Child poverty in parts of Lancashire is as bad now as it was in Victorian times, a councillor claimed today.
Coun Brian Rollo, who represents Preston’s most deprived ward Ribbleton, said “shocking” figures of up to 38 per cent of youngsters living below the poverty line show Britain has hardly moved on from the end of the 19th century.
“More than 100 years later and we don’t seem to have got much better,” he said as a bombshell report from the Child Poverty Action Group was being presented to local authorities.
“The figures for Lancashire - and in particular Preston - are depressing. They are awful. We are meant to be one of the top five richest countries in the world, yet we seem to have completely forgotten about all these poor children.”
More than 40,000 children in Lancashire are living in poverty, according to a shock new report out today.
The cost to society of the Red Rose county’s infant and juvenile poor is estimated at a mind-boggling £500m a year, says the Child Poverty Action Group.
Preston has the largest number of youngsters living below the poverty line of all the authorities making up Lancashire County Council.
Almost 7,000 – almost one in four – fall into the category, Ribbleton being the worst-affected ward with a staggering 38 per cent of youngsters coming from families suffering hardship.
In South Ribble, the highest concentration of children below the poverty threshold is in the Lowerhouse part of Leyland where the figure is 36 per cent. And in Chorley, Clayton-le-Woods North comes top with 27 per cent.
“In Preston the current extent of child poverty costs £74m every year and a large part of this cost lands on council services,” revealed Alison Garnham, the chief executive of the CPAG.
“We need a strong local child poverty strategy so that children growing up in places like Preston have a better future, we avoid having to spend on failure and we can invest everyone’s council tax contributions in more positive ways.”
The figures were being presented to local authorities today at a CPAG conference in Birmingham. Councils were being asked to fulfil their obligations under the Child Poverty Act at a time when welfare reforms are making things even tighter for families at the lower end of the income scale.
The consequences of child poverty are calculated to cost the UK £29bn a year.
Lancashire’s bill adds up to £499m. And that doesn’t include the unitary authorities of Blackpool and Blackburn where significantly more children live below the poverty line than in other parts of the geographic county.
Preston’s 6,858 children in under-privileged homes accounts for 22 per cent of the city’s young population. In addition to Ribbleton, other large concentrations of poverty are found in St George’s ward (36 per cent), Fishwick (35 per cent) and St Matthew’s (35 per cent).
Across Lancashire the average is 17.5 per cent, although Ribble Valley is just seven per cent, with Fylde and South Ribble both on 12 per cent.
The CPAG report says some 3.5 million children – over a quarter of all youngsters – currently live below the poverty line in the UK. And this has a devastating impact on their lives.
Children growing up in poor homes are more likely to die at birth or in infancy than children born into richer families. They are more likely to be left behind in education.
By the age of three, poorer children are estimated to be, on average, nine months behind children from more wealthy backgrounds.
Children in poverty also miss out on experiences that most people regard as normal and just part of growing up. They don’t go on school trips, can’t invite friends round for tea and can’t afford a holiday away from home.
Troublingly, says the CPAG, children in low-income families are being hit hard by the government’s new tax and benefit changes. Rather than ending child poverty, the government’s welfare reform programme could produce 1.1 million more children living in poverty. County Coun Matthew Tomlinson, Lancashire County Council’s cabinet member for children, young people and schools, said: “The issue of child poverty is one of our highest priorities. We have a strong record of working with a wide range of organisations on implementing an effective strategy to tackle child poverty.
“For instance, our Best Start initiative aims to raise the level of literacy and numeracy of infant pupils eligible for free school meals. We’ve made huge strides in reducing homelessness among young people by working with district councils and, as a result of a number of county council projects, the number of young people in Lancashire who aren’t in employment, education or training is going down.
“While there’s no doubt we’re facing serious challenges, we will continue to do everything we can to improve young people’s life chances in the county.”