1 in 3 Preston children living below the breadline

Salvation Army staff don't need studies and statistics to tell them poverty in Lancashire is getting worse.

Monday, 14th November 2016, 6:11 am
Updated Wednesday, 16th November 2016, 4:38 pm
Child poverty

The number of food parcels handed out every month from their Preston centre has been rising dramatically in recent years.

Child poverty by constituency

Preston - 34.5%

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Morecambe and Lunesdale - 26.38%

Lancaster and Fleetwood - 25.46%

West Lancashire - 22%

Wyre and Preston North - 22%

Chorley - 19.9%

Fylde - 19.18%

South Ribble - 11.3%

And the charity is predicting its busiest Christmas on record. But figures produced by Loughborough University show the annual Salvation Army Toy Appeal will be under even more pressure than ever before next month.

Preston will be the neediest part of Lancashire for gifts, with a staggering one in three youngsters now classed as living below the breadline.

The city’s Parliamentary constituency tops the county chart for children in need, with more than 7,500 - or 34.5 per cent - of under-15s officially categorised as poor.

Next door, in leafy Ribble Valley, the picture could not be more of a contrast. There child poverty is the third lowest in the entire UK, at just 11.3 per cent - bettered only by Wokingham in smart, suburban Berkshire and the remote communities of the Shetland Isles.

“It’s quite shocking really,” said Coun Jade Morgan who joined Preston Council six months ago to try and help residents in the poorest ward in the city, St Matthews, which has a whopping 43.83 per cent of its young people classified as below the breadline.

“I knew when I stood for the council that this was one of the poorest areas in Preston. But the fact that nearly half of the children are living in poverty is truly staggering.”

Preston’s figures are worse than all-but six of the 75 Parliamentary seats in the whole of the North West. Only two areas of Liverpool, two in Manchester, Rochdale and Oldham and Royton have higher numbers of poor children. Households are classed as living in poverty if their income (adjusted for household size) is less than 60 per cent of the average. Calculated on Parliamentary boundaries, Preston’s poverty problem dwarfs those of its closest neighbours South Ribble (18.38 per cent), Chorley (19.19 per cent) and Ribble Valley.

Fylde is 19.18 per cent, West Lancashire and Wyre and Preston North are both just over 22 per cent, Lancaster and Fleetwood is 25.46 per cent and Morecambe and Lunesdale 26.38 per cent. Judged on local authority areas, Preston’s figure falls to 27.5 per cent, South Ribble is 18.8, Chorley 18.6, Fylde 20.1, Lancaster 24.5, Ribble Valley 11.3, West Lancashire 21.4 and Wyre 24.9 per cent.

While St Matthews is the worst ward in Preston for poverty, it is still not the poorest in Lancashire. That title goes to University Ward in Lancaster with a staggering 51.08 per cent of its children exisiting below the breadline, closely followed by Bloomfield in Blackpool on 50.81.

At the other end of the spectrum, Preston’s lowest level of child poverty is in the Rural East Ward with just 8.54 per cent.

South Ribble’s lowest is in the Howick and Priory Ward where only 7.44 per cent (less than one in 14) are classed as officially poor.

Coun David Howarth, who represents Howick and Priory, said: “It doesn’t surprise me because we are also in the top 10 in the county in terms of affluence. If you look at the unemployment figures, they are equally low.

“Historically this has been an area where professionals tend to live. It doesn’t have any social housing, apart from private rented property.

“However, where there are isolated parts, I would hope these statistics don’t allow them to slip through the safety net.”

Back in St Matthews Ward, Preston, Coun Jade Morgan is fighting for the future of a completely different electorate. “This area has poor housing, a lot of gangs and many other things that detract from what in my opinion is really a great community,” she explained.

“I became a councillor to try and help with these issues. I’d love to be able to make positive changes in this area, but I accept it’s going to take time. No-one should have to live in poverty - especially children - in a country with one of the richest economies in the world.

“It’s my responsibility as a ward councillor to do all I can to improve the lives of people here and it is something which definitely needs addressing.

“I don’t think Preston is all that bad. Recently we were voted one of the best places to work and one of the best for personal wellbeing.

“There are some really positive things in this city and, while these figures are quite shocking, we must not overlook the really positive things we have as well.”

Claire Hobson, at the Salvation Army in Preston, said: “The demand gets bigger and bigger every year.

“But this year, judging by the significant increase we have seen in the number of food parcels we’ve been providing, it looks like it’s going to be a record Christmas for handing out toys and presents to those who otherwise wouldn’t get anything.

“The family tax credit changes are hitting people hard.”