EEE – The Brand New Approach to Supporting Communities

Communities First 2001- 2016

The Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Children addressed other assembly members in the Senedd saying, “I am not convinced that continuing to focus on 52 small areas is the most effective way to deliver for Wales” – hinting at the closure of the seasoned programme. This was later confirmed by insisting that a “cross government approach” was on the table.

The Welsh Government’s (WG) “community focussed tackling poverty programme” was launched in 2001 and was recognisably one of the first and enduring schemes to come out of Wales’ early devolution years.

Its objectives were to create Prosperous communities, Learning communities and Healthier communities in our most deprived areas in Wales.

Quick question: Aren’t these 3 objectives aligned with the seven “well-being goals” of the new Well-being of Future Generation (Wales) Act?

New Approach

Carl Sargeant AM announced WG plans for a new anti-poverty programme (or trial project?) that could possibly be, in my opinion, an initiative formed under the new WFG Act; a general project which is delivered by all local authorities in Wales and providing better value for money (if properly carried out) than focusing on those “52 small areas.”

I agree that a wider distribution of a project over more rural communities is necessary since those communities, like urban communities (low-income families), experience poverty including young families who are unable to find affordable housing in such localities.

Also, with many families in those areas (maybe) being from an agricultural background and with such hardships with the sales of produce, an anti-poverty project for farming families would be ideal to encourage not only the next generation (of all genders) in the family but support urban youths to take the plunge into the industry.

It could be disputed that the end of CF for those 52 smaller areas and a broader focus on others could consequently force a collapse in the progress already made and lose the trust of the service users the programme has now.

The WG has stated that a lack of value for money is primarily one of the reasons for CF’s closure and hopefully the appropriate steps have been made to safeguard those who had benefitted greatly from the programme.

This new approach by WG can be cost-effective if there’s a possibility of self- sustainability that could enable those communities and service users room to grow and at the same time be a secure mattress, which allows you to bounce back on if you don’t reach the your dream goal.

New ideas for sustainable communities, especially in deprived areas is essential, now more than ever as Welfare Reform and budget cuts WILL have a further catastrophic effect on communities – it’s key to have the simplest of safeguards in place if (or when) things get worse.

Employment

There’s a perception of a benefits culture, especially in deprived areas, which has had an increase in emphasis by the media more and more frequently. The statistics don’t represent the hardships faced by lower-income families who are unable to afford to fully sign off (from welfare) and people who have disabilities but aren’t able to get access to suitable employment.

People (especially those who are subjected to discrimination made by potential employers because of their background, which includes if they come from a “rough part of a town”) are struggling to squeeze their foot in the door of the job’s market never mind climbing the career ladder.

Going forward I hope that WG can provide people opportunities and whilst doing so not expect the poorest of families to sacrifice a meal by signing off.

From personal experience, a job can be a life-saver. It does make you feel valued and that’s where the value for money comes in!

Long-term unemployment can create physical and mental health issues, which could further deplete the NHS budget. Therefore, providing people with secure employment proves to be value for money and adheres to the WFG Act in creating a healthier Wales.

Early Years

The new approach will focus on early years, which I definitely agree with (especially if you have an officially diagnosed nephew with low-functioning Autism).

More support should be given to parents and guardians who are carers of children with a form of disability and want to go back into employment. Not be penalised by DWP – you put enough weight on a person’s shoulders and they will go down crashing!

Programmes like Flying Start are essential for children in deprived areas. It cannot stop! For the sake of safeguarding the prospects of children it must continue, otherwise it’ll have a negative impact on the development of children who are already at risk from a lack of progress and access to any form of potentiality.

Empowerment

The sense of empowerment is a subject that’s been discussed regularly, predominantly more because of the current social climate over Brexit and political agendas.

Establishing empowerment as one of the new approaches would imply that WG wants to enable residents to take control. Give them a voice.

This reminds me of a session that I attended at GovCamp Cymru last September catered for those working or interested in the public sector (which should be everyone since we’re service users and payers). The session was led by Dave McKenna (Public Servant) who wanted to learn if there could be an alternative design for democracy in Wales and how UN Human Rights for Citizens outlined the basic principles for democracy, which included the right to engagement and taking part in decision making.

So, isn’t empowerment a legal right that is applied to everyone anyway? Or does this new approach by WG help to secure that right? An example being Citizens’ Advice Bureau (CAB) who are instrumental in providing advocacy to those who aren’t aware of their rights.

Brexit

Having a new approach to supporting communities (that is value for money) actually could be necessary for a long-term solution to funding the programme/ project underway, because of current budget cuts and the eventual loss of investment from the European Social Fund (ESF) 2014- 2020, a productive strategy is sorely needed to balance the loss.

The ESF does support structural funding that results in its three main objectives of tackling poverty through sustainable employment, skills for growth and youth employment & attainment.

Unfortunately, the areas that have benefited most from the ESF (particularly in the Valleys) have voted out of the EU. These funds have supported the Heads of the Valleys with £79m and a further £80m has helped develop our town centres including Merthyr Tydfil and Pontypridd; all this has meant jobs and apprentice opportunities, and improving access to the Valleys – the heart of South Wales. Can WG invest in these areas in the future as we lose out on ESF?

Conclusion? For Communities?

I’m saddened by the end of Communities First as I’ve seen the benefits of the programme first-hand, but maybe a new strategy is necessary to benefit those using the service.

Reaching project targets set by WG on such budget cuts is purely unrealistic, as expectations are too high and the project will fail before it starts!

I understand that value for money should be included in any new proposal but when it comes to supporting families and children living in poverty – the priority should be “whatever the cost.”

You can’t throw money into a community. You need to invest in a community.

(Image Courtesy: Kat Grigg – family. Flick 2012 c.c)

 

 

 

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