Pathways to prosperity: building sustainable lives out of poverty

Across Wales, more and more people are standing on the precipice of poverty as the wrecking ball of covid continues to wreak havoc throughout our society and economy.

But, as Oxfam knows from decades spent working with communities around the world, people living in poverty aren’t passive victims who need rescuing. Far from it.

That’s why Oxfam Cymru has been successfully working in partnership with the Department of Work and Pensions in Wales to embed an approach which supports people across Wales to be the architects of their own pathways to prosperity.

For nearly 15 years, Oxfam Cymru has brought Oxfam’s global expertise in tackling poverty to Wales, through using a method of engaging with people living in poverty called the ‘Sustainable Livelihoods Approach’.

At its core, this approach is a method of analysing and changing the lives of people experiencing poverty and disadvantage. It is a participatory approach based on the recognition that all people have abilities and assets that can be developed to help them improve their lives.

It aims to re-imagine tired dogma, which historically has often led decision makers to use the size of someone’s bank balance as an indication of their resourcefulness. We know that such an approach leads to bad policy which treats people living in poverty as a homogenous group, for whom there’s a single solution.

Instead of writing people off because of things they don’t have, the Sustainable Livelihoods Approach focuses on the skills, abilities and resources that people do have. As well as being a useful tool to help individuals and communities improve their situations, the Approach has an essential role in developing appropriate policy responses based on an insightful understanding of the strategies and choices people make on a daily basis in order to survive.

For the last two years, Oxfam Cymru has been working in partnership with the Department of Work and Pensions in Wales to roll out training in the Sustainable Livelihoods Approach and embed it into Job Centres’ ways of working.

With Wales’ Economy Minister warning that the country faces levels of unemployment not seen for decades, never has the nationwide adoption of such an approach been more needed.

Overall, 669 DWP and community partner staff were trained in sessions covering both poverty awareness and the application of Oxfam Cymru’s Sustainable Livelihoods Approach toolkit.

The results of the project speak for themselves. Feedback from work coaches themselves was overwhelmingly positive, with coaches reporting boosts to confidence, mental wellbeing and employment levels of the people they were helping, as well as increases to work coaches’ own morale and purposefulness.

In fact, the implementation of the Approach has been so successful that the Welsh Government has committed to using the approach in the delivery of devolved benefits in Wales; a prudent decision given the bleak economic forecasts.

If there’s one thing that Covid has shown us it is that many of us are only one pay cheque away from poverty. And if there’s one thing this project has shown us it’s that there is no single pathway out. Instead, we must embrace the principle that advice and support for people living in poverty must never be patronising and reductive; instead, it should be personalised, holistic and rooted in recognising the innate skills and resources we all have to build decent, happy lives free from the injustice of poverty.

Read the final independent evaluation of the Oxfam Cymru/DWP Sustainable Livelihoods Approach project here:

Read the Welsh language version here: