ALMOST half of children in Blackburn are living in poverty it has been revealed – the highest figure in the North West. MARY NAYLOR reports.

ALMOST 20,000 children in the Blackburn with Darwen borough are living in need, in many cases their parents will work but struggle to support them.

This in turn can lead to difficulties in later life.

Ros Duerden, who set up Blackburn Food Bank in November 2012, was “unsurprised” to learn that 46.9 per cent of Blackburn’s children were living in poverty.

She said: “It all comes under the bracket of low income and rising costs. It’s been chipping away at people’s livelihoods.”

Mrs Duerden’s assessment is borne out by a paper published today by Loughborough University.

Researchers looked into child poverty rates around the UK between 1990s and now.

The data revealed the number of children in poverty fell steadily between the late 90s and 2010 when it began to fluctuate.

However, the trend from 2016 has been upwards.

Researchers said: “The income of less well-off families has been hit by severe real-terms cuts in benefit levels and by higher housing costs, while being constrained by limited opportunities to improve earnings from work.

“At least half a million more children are in relative poverty as a result, with two-thirds of child poverty occurring in working families.

“The present national increase is projected to continue under the present policies, with rates set to reach record levels by the early 2020s. Children’s life chances in the worst-hit areas are set to diminish further.”

One man was forced to use Blackburn Food Bank when his wife became sick with a debilitating illness.

He said: “I have always worked and neither of us ever even set foot in an employment office.

“We have our own house and three children, neither of us drink, smoke or take drugs.

“We slipped into debt but were too proud to ask for help.

“I can still remember the pain and shame of asking for help but my children needed feeding ­– worst of all was going to food bank for the first time.”

The father said the respect, support and kindness shown to him and his family on every visit to Blackburn Food Bank was “amazing”.

He said: “If you are considering supporting food banks, know that they are providing a crucial lifeline to people who are in real and genuine crisis.

“Many people like us fight to stay in employment and own their own homes which means they do not qualify for support from the government.

“It is people like us that are having to use foodbanks more and more.”

Mrs Duerden said: “There’s an increased number of families where both partners are in work, not necessarily high paid work, but they are affected by the price rises as everyone else is.”

She said just under half the people her food bank supports are children of poor families.

Mrs Duerden was moved to set up Blackburn Food Bank after working with children with challenging behaviours.

She said: “The majority come from low-income families, the two things are associated.

“I worked in schools and referral units and there was a strong correlation between poverty and children’s development and children’s behaviour.

“You can’t live in Blackburn without knowing there’s a real problem.”

On the back of the research by Loughborough University, End Child Poverty is calling on the major political parties to create an ambitious child poverty-reduction strategy.

End Child Poverty is a coalition of charities, unions and religious groups with a common cause.

Anna Feuchtwang, chairman of the End Child Poverty coalition, said: “We know what causes child poverty and we know how to end it.

“We know that the income of less well-off families has been hit by severe real-terms cuts in benefits and by higher housing costs. And we know that work alone does not guarantee a route out of poverty, with two thirds of child poverty occurring in working families.

“Yet in many areas growing up in poverty is not the exception it’s the rule with more children expected to get swept up in poverty in the coming years, with serious consequences for their life chances.

“Policymakers can no longer deny the depth of the problem or abandon entire areas to rising poverty. The government must respond with a credible child poverty-reduction strategy.

“The Government’s own data shows that child poverty in the UK has been rising steadily in recent years. This just isn’t right.”

Imran Hussain, director of policy and campaigns at Action for Children said: “We see children and their families worn down by the misery of surviving on food banks or being dragged into debt. They face impossible choices between paying bills or buying food and the harsh daily reality affects half a million children across the North West, swallowing them in a relentless cycle of poverty.”

A Blackburn with Darwen Council spokesperson said: “We know that we face great challenges and issues around poverty in Blackburn with Darwen and continue to work very hard to tackle those inequalities that exist.

“Some of the many factors that can contribute to children and families living in poverty are beyond our control but we are striving to make a difference in the areas that we can effect.

“Investment in the borough remains a priority with new businesses and jobs being created and public health investment to get help to people who need it.

“We have committed to a new food strategy and launched a BwD Food Alliance in 2018, with the primary aim of tackling food poverty in the borough, and have supported an innovative scheme called the Blackburn and Darwen Summer Lunchbox Project, which aims to help struggling families by providing free packed lunches to children.

“We continue to work with partners from all sectors who are also working hard to address these issues.”