Barking MP Dame Margaret Hodge wants to create a “modern-day Sure Start” centre as part of a campaign to address child poverty.

Like people all over the country, families in Barking and Dagenham - where it’s estimated almost half of children live in poverty - have fallen on hard times during the pandemic and many rely on zero-hour contracts and live in overcrowded housing.

Labour MP Dame Margaret plans to create a space where local groups and services that assist these families can operate on a permanent basis, providing easy access in one place.

She said: “The last 18 months have been tough for many, but the pandemic’s effects have been felt harshly here in Barking and Dagenham, in particular by children.

“The cuts to free school meals, the disruption to education - life hasn’t been easy for the younger generation.

“And this summer, Barking and Dagenham reached the harrowing statistic of almost 50pc of children growing up in poverty, which is outrageous.”

Her new campaign to address this statistic kicked off by hosting a Best Start event with constituents at the Ripple Centre in Barking on Friday, September 17.

The drop-in session allowed people to find out about services and activities available to families and children in the borough or to meet Dame Margaret and raise any concerns they had, such as housing disrepair, neighbour disputes and rehousing applications.

Shadow secretary of state for child poverty and Ilford North MP Wes Streeting and East Ham MP Stephen Timms, who is chair of the work and pensions select committee, also attended to hear from residents and see the work local organisations are doing.

Dame Margaret said: “It was an opportunity for young people and families in the borough to connect with local services and for me to hear constituent’s concerns.

“Hopefully, we will be able to create a new Sure Start, so these services can have a space to operate on a more permanent basis.”

Featured groups and services will include Future Youth Zone; Studio 3 Arts; Barking and Dagenham College; the council’s home and money hub, job shop, healthy lifestyles and early years services; Lifeline; The Baby Bank; Excel Women’s Centre; play groups Leyf Nurseries and Cocoon Club; and NHS health visitors.