Burnley has one of the highest proportions of children in low-income families

More children in Burnley live in low-income families than almost anywhere else in the country, new figures show.

In Burnley, 33.1% of children under 16 were living in families with relative low incomes in 2018-19
In Burnley, 33.1% of children under 16 were living in families with relative low incomes in 2018-19

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation think tank has called on the Government to raise Universal Credit to stop child poverty compounding the "human suffering" of the coronavirus pandemic, following an increase in the proportion of children in low-income families across Great Britain.

A family is defined as low-income if they earn less than 60% of the median income – a measure of average earnings which takes the middle point – before housing costs are taken into account, which is currently £308 per week.

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In Burnley, 33.1% of children under 16 were living in families with relative low incomes in 2018-19, Department for Work and Pensions figures show.

This was one of the highest proportions in Great Britain, though it was actually a decrease on the 33.3% recorded the previous year.

It means 6,134 children in the area live in households earning less than £308 a week, although a family has to have claimed Universal Credit, Tax Credits or Housing Benefit at some point in the year to be counted in the statistics.

Across Great Britain, the proportion of children belonging to families on low incomes rose slightly to 18.4% in 2018-19, compared to 18.2% the year before.

This amounts to 2.3 million children throughout Britain, which the Children's Society said should "appal us all".

Dr Sam Royston, director of policy and research at the charity, said: "Living in poverty has a hugely damaging effect on children’s lives, leaving them more likely to experience low well-being, poor mental health and with poorer future prospects.

“Without substantial intervention the coronavirus will undoubtedly unleash further harm to the poorest in society. There is no time to waste."

The charity is calling for the Government to end the five-week wait for Universal Credit, suspend the No Recourse to Public Funds condition which stops many families from accessing benefits, and make a long-term commitment to local welfare assistance.

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The DWP figures show huge variation across Great Britain, with 38% of children under 16 in low income families in Oldham, Greater Manchester, the worst-affected area. Excluding the City of London, which is home to just a few hundred children, Elmbridge, in Surrey, had the lowest proportion at just 6%.

Helen Barnard, acting director of the think tank Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said an uplift of £20 per week for families with children claiming Universal Credit would keep many from being pulled into poverty.

She added: "Children growing up in poverty are locked out of opportunities and unable to take part in society to the same extent as their peers. As a compassionate society, we cannot accept this.

“The coronavirus crisis has shown us that we want to support each other and protect each other from harm.

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“By taking action now, we can ensure that the human suffering of this tragic pandemic is not compounded by rising child poverty, damaging life chances and holding a generation back in the years to come.”

A Government spokesman said the number of children and pensioners in absolute poverty has fallen by 200,000 compared to 2010.

He added: “This government is wholly committed to supporting the lowest-paid families and has already taken significant steps including raising the living wage, ending the benefit freeze and increasing work incentives.

“We’re giving councils an unprecedented package of support, including £4.3 billion of emergency funding during the coronavirus pandemic and we have injected over £6.5 billion into the welfare system, including increasing Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit by up to £1,040 a year.”