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Barking and Dagenham youngsters suffer as borough ranks among top child poverty hotspots in the UK

PUBLISHED: 16:11 06 September 2012 | UPDATED: 10:44 07 September 2012

Deprivation: Barking food bank manager Obi Onyeabor says familes had pledged to go hungry to feed their children

Deprivation: Barking food bank manager Obi Onyeabor says familes had pledged to go hungry to feed their children

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As the charity Save the Children launches its first poverty campaign in the UK, the Post talks to support organisations in Barking and Dagenham which help hard-pressed families confronted by the harsh realities of living in recession-hit Britain.

Save the Children made history yesterday as it unveiled its first major fundraising drive to help UK children.

The charity had previously led campaigns in Britain, in particular an initiative to provide free school meals for poor pupils.

But never before had the organisation, known for its activities in developing countries, launched a major stand-alone fundraising campaign to help recession-hit youngsters in Britain.

At the heart of the campaign is a desire to stop a cycle of deprivation blighting children’s lives.

Figures collated by the charity are alarming. Save the Children says that one in eight of the poorest children in the UK go without at least one hot meal a day.

Its research also indicates that one in seven of the poorest children go to school without a warm winter coat and new shoes, and nearly a fifth say they miss out on school trips.

Meanwhile, one in 10 of the poorest parents are forced to cut back on food to make sure their offspring have enough to eat and 80 per cent borrow money for essentials such as food and clothes.

The study, based on a survey of 1,500 children and 5,000 parents, also shows many of them work but are still in poverty.

Statistics collated by Save the Children show that 1.6million live in extreme poverty in the UK, meaning that families, typically with two children, get by with less than £240 a week or £134 for a lone parent.

Meanwhile a table published by the charity shows Barking and Dagenham is one of the biggest child poverty hotspots in Britain ranking 14th out of 204 areas.

The table, based on National Policy Institute statistics shows that 22 per cent of children - around 9,000 - lived in poverty in Barking and Dagenham in 2008/09.

Community organisations in Barking and Dagenham said they were all too aware of the high levels of child depravation in the east London borough.

The founder of Barking Food Bank in Gascoigne Road said parents coming to collect fares had vowed to go hungry to allow their children to eat.

Pastor Obi Onyeabor, 40, said: “A high percentage of children are struggling.

“At the food bank, I have seen local families come in and people say ‘I don’t mind if you don’t give me anything but please give something so my children can eat.’

“Poverty leads to alcohol abuse and depression. You get children going back to the streets because their parents are losing their dignity. It causes a lot of problems all round.”

Ab Phab Youth Club in Pembroke Gardens, Dagenham, said child poverty could easily be missed in a wealthy G8 nation like the UK.

Young people services manager Josy Hughes, 50, said: “I do know about the high rate of poverty locally.

“It’s been hard for people and even harder with the recession. Lots have lost their jobs. There are more part-time jobs and fewer full-time jobs. The government cutbacks have hit parents.

“A high amount of youngsters are within or below the poverty line. Sometimes they will be invisible.

“We’re seen as a wealthy country - and some of us are.

“When you look at what you get, electricity, gas and education provided for by the state, lots of people just don’t realise how others struggle.

“It seems like a lot of people seem to fall through the gap.

“Lots of people are applying for one job. Rates of pay companies are now offering are actually going down.”

The Youth League UK charity in Heathway, Dagenham, has just been awarded nearly £300,000 of Lottery funding to boost sports participation among deprived children.

Senior play worker Dave Cross welcomed the Save the Children initiative but hopes it will be backed by a solid, long-term strategy.

Mr Cross, 53, said: “We got the money through the Lottery because of the deprivation in the borough.

“Anything like that helps, free school meals or free sports.

“We go to the deprived parts of Barking and Dagenham because there is nothing else there.

“Perhaps it takes an organisation like that to highlight child poverty. I hope myself this is a decent plan, rather a knee-jerk reaction.”

Save the Children said that it hoped to raise £500,000 through its new UK campaign.

Justin Forsyth, the charity’s chief executive, said: “No child should see their parent going hungry or start the new term without a warm coat and with holes in their shoes.

“Poverty is tearing families apart, with parents buckling under the pressure of mounting bills and children seeing their parents argue more about money.

“That’s why for the first time in our history we are launching a UK appeal. We need to help poor families survive the recession.”

Barking and Dagenham Council said it had invested hundreds of thousands of pounds to tackle poverty and stressed that latest figures showed child poverty was decreasing in the east London borough.

A council spokesman said: “Like other boroughs nationally Barking and Dagenham is facing considerable challenges in terms of deprivation, and is committed to lifting children and families out of poverty.

“We deliver a number of successful programmes that are helping us to achieve this and welcome any extra initiatives.

“We run a vast amount of jobs and training programmes in children’s centres to raise income and upskill parents.

“Last year, we raised over £1million income for residents through our independent welfare benefits advisory service.

“Through children’s centres and youth services we have a very well embedded volunteer programme that provides invaluable experience for parents out of, or seeking a return, to work.

“Twenty five volunteers are currently undergoing an NVQ level 2 in youth work.

“The educational attainment of our children and young people continues to buck the national trend, and exceeds that of our neighbours.

“It is important to note that the latest figures from 2009 show that overall child poverty in the borough is two per cent lower than it was in 2008 and we are confident that it will continue to decrease.”


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