Child Poverty

3. Topical Questions – in the Senedd at on 13 July 2022.

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Photo of Luke Fletcher Luke Fletcher Plaid Cymru

(Translated)

1. Will the Minister make a statement on reports that child poverty rose in Wales during the pandemic despite falling across the rest of the UK nations? TQ657

Photo of Jane Hutt Jane Hutt Labour 3:09, 13 July 2022

I thank Luke Fletcher for that question. The key levers for tackling child poverty—powers over the tax and welfare system—sit with the UK Government, but we will continue to do all we can with the powers we have to tackle inequalities and improve outcomes for all children in Wales so that they can fulfil their potential. 

Photo of Luke Fletcher Luke Fletcher Plaid Cymru 3:10, 13 July 2022

(Translated)

Thank you for that response, Minister

Photo of Luke Fletcher Luke Fletcher Plaid Cymru

The reality is that child poverty has remained alarmingly high over the past decade. Whilst my colleague Liz Saville Roberts raised with the Prime Minister in Prime Minister's questions today that he should scrap the two-child limit and reinstate the £20 uplift for all families entitled to welfare—by the way, I have to say, it was another poor response from him on this issue—I am keen to learn what Welsh Government can do.

Now, we'll be having a debate later on today on the Welsh Government's spending priorities. I'll be making the case again for expanding the education maintenance allowance. I do accept that there will be conflicting priorities in the Welsh Government's budget, but surely tackling child poverty should be one of the main priorities within the Welsh Government's budget. I would hope that the Welsh Government would reflect this, not just by introducing further support but also agreeing to set child poverty targets so that we can better measure Welsh Government's successes or failures within this field. And on this point as well, the Bevan Foundation is right to say that the fact that poverty targets have not worked in the past is not a reason to dismiss the potential benefits of setting new ones. 

Photo of Jane Hutt Jane Hutt Labour 3:11, 13 July 2022

Well, thank you very much for those important supplementary questions. I did see that the End Child Poverty alliance made some very clear calls on the UK Government that benefit payments should permanently keep pace with inflation—3.1 per cent, the uplift in April—and also that the two-child limit on child benefit, and, indeed, the benefit cap, should be abolished. And I've called for that. In fact, when I first met with the children's commissoner—the previous children's commissioner—those were the calls, and, indeed, from the Bevan Foundation. But I will say that we're continuing to target support at families with children. Our programme for government commits us to continuing support for our flagship Flying Start programme of early intervention; extending the pupil development grant access, a scheme worth up to £200 per child to support more families with the school uniforms, school kit; and we're so pleased that, as part of the co-operation agreement we've given that commitment to roll out free school meals to all primary school children. I could go on, but I will say that what's important is that we've given a commitment to publish a refreshed child poverty strategy, and committed to working with stakeholders over the summer so that we can publish it this year.  

Photo of Laura Anne Jones Laura Anne Jones Conservative 3:12, 13 July 2022

Minister, I'm not interested in a blame game today. What I want to hear today and what my struggling constituents want to hear today is what this Labour Government are going to do about the fact that 36.3 per cent of children in the city of Newport in my region are living in poverty, according to the recent data just released from child poverty charity End Child Poverty. This makes Newport the most impoverished local authority in Wales. Sadly, the picture isn't too much better across Wales, with 34 per cent of children in Wales living in poverty, as was outlined by Luke Fletcher, which makes Wales the worst in the UK—up from 31 per cent before the COVID-19 pandemic. Everyone has a role to play to get these children out of poverty—this Government, the UK Government and the Labour-run Newport City Council. We all have a responsibility to ensure these children do not get left behind and suffer unnecessarily. I don't want to to and fro today about whose fault is what, and I appreciate your commitment, Minister, but more urgent action needs to be taken, and I want to hear from you today what exactly you are going to do, more than you're already doing, to ensure that we reverse this worrying trend that we're seeing in Newport. Thank you.

Photo of Jane Hutt Jane Hutt Labour 3:13, 13 July 2022

Well, I do have to ask Laura Anne Jones: are you going to join us, are you going to join me, are you going to join those opposition MPs in Westminster today, raising the issues that were raised by the End Child Poverty alliance, and raised, actually, with us on Monday at the cost-of-living summit, which was joined by—[Interruption.] Can I please answer the question, Deputy Presiding Officer?

Photo of David Rees David Rees Labour 3:14, 13 July 2022

It is important that Members on all benches allow people to either ask the question or answer the question. 

Photo of Jane Hutt Jane Hutt Labour

So, can I just say again: will you call on the UK Conservative Government to make sure that benefit payments—which has been called for—permanently keep pace with inflation and also that the two-child limit on child benefit and the benefit cap is abolished? And of course we will play our part. I've already outlined ways in which we are playing our part in terms of our responsibilities, and I'm going to add to that. To respond to your question, Laura Anne Jones, we're also going to extend the childcare offer to parents of two-year-olds and those in training or education, and since November we've provided more than £380 million in additional funding to support households affected by the cost-of-living crisis. It's good to give the figures again today: 166,000 households benefited from that £200 payment under our first winter fuel support scheme; 83 per cent of eligible households in Wales have already received their cost-of-living payment of £150; and in January this year, claims to the discretionary assistance fund reached £3 million for the first time. We continue with those payments and the flexibilities in the discretionary assistance payment.

But I'm also pleased—and it will help your constituents—that we have now funded the Fuel Bank Foundation to distribute approximately 49,000 vouchers—in the summer months needed for cooking, in the winter for heating and cooking—to pre-payment households, the poorest households across Wales at risk of disconnection. So, we play our part, but you might join us in calling for that action from the UK Government.

Photo of Mike Hedges Mike Hedges Labour 3:16, 13 July 2022

In one of the richest countries in the world, no child should go hungry. No child should live in a house that is in poverty. Unfortunately, very many do. The expansion of free school meals—which I've asked for over several years, and was then taken up by Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Government—is a very positive step, but I have mothers in my constituency who dread the school summer holidays because they have to provide 10 extra meals a week per child. Will the Welsh Government continue its free lunch initiative over all of the school holidays, including this year's summer holidays? And will free breakfasts be available to all schoolchildren during the summer holidays and other holidays? This would make a huge difference to dealing with poverty in my constituency.

Photo of Jane Hutt Jane Hutt Labour

Thank you very much, Mike Hedges, and I do remember coming to visit your Faith in Families project, an important project, in Swansea East and seeing what they were doing as a charity supporting the local community, very much engaged in tackling food poverty during the school holidays, as well as during the term. And I was pleased on Monday at the cost-of-living crisis summit, which I chaired with the Minister for Finance and Local Government and the Minister for Climate Change, to announce an extra £3 million of Welsh Government funding to support the development of cross-sector food partnerships, and strengthen existing food partnerships. That is actually for local food networks' co-ordination on the ground, building resilience, working with Public Health Wales, local authorities, Welsh housing associations and advice services to understand and address local needs. I'm sure that this will also include looking at those issues you've raised this afternoon.