Building Livelihoods poverty project a success, charity says

A new approach to combating poverty which has been piloted across Wales is effective and saves money from the public purse, Oxfam Cymru has said.

The charity has called on the new Welsh Government to learn from the outcomes of its nine projects across Wales.

Building Livelihoods tackles the nearly one in four households in poverty.

But instead of targeting poorer geographical areas, it looks to provide tailor-made support to individuals and build on their skills and needs.

Official figures show that 23% of households in Wales are living in poverty – counted as having less than 60% median income.

Despite three ministers and one deputy minister tasked with reducing poverty in Wales, the proportion of households living below the threshold remains similar to 1999.

Up until now, Welsh Government policy has focused its attention on the 10% of most deprived communities in Wales.

But Building Livelihoods has targeted the individual rather than a particular area.

Oxfam Cymru claims its nine pilots have saved £4.43 from health and social services budgets for each £1 spent.

Since 2012, the charity has worked with more than 1,000 people in different parts of Wales.

These range from refugees in Swansea, people with disabilities in Wrexham to young families in Duffryn in Newport.

Livelihoods Project

Achievements set against targets

90 jobs created

  • 93% received intensive support
  • 57% reported new skills and confidence
  • 185% More involved in community
  • 53% Measurably improved their livelihood

Rather than going into a neighbourhood classed as deprived, this approach concentrates on what individuals can achieve and builds on that.

Each person is offered one-on-one help, training and courses.

Some also became mentors to others joining the project.

In all, 90 people involved across the pilots found full-time work and more than 600 said they felt they had more skills and confidence afterwards.

The programme, supported by the Big Lottery and Unilever, has been independently evaluated by economic consultants Arad.

It concluded Oxfam Cymru’s approach increased individuals’ confidence and well being and made them much more likely to be able to get out of poverty.

It recommends that the approach should be taken on by other service providers.


Banwen is a village in the Dulais valley, bordering the old coalfield and the Brecon Beacons.

There are still some jobs at the Onllwyn washery but the pits have gone and now the area is trying to attract tourism with walks and mountain bike trails.

A third of people in the area are classed as economically inactive – with three times the proportion of people long term sick or disabled than the Wales and England average.

More than a quarter do not have qualifications.

The Dove workshop in this Neath Port Talbot village works with long-term unemployed people.

“This area is one of the forgotten parts of Wales, it’s very isolated from other areas,” said Oxfam Cymru campaign manager Matthew Hemsley.

“Our approach is very individually focused.

“People’s experiences of poverty are all very different and unique. We work with people to give them the individual and intensive support they need. As the challenges are all different, the responses have to be different and work for them.”

Oxfam said it is not just looking at what people do not have but what they have – from community and family to education and qualifications so they can “tailor an approach”.

Although only 12 jobs have been created by the Dove project so far, Mr Hemsley said they faced tackling issues of long term unemployment, sometimes with poor health or basic education issues in the background.

He said the projects were a step towards transforming people.

“It helps restore people’s confidence,” he said.

“If you’re constantly concentrating on their negatives, people can get stuck in those ruts, so we believe this can make a difference and help people with how they see themselves as individuals.”

‘Therapeutic’ wood work

Tim Ashill is studying English, maths and IT at the Dove.

He now helps out two days a week at a woodworking project making products by up cycling wood – from benches to puppets for schools and nursing homes.

“It’s to give me confidence; it’s helped with depression, especially the woodwork – it’s nice to work with wood, it’s peaceful doing it, it’s therapeutic. The courses are also there for future employment when the time’s right.

“I’d like to do something with the community and whatever work I get I’d like to be doing some kind of community work because by doing this project I’ve met so many people I wouldn’t have met otherwise.”

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