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Tuesday, July 23, 2024

More than a third of Kirklees children in poverty as families ‘have no food in the fridge’

Kirklees parents are being forced to go without meals for days in order to feed their children, as a poverty crisis grips the district.

A report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) found that a staggering 34 percent of the borough’s children are living in poverty. Kirklees’ child poverty rate is the third highest in the whole of Yorkshire and the Humber, coming after Kingston Upon Hull at 35 percent and Bradford at 39 percent.

A council meeting last year brought to light some more worrying statistics about children living in poverty in the district. A CLiK (Currently Living in Kirklees) survey in 2021 showed that in some parts of the borough, the percentage of children living in poverty is much higher than the Kirklees average.

In Dewsbury West, 60.5 percent of children were living in poverty at the time of the survey, with this figure being ten times greater than the percentage of children living in poverty in the Denby Dale ward.

Community activist Tanisha Bramwell told of her experiences working with a local food bank. She said: “Currently, there are more hungry children in Kirklees than there have been in recent years, and the ongoing crises are affecting young people throughout our communities.

“The food bank I work with has witnessed distressing situations in the past few years. For example, we were urgently called to a mother’s home when her children returned from school to find no food in the fridge. Shortly thereafter, we were asked to assist another parent whose daughter was turning six, but they couldn’t afford anything to celebrate her big day.

“We regularly encounter parents who go without meals for days and children who receive smaller portions. Regardless of the area, homes are becoming colder, children appear increasingly hungry, and the parents we see daily seem more and more stressed.

“The demand for assistance always exceeds the available services, leaving many without the help they need. These circumstances are causing harm to everyone involved. Our young people and communities deserve better.”

The CLiK survey also revealed that people living in the most deprived areas of Kirklees are dying eight years before those living in the least deprived areas. Some of the wards making up the 10 percent most deprived areas in Kirklees included parts of Batley East and West, Dewsbury East and West, Dalton and Ashbrow.

Paul Kissack, Group Chief Executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said: “It has been almost twenty years and six Prime Ministers since the last prolonged period of falling poverty in the UK. Instead, over the last two decades, we have seen poverty deepen, with more and more families falling further and further below the poverty line.

“Little wonder that the visceral signs of hardship and destitution are all around us – from rocketing use of foodbanks to growing numbers of homeless families. This is a social failure at scale. It is a story of both moral and fiscal irresponsibility – an affront to the dignity of those living in hardship while driving up pressures on public services like the NHS.

“It’s a story which can – and must – change.  Governments are not powerless to act, as we have seen throughout our history. One way politicians can take action in the next parliament is to enshrine in law a guarantee that people will always be able to afford the essentials, such as food and household bills, through our benefits system.

“2024 will be a year of choices, and any political party wishing to form a new government must set out a practical and ambitious plan to turn back the tide on poverty in the UK. That plan – to ensure the dignity and respect of every member of our society – will be essential for achieving any broader ambitions for the country.”

JRF is calling for political parties competing for the votes of the British public at the next general election to set out how they will turn the tide and take action to tackle the increasing numbers of people living in poverty.

The foundation wants to see an ‘Essentials Guarantee’ introduced as part of Universal Credit, to ensure that everyone has a protected minimum amount of support to afford essentials like food and household bills. In addition, they say that future governments must focus on expanding the foundations of economic security to all.

Back on a local level, Kirklees Council has outlined some of the ways it can help people who are struggling to make ends meet. A council spokesperson said: “The council offers a wide range of support to children and families who may be facing financial difficulties.

“We also work closely with local organisations so that families, including those with children, are able to access the help they need.

“Anyone who feels they may qualify for benefits is encouraged to contact us for advice. We can also provide information on free school meals and free early education and childcare for children aged between two and four.

“The Healthy Start programme provides vouchers for eligible people with young families and we operate the Holiday Activity and Food programme during school holidays – this provides fun activities and free food for those on free school meals.

“There are many other ways that people can get help and advice. More details can be found at www.kirklees.gov.uk/cost-of-living”

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