BISHOPS in the Church of England have called for further action from the Government to address child poverty, after new figures released this week suggest that in some parts of the UK up to 47 per cent of children are currently living below the breadline.
End Child Poverty, a coalition of about 100 charities, NGOs, and faith groups, including the Church of England, estimates in its latest report, published on Tuesday (based on HMRC data from 2015), that more than 3.5 million children in the country are living in households that are either receiving of out-of-work benefits or in-work tax credits.
The Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, said that the figures were “deeply concerning”. He warned that the Government’s decision to freeze child benefits for the next four years under the Welfare Reform and Work Act, against rising commodity prices, was likely to result in further destitution for poorer families. Cuts to universal credit have also affected working, low-income households, he said.
“Behind these poverty figures are the stories of individual families who are unable to meet even the basic essentials of life. Child poverty adversely impacts on children’s health and education, preventing them from reaching their God-given potential in later life. Particularly worrying is the fact that the majority of parents of children in poverty are in work.”
Child poverty is particularly prevalent in large cities, the report says. Of the 20 parliamentary constituencies with the highest levels in the UK, seven were in London, three in Birmingham, and three in Manchester. Poplar and Limehouse, in London; Manchester Central; and Ladywood, in Birmingham, topped the list, with 43.7 per cent, 44.8 per cent, and 47.3 per cent respectively.
The Bishop of Manchester, the Rt Revd David Walker, said: “In areas such as this, we are no longer simply contending with a crisis of material provision or social relations. It becomes a crisis of collective imagination as well, whereby poverty is normalised for millions of children.”
The report found that more than 43.5 per cent of children living in Tower Hamlets did so in poverty, the highest level in its breakdown of local authorities. It was closely followed by other London boroughs: Westminster (37.7 per cent), Islington (also 37.7 per cent), and Hackney (37.1 per cent).
The Bishop of Stepney, the Rt Revd Adrian Newman, said that the figures were “hugely disturbing” given the “apparent gentrification” of east London boroughs, in particular, in recent years.
Child poverty was also prevalent in the north-east of England, the report suggested. Middlesbrough came in eighth in the list of local authorities, with 37 per cent; Newcastle, 33 per cent; and South Tyneside, 30 per cent. The regional average was 28.5 per cent, compared with 27.3 per cent in Wales, and 20 per cent in Scotland.