Revealed: How 30,000 children in Norfolk are living in poverty
PUBLISHED: 09:01 05 August 2013 | UPDATED: 09:01 05 August 2013
More than 30,000 children in Norfolk are living in poverty, new figures have revealed, with the number of youngsters having to survive below the breadline increasing.
And experts working to tackle the problem say the economic climate and welfare reform changes mean the problem is getting worse.
According to research by the Child Poverty Action Group, there are 30,684 children living in poverty in Norfolk, roughly the equivalent of a town the size of Thetford.
Adding in neighbouring parts of Suffolk, such as Waveney, and parts of Cambridgeshire, such as Fenland and the figure exceeds 45,000.
There are also particular poverty hotspots in Norfolk. In Norwich there are an estimated 7,297 children in poverty, with 5,180 in Great Yarmouth and 5,615 in the West Norfolk Council area.
Earlier this year, Norfolk County Council published a child poverty needs assessment for the county, which showed children who grow up in poverty are at greater risk of having poor health, being exposed to crime and not fulfilling their potential at school.
Sarah Spall, head of strategy and commissioning for children aged up to 11 at Norfolk County Council, said the new figures showed there had been an increase of about 4,000 youngsters living in poverty in the space of three years.
She said: “This is everybody’s business. It is not just about the county council and we all need to work together to help deal with it.
“The thing which is quite concerning is that the number of children who are living in poverty is increasing. In 2010 there were 26,000 children in Norfolk living in poverty and the new figures suggest there are 30,000, so it is going up.
“Our children’s centres have an absolutely key role in supporting the families of these children and from speaking to one of my colleagues in Great Yarmouth, she tells me they are really noticing the changes since the new universal credit benefit came in.”
She said the economic climate also contributed to the problem, with children whose parents are out of work more likely to be living in poverty.
She said: “We need to support the development of the economy, because that’s crucial. We are not going to change things unless the parents of these children have jobs to go to.”
Children are classed as in poverty if their family’s income falls below 60pc of the median average income.
At below 60pc of the average, families struggle to meet basic needs like food, heating, transport, clothing, school equipment and trips.
The Child Poverty Action Group’s study, carried out by Loughborough University, calculated the cost to the councils in our region of tackling poverty was more than £500m.
In Norwich alone it was estimated at £79m, although that was dwarfed by the costs in Birmingham and Manchester, calculated at £914m and £446m a year.
However, Mrs Spall said there was a huge amount of work to tackle the problem being done by councils and other organisations.
She said the county council was encouraging the creation of more childcare places for eligible children under the age of two and was trying to get more of the youngsters eligible for free school meals to take up the dinners.
The council also tries to tackle the poverty problem through direct support to the county’s most troubled families, via Family Intervention Projects.
That, Mrs Spall said. has helped children to return to education and to get parents into training and employment, lifting them out of poverty. Foodbanks are also playing an increasingly vital role. Norwich Foodbank fed 58pc more people in the first six months of this year than the same period last year. It gave food to 3,568 people – 2,481 adults and 1,087 children.
Alison Garnham, chief executive of Child Poverty Action Group, said: “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. They are almost twice as likely to live in bad housing.
“Children in poverty also miss out on experiences that most of us 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, children in low-income families are being hit hard by the government’s tax and benefits changes.
“Every council is required by law to have a local child poverty strategy, and the good news is that reducing child poverty benefits everyone by cutting the costs to local authority services and boosting the local economy through improved skills and qualifications for school leavers.”