Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Poor Policies on Poverty

The impact of government policy in reducing poverty in Wales in the past 12 years has been “at best marginal”, a leading anti-poverty adviser has claimed.

In an essay entitled Still Living on the Edge? published in the University of Wales Press academic series Contemporary Wales, Prof Dave Adamson, who helped shape the Welsh Assembly Government’s Communities First initiative, claims:

  1. There has been little change in poverty levels in many communities since 1996;
  2. Many adults in deprived areas expect to be limited by illness and this illness is not always due to industrial disease;
  3. Educational failure is the foundation of poverty in Wales, and;
  4. It was difficult to see any specific impact from WAG policies on poverty.
Prof Adamson, of the University of Glamorgan, has also cast doubts on whether the Communities First programme – which has spent millions on seeking to regenerate Wales’ poorest communities – could achieve its stated aims.

In an update to his groundbreaking 1996 essay Living on the Edge, Prof Adamson says:
Specific localities still bear the hallmarks of deep poverty, and the impact of government policy is at best marginal. For the residents of those communities there has been little change since 1996 and they can be seen very clearly to be still ‘living on the edge’.

In reference to statistics which suggest that 25% of the population in Wales at any one time will have failed to achieve five GSCEs, and will continue to fail to benefit from adult educational opportunities, Prof Adamson says:
This educational failure is the foundation of poverty in Wales and relegates a significant proportion of the population to labour market failure and consequent patterns of low income, unemployment and benefit dependency.

The geographical concentration of this population in the most disadvantaged localities in Wales presents an almost insurmountable barrier to the regeneration of our poorest communities.

On the disproportionate health problems of certain Welsh communities, Prof Adamson says:
Contrary to stereotypical expectations, these statistics are not solely the result of injury and industrial disease inherited from coal mining, steel production and heavy manufacturing. Limiting long-term illness is evident in all age groups at higher rates than elsewhere in the UK. Communities First areas I have had first hand experience of include Maerdy (62.2% with long term limiting illness), Penygraig (57.5%), Penywaun (60.8%) and Treherbert (57.9%).

Health aspiration is extremely low and local populations expect adulthood to include illness as a feature of life. Many young people carry caring responsibilities from an early age, with devastating impact on their educational achievement and their own health expectations.

To sit in a public event in such communities is to observe community members in their 30s and 40s with severe mobility problems, respiratory difficulties, obesity, visible dental damage and no expectation that things could be different. The overall impact on the quality of life is immeasurable.

In his analysis of anti-poverty initiatives undertaken by the Assembly Government, Prof Adamson states:
Despite considerable rhetoric to the contrary, Government in Wales has not yet created a more unified and ‘joined up’ approach to poverty which recognises the articulation of education, health and housing within the overall dynamic of poverty.

Responding to UK and Assembly Government aims to halve child poverty by 2010 and eradicate it by 2020, Prof Adamson writes:
Clearly any assessment of progress toward that objective is premature and the 2010 review will be a critical verdict on WAG’s progress towards the 2020 target. It is difficult yet to see any specific impact from WAG derived policies.

On the impact of Communities First, Prof Adamson refers to criticisms made by the Wales Audit Office, which concluded that regeneration policy was over-complicated and had poor strategic links with other policy and funding streams, including Objective One.
Currently, it is clear that whilst many communities have responded with remarkable speed and confidence, this has neither been matched by Assembly Government funding or mainstream programme bending to assist them achieve regeneration of their communities.

A Welsh Assembly Government spokesman said last night that there were no quick fixes to a poverty legacy that stretched back decades:

We are making good progress in tackling poverty and disadvantage across Wales. Child poverty in Wales has declined from 35% to 29% since 1998-99, a steeper decline than the UK average.

However it remains unacceptable that more than a quarter of our children remain in poverty in the 21st century. We acknowledge that education has a tremendous potential to tackle poverty. It is for this reason WAG is implementing innovative programmes like Flying Start and the Foundation Phase in Wales. Communities First Partnerships across Wales are at the heart of regeneration projects in their communities. However they must not be seen as part of an isolated regeneration programme. They complement the considerable work that is going on elsewhere.

We accept that the rate of progress has varied between Communities First areas. This is not surprising as different communities have differing levels of disadvantage and have had varying levels of support over the years to address it.

3 comments:

Anonymous 20 August 2008 at 12:02  

Professor Dave Adamson makes many excellent and valid points. Until one has lived on such council estates one can not truly know what it means to be living in such chronically dreadful, stressful, hopeless, and essentially meaningless chronic mess that be-devils such communities.

It is not a lack of "joined up thinking" but rather a lack of understanding and experience of what it is to live in a community burdened with apathy, lack of hope, a feeling of merely floating in a sea of floating decaying sewage/flopsum/nothingness/hopelessness, not engaged in any real way with policy, given into a regime of merely surviving at the bottom of the economic pile.

My family lived on such estates (in Wales and later one in London when my father moved us through a council house exchange from Wales to a huge council estate in Abbey Wood, South East London) and finally back to Wales through another council house exchange to Llansbury Park, Caerphilly. But I have also seen the same (but only as an observer passing through) in areas of Chicago, East St. Louis, south east Washington DC.

Such dreadful situations have been turned around BUT this has come from initiatives that have involved mothers in the effected communities. Meaning: if the effected community is not engaged/on board/involved, throwing money at the problem will have very little, if any, impact on solving the underlying problems of grinding poverty and general feeling of hopelessness. Put another way, using 'professional' to solve a problem that they don't relate to will have benefits limited to employing said professionals.

Why not engage the effective communities with professionals that have come out of those communities? Until you have lived it, you don't know how really difficult it is to escape it, to deal with it from one grinding day to the next – parents become detached, children become aimless, and brain rot sets in or rather continues from one generation to the next. Throwing abstract professionals and money at the problem will GET US NO WHERE. As evidenced by the lack of progress over the last 12 years.

One other thing, where success does happen, those that gain qualifications and get their first shot at a higher standard of living leave the effected communities – there needs to be some kind of incentives to encourage those that break out to stay in their community, their success will have far less impact on their home community if they up and leave – obviously this means an element of ‘gentrification’ BUT FROM WITHIN the community.

What evidence? Me going to university had a HUGE impact on my siblings, even one that had given up and left school without a single O level decided he could pass O levels and then A levels and got several offers to read law but went onto Cardiff University where he got a joint law/sociology degree and a shot at becoming a lawyer – three out of us four children ended up with six degrees and at least two professional training qualifications, this from a family where the father could not write a letter, had a stutter for much of his early married life, a father often off sick but not with an industrial disease, where both parents left school early without qualifications, where the local lads sniffed glue and aerosol cans, and where our next door neighbor’s kid on Lansbury Park killed a man in a frenzied pointless knife attack (probably high on aerosol or glue).

Essentially, what I am saying is, the WAG should not throw money in the wrong way at such complex problems found in Wales's poorest communities. WAG needs to apply resources in a sensibe way. My gut feeling tells me: fat chance of that, but at least as a Welshman who lived on some of the worst council estates I took the time to give a few pointers.

Jolly Roger 21 August 2008 at 02:37  

Well blow me down and bugger me.
Is this common sense before me I see,
From a poster who likes to remain unnamed,
Step right up. You won't be flamed.
You've clearly lived a full life of knowledge,
And received the benefits of going to college.
To my mind, from your words that I've read,
You certainly seem to have some street-cred.

Without the wish of appearing too sinister.
How do you fancy being First Minister?
You're certainly no worse than the current incumbent.
And, pretty soon, he's going redundant.
You've spoken more sense in your current posting,
(Thanks be to Wagstaff for so graciously hosting)
Think over my plea from one of the Punters.
You can't be any worse than the WAG's bunch of munters.

Miss Wagstaff 21 August 2008 at 08:30  

Thanks for your comments and passion - much appreciated on this blog.

Jolly Roger - you're giving 'Riddler Wales' a run for his/her money.

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