A third of Hartlepool children are living in poverty – and the figure is rising

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A THIRD of all Hartlepool children continue to live in poverty amid fresh fears from worried councillors that the numbers are set to rise even further.

Hartlepool Borough Council figures reveal 33 per cent – or 7,005 town children – are currently living in poverty, up from 29.5 per cent in 2010.

Child poverty is measured by people’s incomes and their general standards of living and despite government and council pledges to eradicate child poverty, the figures continue to rise in town.

Councillors fear the numbers will get worse before they get better as a result of budget cuts and welfare reforms, including the controversial bedroom tax.

Earlier this year it was revealed Hartlepool is in the top 10 local authorities for high child poverty rates and the town is also above the national average of 21 per cent and the regional average of 28 per cent.

Hartlepool Council already had a Child Poverty Strategy - which aims to increase parental employment rates, improve skill levels and increase benefit take-up rates - but councillors met recently to update the strategy on the back of recent government policies.

The damning poverty figures were discussed by the council’s children’s services committee.

Danielle Swainston, the council’s head of access and strategic planning, described the current situation as a “critical time”.

Labour councillor Chris Simmons, committee chairman, said: “We are all disappointed but not surprised to find that child poverty has increased over the last couple of years and I think that will be a continuing trend in the short term.

“With all the welfare reforms we are seeing at the moment, families are struggling to cope with that.”

Coun Simmons said there needed to be “early and good assessment” of families and young people that may be on the verge of poverty but he also welcomed the recent commitment from the council to improve attainment levels across secondary schools in town.

He added: “It is a very tough ask to eradicate it by 2020 but we must do our very best.”

A council report outlined recent Government policies, including austerity measures aimed at reducing the national budget deficit, which included significant reduction in public spending, services and benefits.

There has also been welfare reform changes including moves to a benefit cap and the introduction of the so-called bedroom tax.

But the Government has also moved to provide disadvantaged two-year-olds with 15-hours of free childcare from September this year and the pupil premium which was introduced in April 2011 and is allocated to schools to work with pupils who have been registered for free school meals at any point in the last six years.

Labour councillor Marjorie James said it was important to ensure the pupil premium is meeting the needs of the children.

Council leader Christopher Akers-Belcher wrote the foreword to the updated strategy and said there remains “significant public misconceptions” around child poverty and said many people don’t think it exists in Hartlepool.

Coun Akers-Belcher said: “It should no longer be acceptable for poverty to be something that’s inherited by successive generations.

“It shouldn’t be an automatic marker for poor health or underachievement.

“Breaking that cycle is an important part of what our strategy sets out to do.”

Coun Akers-Belcher said the council is committed to eradicating child poverty and said: “Too many children’s education is still being held back by poverty and disadvantage.”

The strategy aims to reduce the numbers in poverty, reduce numbers of teenage pregnancy, improve employment rate and reduce the number of families needing crisis support.

A Department for Work and Pensions spokeswoman has previously told the Mail that the government remains “committed to eradicating child poverty” by taking a new approach of tackling the root causes including worklessness, educational failure and family breakdown.