Thousands of children across Central Lancashire are living in poverty with young people in Preston faring the worst.
Figures show that Preston has 8,467 children in relative poverty while 3,503 children are living in poverty in South Ribble and in Chorley the number is 4,253.
Preston’s child poverty figures were the focus of a conference at the Salvation Army in Harrrington Street which saw city leaders come together to thrash out how the rollout of Universal Credit (UC) is affecting livelihoods.
One charity worker warned that grandmothers are collecting food parcels to support their grandchildren, cautioning that fourth generation families living in poverty feel that the Government does not care.
Introducing the issue at the conference on Friday Sir Mark said: “End Child Poverty Estimates the child poverty rate in the constituency of Preston is higher than for the North West and for the UK.
“For example after housing costs are deducted from income in July-September 2018 Preston has 8,500 children in ‘relatively low income’ equating to 38 per cent of children in the constituency. This is compared to 29 per cent in the North West and 26 per cent in the United Kingdom as a whole.”
He added: “According to the latest figures available for Preston in the House of Commons library there are 7,500 households with children out of a total of 13,280 households who receive ‘legacy benefits’ and 710 households with children out of a total of 1,190 households who claim Universal Credit.
“Witnessing the full impact on the roll-out of UC here in Preston use of foodbanks increased hugely and I expect the caseload to increase even more with complaints.
“The implementation of UC means that claimants must wait five to six weeks for payment. This will include a four weekly ‘assessment period’ to which payment is paid in arrears one to two weeks later, meaning many families who rely on benefits as a vital income will be forced in to arrears because of the wait, causing the need to go to payday loan companies as well as foodbanks.”
UC was introduced in Preston in July and out of the 200 food parcels handed out by the city’s Salvation Army per week, major Maggie Cadogan says that 115 referrals relate exclusively to people moving on to UC.
Addressing the audience at the panel event she said: “The reality is the family who have just arrived this morning are collecting food to help them survive.
“The general feeling is that our government doesn’t care.
“We need to do something in this country to support people at the bottom of the pile – all the people who are slipping through the net who are begging.
“The real situation is that we now have a third and fourth generation families because this has been going on for decades.
“We have grandmothers coming to get food parcels to support their grandchildren.
“We have a group of people growing up in our community who think that nobody cares.”
Speaking specifically on the effects of moving onto UC major Cadogan added: “We are seeing a mixture of people on benefits, people not on any benefits and people who do not have any income at all.
“We’ve had a referral from a family of four after the dad lost his job.
“A mum who was unable to sign her [UC] forms because she was giving birth.
“A single mother who applied for Universal Credit and put eight weeks in arrears and has nothing for the month.
“Benefits are paid in arrears and rent has to be paid up front – that causes major problems.
“Another single mum with two children waited five weeks for Universal Credit - the deductions taken leaving her children short of food and in debt.
“One person was left with £10 a month for all her needs after paying her rent.”
Preston City Council (PCC) Coun Nweeda Khan, cabinet member of communities and social justice, spoke of how the authority had introduced a summer programme to help ease holiday hunger in the city by providing meals for children whose parents struggle to feed them properly while they are not at school.
She said: “The children get their free schools meals in the term time but this is not there for them in the holidays so its very difficult for families to provide nutritious, hot meals for the family.”
Headteacher at Lea Community Primary School in Greavestown Lane Lin Slater, who was a member of the audience at the conference, stood up to talk about the mental and emotional problems for children.
“They have nowhere to go at night,” she said. “They don’t play outside. It affects the quality of education we provide.”
Urging delegates at the conference to continue to work together to improve the situation for children in the city, leader of PCC, Matthew Brown, said: “If you are talking about children being brought up in poverty it’s not the children’s fault. We have all got a responsibility.
“What we need to take out of this is that we all need to work together.”