Prof Egan said:

“I think what we’ve recognized is two things in particular. One, that there is progress in this area in Wales (but) in terms of the achievement of certain ethnic minority groups, not all. But I think we’ve also realised that there’s much more that we need to know about this area, both in research terms and policy terms.

It’s quite interesting that we feel – we’ve been quite honest with one another – that there’s too much, let’s call it tokenism, about this perhaps in Wales at the moment; that we’re signed up to the issues around equality (…) and we still don’t know enough about this area of education.”

Family + community + schools = success?

Participants agreed about the importance of family engagement in education and, as Prof Egan stressed: “… schools certainly need to pay more attention to these issues, all schools, not just schools in our most ethnic minority intense of areas… And we need almost certainly to get a better representation within our teaching force of ethnic minority achievement groups…”

Welsh Government policies

Prof Egan noted the need for a holistic approach by the Welsh Government across its education policies, ensuring that ethnicity is reflected in all the major education policies that are currently being developed, and in others that might come in future, and “bringing this together within a holistic strategy and action plan”.

The latter point echoed a feeling which arose again and again in the series of roundtables discussing the JRF Viewpoint Breaking the links between poverty and ethnicity in Wales: the importance of bringing together Welsh Government policies within a holistic strategy, with an action plan to break the links between poverty and ethnicity in Wales.

You can hear more in this podcast:

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

Note: This represents the author’s views and interpretations and does not necessarily reflect the position of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation or any other organisation or individual cited.