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.
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.
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.
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.
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