More than 175 people have attended a Poverty Symposium in Port Talbot’s Princess Royal Theatre to understand more about those living in, or on the brink of poverty – and to look at what can be done about it.
Cllr Doreen Jones, Neath Port Talbot Council’s Cabinet Member for Corporate Services and Equalities opened and chaired the event, in September, which examined how low incomes impact on the health and well-being of our population.
Cllr Jones told the delegates: “As you will have seen from the introductory videos, we live in a beautiful place. But while Neath Port Talbot has an awful lot going for it, today we are here to talk about some of the challenges we face – the most significant issue being the number of people in our area who are living on very low incomes.
“The Symposium is designed to get a collective understanding of the number of people living on low incomes and their situations, how low levels of income contribute to the health and well-being of our population and to look at approaches from elsewhere which may help us make an impact on the current situation.
“Finally we should all agree what opportunities there might be for improvement, in the context of what we know will make the greatest difference to outcomes for those suffering poverty.”
The Symposium heard from a wide range of speakers including Naomi Eisenstadt, Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Oxford and Research Fellow at the International Inequalities Institute at the London School of Economics who set the scene with an overview of poverty throughout the UK and in particular how it affected parents.
She said: “Money matters in its own right, to buy goods and services that promote healthy development, but also because a lack of money is a key factor in parental stress.
“Parents matter more than money. A good home learning environment has a larger impact on child outcomes than socio-economic status. Money is essential, but not sufficient to ensure good outcomes for children.”
Dr Steffan Evans, Policy and Research Officer at the Bevan Foundation talked about the Welsh context of poverty, Neath Port Talbot Council Chief Executive Steven Phillips discussed the local context while Dr Deven Ghelani, Director of Policy in Practice (the socially minded software company) spoke about the impact of Welfare Reform.
Sam Greasley, Head Teacher at Port Talbot’s Awel y Mor Primary School, discussed how low levels of income could impact on learning and education outcomes.
Gareth Nutt, Neath Port Talbot Council’s Environment Director, outlined opportunities to improve income levels through employment support and by developing the local supply chain.
Dr Keith Reid, Deputy Director of Public Health at the Swansea Bay University Health Board spoke about the relationship between income and wellbeing and Jonathon Morris of Tai Tarian and Sian Williams of Toynbee Hall (the charity aiming to bridge the gap between people of all social and financial backgrounds) talked about tackling the high cost credit.
They also highlighted the importance of listening to and involving those who have experience of poverty and of involving them in the co-design of any interventions and possible solutions.
The speakers were followed by a lively workshop session entitled “What can we do to improve the situation?”
Closing the event, Aled Evans, Neath Port Talbot Council’s Director of Education, Leisure & Lifelong Learning, said: ‘While we acknowledge the complexity of issues relating to poverty, we can start influencing change now. Together we can make a difference.”
He added: “It has been a good day – hugely informative, inspiring, sobering and informative – in which we’ve seen anger, resolve, optimism, respect and pride.
“Poverty is complex and difficult but that shouldn’t daunt us – it should not move us away from what we see as the road ahead. What we’ve seen from our discussions is a real sense of commitment. We can make sure that the messages we’ve heard today are spread beyond this room.
“As for the next steps, there are three core commitments as a Council, firstly a formal report from today’s discussion and from the wide range of experts, and that will be shared with all who have attended.
“Secondly, we are committed to using the information we’ve gathered and it will be an ongoing process. The process on consulting on and informing our new SEP (Strategic Equality Plan) starts now. Thirdly I know there will be political messages that Cllr Doreen Jones and others will take from here to influence Welsh Government and UK policy and I know those messages will be heard.”