Photo: The Commune  / London Coalition Against Poverty

Photo: The Commune / London Coalition Against Poverty

Hackney is one of the worst places in the country for severe child poverty, which affects ten thousand children in the borough, according to new figures from Save the Children.

For the first time, the charity has provided a local authority breakdown of the figures. Hackney is one of 29 local authorities across the country with more than one in five children living in severe poverty.

Manchester has the highest proportion of children living in severe child poverty in the UK. However, the London borough of Tower Hamlets is a close second with Hackney, Newham and Westminster all in the top ten worst affected places.

Save the Children is calling on the government to draw up an emergency plan to tackle the issue – it says the number of children living in severe child poverty nationally remains unacceptably high at 1.6 million.

With increasing unemployment and cuts in welfare payments, Save the Children’s fears that even more children will be forced in to severe poverty in the coming months without urgent and concerted action.

Sally Copley, Save the Children’s head of UK policy, “Children up and down the country are going to sleep at night in homes with no heating, without eating a proper meal and without proper school uniforms to put on in the morning. No child should be born without a chance. It is a national scandal that 1.6 million children are growing up in severe poverty.”

The charity is calling on the Chancellor to announce an emergency plan in the next budget to channel new jobs into the poorest areas, as well increase financial support for low-income families, for example, by paying for more childcare costs enabling parents to work.

Save the Children also wants to see the Government adopt its pioneering measurement of severe child poverty, which combines both income and material deprivation. According to Save the Children, a lone-parent family with one child aged under 14 in severe poverty is living on an income of less than £7,000 and a couple with two children under 14 is on less than £12,500.

The charity says these families are also going without the things that many of us take for granted; such as separate bedrooms for older boys and girls, not being able to properly celebrate birthdays or special events and not being able to build friendships by having children round for tea.

At present, the government has no official way to measure how many children are caught up in severe child poverty, or to estimate the impact of their policies on this most vulnerable section of the population.

Sally Copley continued, “If the government is to fulfill its commitments on child poverty, it must find a way of counting these children in greatest need. At the moment, these children are hidden from official view, and their plight unrecognised. If these children are to have a future, we must acknowledge their desperate need and urgently target government help towards them.”

Hackney families living in council flats earn less than a fifth of those who have a mortgage, according to a 2008/9 council-commissioned report. The report by Fordham Research also found a quarter of council homes are “unsuitable” for their tenants according to government criteria.

The average income of council  tenants last year was just £8,862. Owner-occupied households with mortgages averaged £46,616. Forty-four per cent of council tenants spent over half their income on rent, the survey showed, while the majority of households with a mortgage spent under a quarter on their repayments.

Commenting on the figures, a Hackney Council spokesperson said: “While child poverty still remains an issue in Hackney, we are making progress in this area. One of the many ways we tackle this problem is by supporting parents to gain employment and increasing their income potential. Only last week, 1,500 people turned up to find out about employment opportunities at the council’s Ways into Work jobs fair.

“At the same time, we have continued to invest in schools across Hackney. For instance, we have built five new secondary schools and provided 3,000 new secondary pupil places since 2004.

“The Council was also recently involved in the setting up and establishment of a new credit union in Hackney, which teaches people the basics of financial planning and helps those who are financially excluded.”

In 2008, Hackney’s child poverty rate was 43.5% in comparison to 48.6% in 2007.

One of the cuts in national grant for the wider borough was £17m to Team Hackney – the local strategic partnership that funded many projects that were run alongside council, health and education services.

As part of the budget setting process, the Council has proposed to step in with £3m funding and continue priority work in these areas, with a focus on provision for young people, reducing youth crime, gang intervention, community safety and domestic violence.

The council says the planned reforms to the Housing Benefit system will have a disproportionate affect on residents in inner London, and has already written to both Local Housing Allowance tenants and private landlords to inform them about these changes. It will be assisting households to find cheaper accommodation or help them negotiate a rent reduction with private landlords.

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