Wales politics

Communities First anti-poverty scheme axing defended

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Media captionPeople need to be empowered, not funded to stay in poverty, said Carl Sargeant

Jobs and growth are the way out of poverty, a minister has said, defending the end of a flagship scheme in Wales.

Communities First - which has spent around £300m since it was set up in 2001 - will operate on reduced funding until next March before being scrapped.

Communities Secretary Carl Sargeant told an assembly committee the programme would not be replaced.

But he said "joined up" government would ensure all spending decisions would have tackling poverty in mind.

Announcing the end of Communities First in February, Mr Sargeant said no single programme could tackle poverty, and that its record of work in Wales' most deprived areas had been mixed.

Questioned by the communities committee on Wednesday, he said: "The figures aren't moving - so fundamentally we have said as a government we have to do something and take a new approach."

Children's commissioner for Wales Sally Holland said child poverty was the "greatest challenge facing the Welsh Government".

She said children were "facing a double whammy" of the impact of austerity on parents' incomes and cuts to services which traditionally helped, such as libraries and youth centres.

She said there was a "stigma" attached to poverty - that it was "somehow your fault".

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Image caption Port Talbot is one of the areas where Communities First money has been spent

Mr Sargeant said the focus now would be on schemes aimed at helping people into employment, such as Lift and Communities for Work.

Major investment in projects such as the South Wales Metro would also be a priority to help people take up work opportunities.

"The way to grow communities is to give people good quality jobs," he said.

"You can fund people to stay in poverty as long as you wish, but actually what you need to do is empower them."

The minister confirmed that a legacy fund of £6m a year for at least two and possibly four years would be available to help continue successful local projects, suggesting some of them could survive as charities.

Priorities would be set by the locally-based public service boards - made up of council, health, fire, police and other organisations - set up under the Well-Being of Future Generations Act.

A capital fund of £4m was also available to preserve key buildings and community assets, Mr Sargeant added, as long as they were being saved for use on future priorities.

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Media captionDonna Redgrave says a Communities First dementia project she has been involved with in Flintshire was "fantastic"

Meanwhile, experts at a national child poverty conference near Cardiff have called for a "systemic change" in tackling the problem.

Prof David Egan, from Cardiff Metropolitan University, said while the success of Communities First had been "patchy", the legacy of projects must not be lost.

"I do not think it is about fighting for the continuation of Communities First, but where there is excellent work going on, we should be finding, at a Welsh Government level, a way to continue that," he said.

Concerns highlighted at the conference in Nantgarw included a lack of high-quality child care and poor pay in the sector, confusion over benefits, too-strict criteria for financial help, council cuts and political turmoil over Brexit.

The conference has been organised by Children in Wales which represents organisations and individuals who work with children, young people and their families in Wales.

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