Leeds city centre has been named as one of the country’s worst child poverty hotspots in a national league of shame.
New research from the End Child Poverty coalition revealed more than one in four youngsters across the city as a whole is living below the breadline.
And when the numbers are broken down even further by parliamentary constituency, Leeds Central – which includes the city’s working class heartlands such as Beeston and Hunslet as well as symbols of affluence and success such as the Victoria Gate shopping centre – is the country’s seventh worst place for a child to grow up,
Campaigners today slammed the growing inequality gap and “childhood lottery” which means life chances are decided by which area of the city a child is born in.
And they called on the Government to stop “glossing over” the crisis facing thousands of families – and reverse the punitive benefits cuts and caps which it is claimed is fuelling hardship.
Mariama Weston, from the Leeds Poverty Truth Commission, said: “The Government is definitely in denial, just glossing over things and hoping it gets better. But it won’t. By all means they can make cuts, but I don’t think they should make such drastic cuts.”
LEEDS’S SHAME OVER ‘LOTTERY’ OF CHILDHOOD
Decades of good work by successive Governments to end child poverty risks being undone as a string of punitive benefits cuts condemns an entire generation to a “childhood lottery”, a coalition of 100 charities and civic organisations warns today.
The stark warning from the End Child Poverty campaign comes as shocking new research named Leeds Central as the 7th worst national hotspot for child poverty.
Across the city, more than 44,000 children, 27.3 per cent of the total, are estimated to be living below the breadline. The data is based on how much income a family has left after housing costs are taken out of the equation. Anyone living on less than 60 per cent of the average national income is considered to be impoverished.
In the Leeds Central parliamentary constituency - which includes working class inner city heartlands like Beeston and Hunslet as well as the affluence and glamour of the retail and leisure hub - 41.8 per cent of children are estimated to be living in impoverished conditions, one of the highest rates across the whole country.
In the east of the city, the figure is 35.5 per cent, and the picture is similar in west Leeds.
However the wide-ranging study also paints a picture of an increasingly divided city, with a growing inequality gap affecting our youngest citizens. Nationally, experts are now predicting that the Government is on track to fail on a cross party pledge to eradicate child poverty by 2020, with claims that rising living costs and a freeze on benefits are stalling progress entirely.
Sam Royston, chair of the End Child Poverty coalition of 100 children’s charities, told the Yorkshire Evening Post: “For a long period there was real progress right across Parliament on child poverty,
“But what’s really worrying is that progress has now stalled.
“Much of that good work has been undone and is expected to continue to head in the wrong direction in coming years, with many more children expected to be living in poverty by the end of the decade.
“The principal cause of this is many of the cuts to benefits and tax credits which disproportionately children in lower income families, including increasingly, children in low income working families.
“What we need to do as a society is make sure that all families have enough to give their children the essentials for a decent childhood. Childhood should not be a lottery .
“And that’s why we need local authorities to play their role - but we also need real action at national Government level.”
The coalition is calling on the Government to use the upcoming Autumn Statement to end the 4-year freeze on children’s benefits and reverse the sharp cuts being introduced to in-work benefits under Universal Credit.
Responding to the latest figures, councillor Lisa Mulherin, Leeds council’s executive member for children and families, said: “No child should have to live in poverty, which is why we have put in place a number of early intervention programmes to help young children who are at risk of falling behind their peers and whose families are facing financial deprivation.
“Leeds has a very diverse society, where the gap between those with the highest incomes and those with the lowest is significant.
“It is worth noting however that many of the children living in poverty in Leeds live in households where at least one parent is in work.
“As part of our ambition to be the best city for children to grow up in, improving the quality of life for our residents, particularly for those who are vulnerable or in poverty is a key priority for us. The local authority cannot solve the challenges facing our communities alone, and we are working closely with our partners to deliver the best outcomes for children and families in Leeds.”
In Leeds, charities and civic and business leaders have recently teamed up to form the Leeds Poverty Truth Commission.
Among its members is Mariama Weston, 24, a single mum-of-two and part time student, who said she wouldn’t have believed Leeds could be so high up in the child poverty league had she not personally witnessed it.
“My sister has five children and she is close to being evicted because of benefit cuts under the new cap, and because she can’t get a job at the moment,” she said.
“She usually deals very well with her money and paying ogff bills, but is just struggling to pay the rent and feed the family.
“It is hitting people very hard.
“The Government is definitely in denial, just glossing over things and hoping it gets better. But it won’t. By all means they can make cuts, but I don’t think they should make such drastic cuts.”