Powys County Council Tackling Poverty Workshop SUMMARY OF FINDINGS

Based on the first Powys County Council Tackling Poverty Workshop, and additional desk based research, this page summarises the current situation with regards to poverty in Powys. The full, detailed report can be requested from greg.thomas2@powys.gov.uk.

Definition of Poverty in Powys

Poverty in Powys is characterised by a lack of resources and opportunities, exacerbated by rurality, isolation, and demographics, leading to a long term state of not having sufficient means to participate in activities that are taken for granted by others in society.
Maureen Howell (Deputy Director, Equality and Prosperity Division, Welsh Government) speaking at the workshop.

Financial Poverty

£520 is THE average gross weekly earnings in Powys (statsWales, 2017)

One of the biggest drivers of financial poverty in Powys is in work poverty, rather than unemployment. There is a growing bank of evidence showing how fragile life is for those in low paid work, and particularly those on zero hours contracts.

Powys is seeing a combination of rising costs and falling (real) wages, which has pushed many to the point that a shock can push them into debt, and this increasingly leads to the heat or eat dilemma. This is something that is likely to be compounded in 2017 with KPMG estimating that retail prices will rise by 5%. As a result, Powys is seeing increasing numbers of people using food banks.

Many of the policy levers that are in place in order to try to tackle financial poverty are not in the hands of the Local Authority, but rather the Welsh and UK level Governments. The only long term solution to financial poverty is to develop sustainable economic growth, with a viable job market, making Powys an attractive place to live and work.

Councillor Joy Jones (Anti-Poverty Champion, Powys County Council) opening the workshop.

Fuel Poverty

16% of households in Powys are thought to be in fuel poverty (decc, 2013)

The price of energy, the level of household income, the physical quality, and energy efficiency characteristics of a dwelling are the main drivers of fuel poverty in Powys. Fuel poverty has been exacerbated by rising domestic energy prices. Domestic electricity prices have increased by 80% and gas prices doubled between 2004 and 2016.

The impact of fuel poverty is so acute, that premature mortality related to cold homes is a bigger killer than smoking, lack of exercise, and alcohol abuse (Association for the Conservation of Energy, 2015). It is the most vulnerable in society who are at risk at damage from fuel poverty, it has a direct link to poor health and mortality, particularly in the elderly and frail. Children living in damp, and mouldy homes are particularly at risk, and are almost three times as likely to suffer from coughing, wheezing and respiratory illness (Marmot Review Team, 2011). Evidence also exists suggesting that infants living in cold conditions have a 30% greater risk of admission to hospital or primary care facilities (Child Health Impact Working Group, 2006). This in turn impacts upon educational attainment, either through increased absence through illness, or through children being unable to find a quiet warm place to study in the home

Approximately 53% (31,000) properties in Powys are not connected to the mains gas network. This is the second highest of all Welsh counties (behind Ceredigion). These non-gas households rely on more expensive fuels, such as electricity and oil to heat their homes, and often live in harder-to-treat, energy inefficient properties, with no central heating and solid walls.

Some views from the day...

Health Poverty

19.4% of patients in powys have to travel over 15 minutes to access a gp (mid wales healthcare study, 2014)

In Powys 19.4% of patients have to travel over 15 minutes to access a GP, and this problem is far more acute in the north of the county (22.6% of patients) than in the south (11.9%) (Mid Wales Healthcare Study, 2014).

This means that there are 26,330 registered patients in Powys that would have to travel more than 30 minutes to attend a GP appointment and to return home, this is without consideration of waiting time and actually seeing the GP. These figures again assume that a car is readily available. Should the patient not have the time or the ability to attend an appointment, there is a potential that they will not seek help, and therefore any potential benefits of early intervention will not be met.

Due to there being an absence of District General Hospitals in Powys, access to these services is financially, emotionally and physically costly. So much so, that some people are very reluctant to use hospital services, something known as distance decay (Shergold and Parkhurst, 2012). These traveling figures, and the fact that people tend to delay seeking help has led to those who live in rural areas experiencing poorer outcomes than their urban counterparts for conditions such as diabetes and asthma (Kenyon et al., 2003), and it is known that the longer the distance to a GP the poorer the prognosis and survival rates for certain cancers (Rural Health Implementation Group, 2011). If reliant on public transport, attending a 9am appointment at a District General Hospital is almost impossible. There is also a lack of preventative services, sexual health services, and for those suffering from mental health issues, leading to further exclusion.

Discussions at the workshop...

Digital Poverty

27% of households in powys do not have internet access (National survey for wales, 2015)

Technology is key to people living a fulfilled life, whether it is helping people find work, and to progress in that job, offering improved learning opportunities, or being able to purchase cheaper online goods and services. Furthermore digital inclusion can also reduce feelings of isolation, by helping individuals keep in contact with friends and family. Increasingly more and more services are being moved online, with many organisations following a digital by default agenda, meaning more people are at risk of exclusion.

However this access is not equal, particularly in Powys, where according to the National Survey of Wales 27% of households do not have access to the internet (although it is unknown if this is through choice or unavailability). With average speeds varying between 0.1 and 8.5 Mbit/sec across the county, compared to 29.8 Mbit/sec across the UK (OFCOM, 2016). Ensuring that everyone has access to the internet and other digital technologies remains one of modern day society’s greatest challenges.

The biggest issue facing those who are digitally excluded at in Powys at the present time is the digital by default agenda, as part of the move towards Universal Credit. This system requires claimants to make and manage all claims online, with all funds being paid directly into a bank account. Given the lack of access to digital technology in some areas of the county, it could potentially become difficult for some people to be able to claim the benefits that they are entitled to. For those that do not have access to the internet at home, the consensus is that they are required to go and to a library (where staff will be on hand to assist) or to find access to the internet from another source. Something which in a rural area like Powys can be a big challenge.

Media coverage of the workshop...

Child Poverty

21.47% of children in powys are considered to be in poverty (End Child poverty coalition, 2016)

Child poverty is the most influential determinant of the health and wellbeing of future generations, children growing up in poverty may be at increased risk of poor health, crime, and behavioural problems. All of which can be influenced by effective early intervention.

Low income tends to be correlated with early childhood educational under attainment, and therefore it can have a subsequent impact on future earnings. Low income has a particularly adverse effect on children and young people’s prospects, which can lead to intergenerational poverty if sustained over a long periods of time.

Impacting on older children and young adults is the so called poverty of aspiration, which results in poor educational and employment outcomes, there is a clear link between attitudes and outcomes. Those on low incomes who are wise to these conditions may be understandably and realistically pessimistic. Working to reduce internal constraints on aspiration, which can arise from pessimism and from the stigma of poverty, can be very effective. Policy must focus on addressing external, structural barriers early on. Supporting low-income families to develop cultural resources, have quality time together, avoid risk and feel enthused about the future, enables natural aspirations to flourish.

"What does poverty mean?" paper planes.

Moving Forward...

At the Powys County Council Tackling Poverty Workshop there was a recognition from those attending the event that one of the most valuable aspects of the day was the networking opportunities that it provided. With many attendees being shocked at the number of services available in Powys. It is now important to keep this conversation going, and to ensure that the current provision for tackling poverty is well supported, and publicised.

There is also a realisation that Powys County Council do not have the policy levers or budget to effectively reduce poverty. There was an agreement that the main role of Powys County Council should, at this stage be to facilitate networks, and to support third sector partners in their activities to reduce poverty.

It will be vital that the activities of Powys County Council do not contribute to poverty and deprivation in the county, and that poverty is considered when looking to inform spending, budgeting and reorganisation decisions.

Attendees at the event felt it is vital to ensure that both the Welsh and UK Governments recognise that as a rural area, Powys has unique needs something that is not currently being recognised and addressed by the Welsh Government. Currently the Welsh Government places an emphasis on the geographical concentration of need, as identified by the Welsh Index of Multiple Deprivation. Due to the sparse nature of the population in Powys, many households and individuals are hidden from this official measurement. There is a need to lobby Welsh Government to take a new approach to tackling poverty, one that is rural proofed.

Attendees at the workshop...

Recommendations

Following the Powys County Council Tackling Poverty Workshop and desk based research, the following (realistic) recommendations are made:

  • Launch a tackling poverty stakeholder group, bringing together the anti-poverty champion, officers, and third sector partners to discuss and develop the tackling poverty agenda, and to facilitate closer working between these different groups.
  • Strengthen the ways in which Powys County Council work with partner organisations and third sector groups to ensure that actions and resources are more targeted, and pooled to help those who are most at risk of poverty.
  • To develop a set of Powys specific indicators to assess the level of poverty throughout the county.
  • An Anti-Poverty Strategy should be developed with a focus on partnership working, in order to develop both financial and digital inclusion. Any strategy should show clear links with the One Powys Plan and the Wellbeing of Future Generations (Wales) Act.
  • Ensure that the impact on poverty is taken into consideration when planning any changes to Powys County Council services.
Created By
Greg Thomas
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