Britain is a country deeply divided by poverty according to the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission. And Wales? Well, it certainly isn’t in the rich part of that divide.
According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation “the face of poverty is changing. More than half of people experiencing poverty now live in working households. Public policy has yet to catch up with this shift.” Half of those are families with children.
Indeed Wales has the second highest relative child poverty rate of any region of the UK. 22 per cent of children in poverty compared to 18 per cent in the UK as a whole.
Unfortunately in many parts of Wales there is a wide gap. Take two local councils lying next door to each other – Monmouthshire and Blaenau Gwent. In these two areas child poverty varies from 12.5 per cent in Monmouthshire to 29.4 per cent in Blaenau Gwent.
OK the Welsh government has recognised the problem and had developed a distinctive early years focus on children. It has Flying Start, a programme for children aged three and under whom live in deprived areas and also the Foundation Phase for three- to seven-year-olds.
All three-and four-year-olds in Wales are entitled to ten hours per week of free early education and two-year-olds who live in Flying Start areas are also entitled to 12.5 hours per week free early education.
The Families First programme promotes joint working by agencies in local authorities to prevent and intervene early with at-risk families, especially those in poverty.
The past year has seen the expansion of Flying Start, with numbers up by one-third to 31,000, keeping the Government roughly on course for its plans to reach a quarter of all four-year-olds by 2016.
In this area the Welsh Government have indeed made some modest progress in narrowing the development gap at age seven between children eligible for free school meals and other children.
But a great deal more needs to be done and not just at the early stages as a newly published report for the Children’s society shows.
Despite the UK having universal free education, children from poor families are seriously disadvantaged according to the Children’s Society.
Parents have to provide an average of £800 per child on additional school costs. These include uniforms, outside study trips and other materials.
The fact is that many of Wales’s working families don’t earn enough to pay for these ‘extras.’ Consequently the children suffer serious disadvantage to their education.
None of these problems will be solved until real incomes rise. Its not about the minimum wage it should be about ensuring that families have a living wage so that their children thrive and grow.
Children should enjoy their school days. They shouldn’t be made to feel inferior and excluded from the benefits that the school offers kids from better off families.