Wales needs a dedicated Minister to tackle child poverty

Published 06/11/2023   |   Last Updated 07/11/2023   |   Reading Time minutes

The latest figures show 28% of all children in Wales are living in relative income poverty. That is 8 children in a class of 30.

Today, the Senedd’s Equality and Social Justice Committee calls for a dedicated Minister for Babies, Children and Young People to be appointed to provide a more coherent response to the scourge of child poverty.

The Committee’s report, Calling Time on child poverty: how Wales can do better recommends a root and branch review of the Welsh Government's approach as it finalises its new child poverty strategy.

Jenny Rathbone MS, Chair of the Senedd’s Equality and Social Justice Committee said:

“There are more children and young people living in poverty than any other age group - we need to call time on child poverty.

“Children have no control over their circumstances, the hardship they face is imposed upon them. It is a burning injustice which sits awkwardly with any claim to be a country that promotes fair play.

“The Welsh Government must set itself challenging and realistic targets and appoint a Minister with specific responsibility for the main levers for reducing growing child poverty.

“The excellent work done in other countries demonstrates that childcare and early education are crucial game-changers, so we want the Welsh Government to invest money in seamless and affordable childcare.

“Today, we’re setting out six recommendations for the Welsh Government to reverse child poverty in Wales with the aim of giving every child the best start in life.”

Appointing a dedicated Minister

Under the current Welsh Government arrangements, the Minister for Social Justice has responsibility for tackling child poverty, while the Deputy Minister for Social Services and the Deputy Minister for Mental Health and Wellbeing lead on children’s well-being issues, and the Minister for Education retains responsibility for their educational attainment.

The Welsh Government’s Minister for Social Justice has previously said that “responsibility for children's rights lies with every member of the Cabinet”.

The Committee is calling for one Minister to be accountable for the well-being and happiness of babies, children and young people. This role should incorporate overall responsibility for tackling child poverty and implementing children’s rights with other key areas such as childcare, education and supporting families.

Setting clear targets

Evidence from experts such as the NSPCC and Bevan Foundation and data from other countries has shown that there must be clear targets to focus attention on reducing child poverty.

Today’s report is recommending that the Welsh Government set interim and longer-term targets for reducing child poverty, learning from the approaches taken in other countries such as Scotland, Norway and New Zealand.

The Committee calls on the Welsh Government to overcome its resistance to targets and is recommending that the government should set ambitious but realistic reductions of children in relative, absolute and persistent poverty as well as material deprivation.

Importance of childcare

The Committee heard compelling evidence from professionals working in Norway who stress the importance of childcare and early childhood education.

Professor Mari Rege from the University of Stavanger highlighted her professional experience which had taught her that:

“I, at least, don't know about any more effective tool than early childhood education, to actually bring them in to childcare, where they have nurturing learning experiences that creates a foundation for learning for life, which is very important.”

The UK Government is increasing spending on childcare in England and therefore the Welsh Government will receive additional funding.

The Committee is calling for a commitment from the Welsh Government to use this extra money to fund seamless and affordable childcare and to develop plans for doing this by July 2024.

The Welsh Government will now be required to respond to the Committee’s report.