Social Justice Minister Dr Brian Gibbons has welcomed the Bevan Foundation report ‘Paying the price of being poor’ which was launched at the Senedd.
The research, which is funded by the Welsh Assembly Government’s New Ideas Fund, focuses on the ‘poverty premium’ that means that people from low income backgrounds often have to pay extra for products because they are unable to pay by direct debit, buy in bulk or access mainstream services.
The report considers how the Welsh Assembly Government can help to ensure that low income families are not disadvantaged by having to pay more for services and makes recommendations in three areas: education, financial services and fuel poverty.
Recommendations for education include:
- taking action to ensure that children living in poverty are not disadvantaged by the costs associated with education;
- introducing cashless payment systems for school meals to remove the stigma attached to claiming free school meals and encourage take-up;
- investigating the possibility of universal free school meals; and
- investigating ways to reduce the cost of school uniform.
Financial Inclusion recommendations include:
- mainstreaming financial inclusion so that it is considered at the design stage of service development;
- developing guidance for public service providers on fair debt collection processes;
- improving support for third sector organisations so that they can provide better financial services including more face-to-face support, and community banking facilities; and
- improving the financial service information available to those who support people from low income backgrounds.
Fuel recommendations include:
- providing more information on energy pricing and switching energy suppliers and tightening the regulation of sales activity by energy suppliers;
- introducing new payment methods including ones using the post office network and post office accounts;
- introducing winter fuel payments for low income families with children; and
- managing micro-generation initiatives carefully to ensure they can be taken up by low income households.
Speaking at the event, Dr Gibbons said:
“I welcome this report, and am pleased that the Bevan Foundation agrees with us that the extra costs associated with poverty are wholly unacceptable and cause a vicious circle that is difficult to escape. Tackling poverty in Wales is one of our key objectives and funding this research demonstrates our commitment to addressing this particular aspect of poverty.
“Along with my colleagues, Jane Hutt, and Jane Davidson I will consider the recommendations more closely over the coming days, but I am pleased that the recommendations in the report are closely aligned to initiatives we are already working on.
“For example, earlier this year I launched our Financial Inclusion strategy, which includes actions to bolster financial literacy in schools, improve access to debt advisers, help families maximise their income and promote the development of credit unions across Wales. We have contributed £1.25 million pounds over three years from April 2008 to the development of Credit Unions who are able to offer more affordable loans, as well savings accounts and there is now a credit union in every local authority area in Wales.
“Other examples include grants to help parents with school uniform costs, projects to encourage the take-up of free school meals and the Home Energy Efficiency Scheme which aims to make homes warmer and more energy efficient.
“All this activity is underpinned by the new Children and Families (Wales) Measure which was approved by the Assembly last week and places a duty on specific Welsh public bodies to identify and take action to assist in the goal of eradicating child poverty by 2020.”
‘Paying the price of being poor’ can be found on the Bevan Foundation website.