“Women are living on a knife-edge” – Chwarae Teg report reveals extent of women’s poverty in Wales

19th December 2019

A new report by Welsh charity, Chwarae Teg, provides an insight into the experiences of women on low incomes across Wales, revealing that many women are living on a knife-edge and are at significant risk of poverty.

Chwarae Teg worked with the Bevan Foundation to gather evidence of the lived experience of women in poverty. Currently, the extent of women’s poverty in Wales is largely hidden or masked due to data being collected at household level, assuming that money and resources are equally distributed within a household.

The research reveals that women’s experience of poverty is different and distinct compared to men’s, and the risk and impact of poverty is being worsened by the failure of public policy to recognise these differences.

Within the current system there is a culture of financial dependency – due to the social security system, childcare and housing – where women are forced to rely on partners to supplement their income due to their position as carers and within low paid sectors. The report found that being in a couple significantly reduces the risk of poverty for women, roughly halving it.

Loss of housing and relationship breakdown were the biggest causes of women being in poverty; amongst women who are homeless, relationship breakdown with violence was a root cause for nearly a quarter of women who were in priority need.

While work is still a primary route out of poverty, this is not such a straightforward option for women who often experience low wages, and are forced to trade off pay and progression in favour of flexibility around caring needs. The report found that; ‘Based on median earnings, women need to work full time to avoid poverty, whatever her household status, and if she has children she needs to not only work full-time, but be in the best paid half of earners’.

This research is far-reaching in considering not only traditional measures of poverty, but also considering women’s assets and debts, material deprivation, housing and access to food.

This research shows that many women in Wales are living on a knife-edge and are at significant risk of poverty. Women are being left without support to navigate complex and often contradictory systems, having to delicately balance their needs and responsibilities. This places women in an extremely precarious position, where any slight life change – an unexpected bill, a delayed payment, a relationship ending – could plunge them into poverty."

"Chwarae Teg were proud to work with Bevan Foundation on this report to highlight the lived experience of women in poverty. Current measures of poverty do not give a full picture, often masking women’s experiences, therefore it is crucial that the voices of women are heard and used to inform our approach to tackling poverty."

“Poverty is not necessarily worse for women than men, but the causes and consequences of it are different, and our current system is not designed with these differences in mind. We hope that this research will provoke decision makers to create policies that work for women and men, and coordinate a public response encompassing social security, childcare, decent wages and work, and access to public services."

“It is simply not acceptable that public policy is failing to address poverty for women in Wales.

Cerys Furlong
Chief Executive. Chwarae Teg
Dr Victoria Winckler, Director of the Bevan Foundation said:

“It is a scandal that so many women in Wales today are trapped in poverty. It’s time for the Welsh Government to take bold action with a new deal for childcare, fair work for all, and a step change in adult learning.”

19th Dec 2019
Behind the Research: Bevan Foundation on Gender and Poverty
19th Dec 2019
Trapped: Poverty amongst women in Wales today