International Attempts to Tackle Poverty – What are the Lessons for Welsh Policy Makers?

The Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty asked the PPIW to explore the lessons which could be learnt from Tackling Poverty Strategies from both the UK and abroad. Through our research we found a recent report exploring this area, produced for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. 

We therefore commissioned one of the authors; Tom MacInnes of the New Policy Institute, to briefly summarise the work and to brief the Minister on his recommendations.  Below, Tom summarise his advice to the Minister.  

Last year, New Policy Institute and the Poverty Alliance produced a report for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, looking at different experiences of producing anti-poverty strategies both domestically and internationally. We recently had the opportunity to discuss the findings with Lesley Griffiths AM, Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty in preparation for the publication of the Welsh Governments revised child poverty strategy.

The research work focused, in the main, on strategies produced by EU member states as part of the National Action Plan (NAP) process which emerged from the Lisbon Treaty in the 2000s. We reviewed strategies from a dozen member states – both their original versions and the various updates that followed over the decade.

The most obvious point to make about the strategies is that there were more people in the EU in poverty in 2010 than in 2000, before the strategies were written. It would, though, be a mistake to see all of them, and by implication the idea of an anti-poverty strategy, as a failure.  Certainly, though, some strategies were better than others.

The more successful ones, ether in terms of limiting the growth of poverty or in terms of establishing lasting frameworks for poverty reduction, shared certain similarities. Political commitment was paramount – there had to be high level leadership to give the strategy impetus. The individual commitments of the Prime Minister and Chancellor to tackling child poverty in the UK are a good example of this.

To make this work, though, there had to be political coordination and accountability  – poverty is multi-dimensional, and needs the involvement of different departments of state as well as different geographical areas  to be properly tackled. The most effective examples of strategies combined this commitment and coordination to build institutions within government to drive forward anti-poverty strategy – Ireland’s Challenge Poverty Agency is a good example of this.

If there was one common gap, particularly in the earlier strategies, it was around in-work poverty. In-work poverty rose in both number and importance in the late 2000s across Europe, and the strategies written earlier did little to address it. For instance, few strategies sought to coordinate with broader economic strategies – the assumption was that economic growth would provide jobs and these jobs would reduce poverty. Little thought was given to, for instance, the quality or even location of these new jobs.

Given the current nature of the job market in the UK as a whole and Wales specifically, with wages only recently rising more quickly than prices, it seems unlikely that policy makers would make this kind of omission again. But this could have been avoided anyway. How? By asking the views of people with direct experience of living in poverty.  By talking to people who had moved from unemployment to low paid work and possibly even back again, policy makers would have gained a better understanding of the fluid nature of poverty.

A good strategy needs commitment from leaders and participation from the people it is designed to affect. As the Welsh Government works on tackling poverty moving forward, it should remember both of these important points.

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