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Sussex families on the brink of poverty
5:10pm Monday 25th February 2013 in News
One in four children in Brighton and Hove live in poverty, shocking new statistics reveal. Dulcie Lee reveals how an extra 8,000 children in Sussex fell into poverty last year and how the figures look set to grow
Families are going hungry as an extra 8,000 children in Sussex have been plunged into poverty during the past year.
Figures released this week show an overall increase across the county, with more than 11,000 impoverished children in Brighton and Hove alone.
Across the county, the figure now stands at 58,000.
The children’s charity that conducted the report warned millions of children’s lives could be “blighted by the corrosive impact of poverty” if the government doesn’t change course.
Charities told The Argus that poor families were increasingly reliant on food handouts.
The only warm meal some children get each day is lunch at school.
The economic downturn, stunted jobs market and biting welfare cuts are all blamed for the worsening situation, politicians and experts said.
The report, published by the Campaign to End Child Poverty (CECP), has also revealed a growing gap between the rich and the poor.
In Brighton and Hove, Moulsecoomb and Bevendean remain worst affected, with 1,602 youngsters in poverty – 44% of the children in the ward.
By contrast, Hove Park and Withdean have only one in ten children in poverty, although the number has risen 4% since last year.
If a two-child family earns less than £18,300 a year, or a household with one child makes below £11,300, then the children are considered to be living in poverty.
This figure is calculated based on the national median wage for a household.
Simon Kirby, MP for Kemptown, which covers Moulsecoomb and Bevendean, said: “Child poverty is one of the biggest problems we face.”
He added: “I spend a lot of time speaking with my constituents in Moulsecoomb and Whitehawk about the concerns that they have over issues like employment and education.
“I want to assure my constituents that I will be working hard ... to eradicate child poverty by 2020.”
Almost one in four youngsters in Brighton and Hove are now in poverty, giving a total of 11,278 children – 1,000 more than last year.
Brighton and Hove City Mission is a charity that provides food parcels and fuel aid to struggling families. It relies on organisation FareShare and food donations from churches, schools and local supermarkets to help families.
Despite an increase in donations, Tony Smith, coordinator of the mission, said they are still struggling to keep up with demand.
He said: “There has been a distinctive increase in families that have been referred to us. We’re working to full capacity.
“It could be a week or a couple of weeks before we can see families in need. We’re looking at setting up another food bank in another part of the city to cope with demand.
“We’ve only got a limited budget on fuel aid. Families have to decide whether they feed the kids or whether they have the heating on. It’s quite a major issue.”
When asked about the future of child poverty and how families can break the cycle, he said: “Obviously employment is an issue and we need to be doing as much as we can to encourage people to get back into employment. Poverty is going to get worse.”
Anne Bickmore runs the ABC Children’s Fund, a charity which takes disadvantaged children from Brighton and Hove out on day trips and provides them with treats.
She said the problem of child poverty in the city had been getting “steadily worse” in recent years.
She said: “People don’t appreciate how bad things are. At Christmas we made 87 hampers for families in poverty, but it wasn’t nearly enough. Many of the children had absolutely nothing.
“A lot of the mums were in tears when we gave them their hampers on the doorstep because they were so desperate.”
One hot meal
Mrs Bickmore said many children can only look forward to one hot meal a day – their school dinner. She said: “They are just surviving on whatever the parents can scratch together.
“But part of the problem is that many parents simply don’t cook for their kids, either because they don’t know how to or because they don’t have the facilities. It’s terrible.”
The Department for Work and Pensions has admitted that the picture appears better than it is.
It says this is due to the fall in median wage and there has been no real change to children’s lives. The situation is expected to worsen in April as benefit cuts begin to bite.
Sue Shanks, chair of Brighton and Hove City Council’s committee for children, said: “We’re providing extra funds to help families struggling with government reductions in council tax benefit, housing benefit, and other welfare changes.
“Unfortunately, and despite our best efforts, we expect to see the numbers of families in need increase as a result of government welfare reforms.”
So hard to see my kids go without
Judy Paterson*, 45, is a disabled single mother from Hove. She has four daughters, although only two live with her. They are aged six and nine. The three live in a two-bedroom council flat.
Due to her disability Ms Paterson has very little mobility; she can’t take her children to school or stand by a cooker to prepare food.
Disability carers visit her flat each day. Two volunteers from Fun in Action go out with her daughters each week or fortnight.
She said: “Income-wise [my situation] is very, very difficult. It’s led to my children not having much of a social life with their peers. We’re quite excluded from the community.
“My nine year old isn’t very confident and she says she notices all her friends go on holidays. She’s not really old enough to go out on her own.
“She was in the community choir but I couldn’t get anyone to [bring her back home] so we had to stop doing that.
“[My children] are so aware that they don’t have as much as they should have.
Price of food
“Things are a lot worse [than last year]. The price of food has really affected everything. I find [the food] I do get is half of what others have.
“I can’t afford organic food, which I know would be much healthier for them. I used to buy vitamin supplements to give them [to make sure they got the nutrition they needed].
“If I’m feeling a bit down or ill I can’t just say: ‘Let’s go out for a pizza’. The funds aren’t there to do that.
“[In April, when the benefits changes come in] I’m actually considering where the nearest food bank is and to ask the carer to go down there for me.
“Every parent, whatever their situation, needs a break.
*Names have been changed. An estimated 3,651 children are living in poverty in Hove – a proportion of 19%.
What is the problem and how do we solve it?
Anne McLaren, project manager of Fun in Action, said: Society asks parents living in poverty to be incredibly resourceful all the time without any respite. Because their resources are limited just one small financial setback has a huge impact. This does put them in a position of real vulnerability.
Fun in Action provides a befriending service to children from disadvantaged lone parent families in the Brighton and Hove area.
Simon Kirby, MP for Brighton Kemptown, said: [Child poverty] is a complex issue which is not just about a lack of money, but incorporates lack of employment, failings of the education system, debt, family breakdown and other socio economic factors.
Kemptown, which includes Moulsecoomb and Whitehawk, has the joint highest child poverty rate of 30% – 5,087 children.
Amber Rudd, MP for Hastings and Rye, said: I have always said that the best way to reduce child poverty, which is proven, is to get families into work.
Hastings and Rye has 6,675 children living in poverty which equates to 30% – the joint highest in Sussex.
Tony Smith, Brighton and Hove City Mission coordinator, said: Obviously employment is an issue and we need to be doing as much as we can to encourage people to get back into employment. A lot of the people are coming [to us] because they don’t have any [money] reserves.
Brighton and Hove City Mission is a charity which offers practical support to those with food, fuel aid and basic kitchen and bedding needs.
Warren Morgan, councillor for East Brighton, said: Measures like the Working Families Tax Credit, the Minimum Wage and Sure Start Children’s Centres [have] a huge impact [on reducing child poverty]. I’m very worried for households in my ward and across the city who are facing rising bills [and] falling incomes.
In East Brighton 45% of children are in poverty – the highest in Brighton and Hove.
A spokesman from the Department for Work and Pensions said: We want to take a new approach by tackling the root causes [of child poverty] including worklessness, educational failure and family breakdown.
The DWP predicts the upcoming benefits changes to push another 200,000 children into relative low income poverty.
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