Church volunteers are stepping in to provide food and support for struggling families as cuts to public spending impact on child poverty.
Stories of children struggling to keep up with school homework because their families couldn’t afford a computer or internet access, going hungry in holidays and parents not being able to afford school uniforms were told at an event at the National Eisteddfod this week.
But funding cuts were also threatening Church-run family centres in some of the most deprived areas of the country, delegates heard.
It is estimated that 200,000 children in Wales are living in poverty today, with cutbacks in benefits and public funding for family services significantly adding to the problem. The Welsh Government recently said it would not be able to reach its target of ending child poverty by 2020.
The open event, titled A Poor Upbringing? was organised by the Church in Wales. The Archbishop, John Davies, introduced a panel discussion to highlight the issue and provide an opportunity for people to explore what could be done to help those in need.
The Bishop of Bangor, Andy John interviewed the Children’s Commissioner for Wales, Dr Sally Holland, about her research work this year on childhood poverty.
The discussion then opened to hear from people involved in church projects directly helping families in poverty:
- The Revd Catherine Haynes, children’s adviser for the Diocese of Monmouth, described her parish’s work at the Tŷ Price centre to set up and run a ‘holiday hunger’ scheme to provide packed lunches for up to 90 children a day at a summer play scheme in Monmouth;
- Leanne Evans talked about Faith in Families, an initiative in the Diocese of Swansea and Brecon to support families in disadvantaged parts of Swansea, which is currently under threat from cuts in public spending;
- Samantha Duggan from Plant Dewi, a children’s project run by the Diocese of St Davids, described work helping 109 young parents over the past year, including a ‘Baby Bundle’ scheme to provide essentials for babies;
- Sian Cheeseman also from Plant Dewi, talked about her work with the Tŷ Mair family centre in Burry Port which includes a food club and skills training.
Archbishop John said, “Poverty in childhood is an issue the Church is acutely aware of due to the work of our family centres, community projects, foodbanks, holiday hunger schemes and our collaboration with the Children’s Society. We see at first hand how poverty is affecting children across Wales and how the demand for these services continues to increase. We fear many children in Wales are having their childhood blighted by poverty – a ‘poor upbringing’. We welcome this opportunity to highlight our concerns and help inform the Children’s Commissioner’s work focused this year on child poverty.”
The Children’s Commissioner, Dr Sally Holland, said, “Without a doubt, child poverty is the biggest challenge facing Welsh Government today. We know the scale of the problem, and we know that those families in the most vulnerable positions need more help.
“Churches do some important work to support families who are living in poverty, including food banks, and organising free packed lunches for children at holiday clubs over the summer to replace their free school meals and ensure they don’t go hungry. These are some examples of the initiatives that can really make a difference to the most vulnerable families.
“This year, my office will be meeting with children, parents and professionals from across Wales to hear what they think needs to change, and what extra support they need. We’ll then be recommending concrete steps that Welsh Government and local authorities can take to reduce the impact of poverty on the most vulnerable children and their families.”