in poverty

Child poverty is on the increase (image posed by an actress)
Child poverty is on the increase (image posed by an actress)
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Almost 9,500 children live in poverty in Blackpool – roughly a third of all children in the family resort.

The shock finding comes from the Child Poverty Action Group which says children have replaced pensioners as the most at-risk group.

Campaigners say it costs the UK £103m in support terms for Blackpool alone.

“A large part of this lands on council services,” says Alison Garnham, CPAG chief executive. “We are urging councils to invest in best practice.”

Thirty per cent of children live below the breadline in Blackpool – defined as when household income falls below 60 per cent of the median national income. Experts say a family with two adults and two children needs at least £349 each week. In Blackpool, a low pay-high unemployment blackspot, many get far less.

Allied End Child Poverty research breaks down child poverty ward by ward.

Bloomfield records the highest level – 54 per cent. The same ward revealed as having the highest rates of illness and lowest life expectancy in Blackpool.

Claremont in north Blackpool comes a close second with 50 per cent.

Yet there’s little visible evidence of the blight in either area. It may stem from the high number of private rental property in multiple occupation which begets transience which in turn undermines community spirit.

The figures break down as Brunswick 49 per cent, Park 42 per cent, Clifton 41 per cent, Victoria 37 per cent, Talbot 36 per cent, Hawes Side 33 per cent, Tyldesley 30 per cent, Waterloo 28 per cent, Layton 26 per cent, Ingthorpe 24 per cent, Greenlands 22 per cent, Highfield 20 per cent, Warbreck 19 per cent, Stanley and Bispham wards 17 per cent, Marton 15 per cent, Anchorsholme 14 per cent, Squires Gate 13 per cent and Norbreck 11 per cent.

Public health director Dr Arif Rajpura has already revealed a nine year difference in life expectancy between Norbreck (81) and Bloomfield (72).

Bloomfield has high levels of transience, poor housing, high unemployment.

Norbreck offers better housing, a more settled community, many in work.

Some social commentators liken problems today to Victorian days. But Edith Jones, 86, of Dickson Road, laughs that off. “We’re a long way from the workhouse. I remember when my mother took in washing, worked as a char, and in a hotel to put food on the table.”

Our own snap survey shows many parents still put their children first. At Claremont we found young mums dreading the financial burden of the school holidays but making contingencies. Single mum Emma, 28, says: “My mum helps out with the two youngest, and my oldest plays football. I can’t be there for them as I work seasonally.”

Two other mums said they “often” went short to feed or clothe their children. One visited a food bank in the town centre. “My cupboards are often bare.” Yet she had a stash of booze, fags, and junk food in the pram – and broke off our chat to fix a night out with mates via her iPhone.

Coun Sarah Riding, cabinet member for children’s services on Blackpool Council, cautions against being “overly judgemental.”

She adds: “You don’t know what they go home to. Some blot out the world with drink and drugs. Domestic abuse is rife. Mental health issues too. It doesn’t take much to knock any of us off course. A lost job, bereavement, illness, redundancy, unexpected bill, benefit cut.”

She knows cutbacks bite deep into the skin and bones of Blackpool.

“There’s a real poverty of spirit – but a genuine sense of people pulling together in areas too. I want to get faith communities and community champions helping us.

“To me poverty is the biggest evil. It’s not just about economic poverty, but emotional deprivation, children falling through the cracks. Pockets of poverty are appearing where they were never seen before.

“A lot who live in poverty have a rich life, they have love, support, their kids aren’t dirty or smelly, neglected or under nourished. Those issues don’t always correlate to poverty.

“Kids live with parents with mental health, drug, alcohol, issues. We need to help find survival strategies before they start to think they are worthless, and become disruptive.

“The reality of poverty is horrible. There’s the biggest percentage of domestic violence and number of outlets selling alcohol in Bloomfield.

“Poverty should be our priority. The Government should have never cut early intervention support – we need to spot problems faster, get people out to parents quicker.

“We put great store by the work done by Sure Start - these services really help. If there was another Government threat to Sure Start I’d probably chain myself to one!”

Sarah now teaches health and social modules to students at Blackpool and The Fylde College. Her first social worker job was on the frontline in Manchester’s Moss Side. “It gives you a sense of perspective,” she says.

The CPAG says 9,498 children live in poverty in Blackpool, 2322 in Fylde (at a cost of £25m), 3271 in Wyre (£36m).

More than 41,000 children live in poverty in Manchester at a cost to the state of £446m. Life expectancy for children there is lower than here.

In Blackpool the cost to the state and other services, including the local authority, work out at £103m. That’s about £10,844 a child.

Sarah warns you can’t apply cold calculus to a child’s future. “It’s false economy. Children are our future. We need to invest in them.”

Investing in children is something the council is doing through its pot of £200,00 of funding for youth projects, while the Getting It Right early assessment team – a scheme currently being piloted in Blackpool –means help from the relevant agencies gets to families in need faster.

All council workers now earn at least the living wage – £7.45, instead of the minimum wage of £6.31 – to support their families and free primary school breakfasts have been a major breakthrough, Sarah adds. “Yes, parents should feed their kids but not all do or do so adequately. There’s neglect and under-nourishment. A fed child is a happier and healthier child. It’s a valuable weapon against poverty.

“Poverty’s a home grown Blackpool problem too. It’s not all about transience.”

One newcomer to Blackpool, a single mum, agrees. Jenny is taking her son to Devonshire Road Primary– through the park near Gorton Street Sure Start Centre.

“I’ve been made welcome. My son’s made friends too. He likes the school breakfasts although I always made him one myself. We don’t have much money but we get by. We have each other, we have support. It’s a nice place to live. Who wouldn’t want to live in Blackpool?”

She points to some graffiti in the mural running alongside the play area. “Play, chill, live, love, be happy,” it says.