A third of children in poverty

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SHOCK new figures reveal Hartlepool is in the country’s top 10 local authorities for high child poverty rates – but a leading councillor fears the situation will only get worse.

Statistics published today show 33 per cent – or 7,005 town children – are currently living in poverty, a three per cent rise on last year.

Child poverty is measured by people’s incomes and their general standards of living.

Independent councillor Cath Hill, portfolio holder for children’s and community services, described the figures as “shocking” and believes it will get worse when welfare reforms, including the bedroom tax and changes to the benefit system, come into force in April.

Coun Hill said: “These figures are absolutely going to get worse.

“The welfare reforms are going to mean families have less and less money to spend on the essentials and a lot of these families aren’t even on benefits.

“Many are working hard on a minimum wage and a lot will only have part-time contracts because that is all that they can find.

“It is going to impact massively on the children in this town.”

The figures are broken down into parliamentary constituencies and local authorities and Hartlepool is 10th worst in the list of council areas.

Hartlepool’s figures range from seven per cent of youngsters in the Park ward living in poverty to a whopping 60 per cent in Stranton.

Campaign leaders and Coun Hill fear children living in poverty will increase as a result of the controversial bedroom tax, which will see a reduction in benefits for families with a spare room and changes to who receives support with paying council tax.

Coun Hill added: “The figure is totally shocking.

“If you talk to teachers, they will tell you that some children are coming into school hungry and some people do not have the money to feed their children.”

Hartlepool Borough Council has a child poverty action plan which aims to increase parental employment rates, improve skill levels and increase benefit take-up rates.

But Coun Hill warned: “The solution is to increase the number of well-paid jobs.

“But there is no sign of that at the moment.”

The shock figures, produced by the Campaign to End Child Poverty, has published the map of poverty blackspots across the UK.

Enver Solomon, campaign chair, said: “Far too many children whose parents are struggling to make a living are having to go hungry and miss out on the essentials of a decent childhood that all young people should be entitled to.”

Campaign leaders have called on councils to prioritise low income families in the decisions they make about local welfare spending and asked the Government to “closely examine” its current strategy for reducing poverty.

The government has been consulting on a new definition of child poverty to include other measures including worklessness, educational failure and family breakdown.

A Department for Work and Pensions spokeswoman said: “Despite paying out £171bn in benefits and tax credits over the last decade, the previous Government failed to meet their target to halve child poverty by 2010 and far too many children were left behind.

“This Government remains committed to eradicating child poverty, but we want to take a new approach by tackling the root causes including worklessness, educational failure and family breakdown.

“Our welfare reforms will improve the lives of some of the poorest families in our communities, with the Universal Credit simplifying the complex myriad of benefits and making 3m people better off.”