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Child poverty in Norwich revealed

PUBLISHED: 07:48 17 March 2011

Child Poverty in region

Child Poverty in region

Archant

"People who come to Norwich go to the city centre and it looks like a very prosperous middle-England city - and yet there are significant levels of poverty and hardship in Norwich," says Alan Waters, Norwich City Council's cabinet member for resources, performance and shared services.

In England, one in five children is living in poverty, according to the Campaign to End Child Poverty, but for Norwich this rises to 30pc, nearly one in three.

At a ward level, Norwich’s Wensum (39pc), Mile Cross (39pc), University (37pc), Mancroft (36pc), Crome (35pc), Bowthorpe (34pc) and Lakenham (34pc) are among some of the areas of Norfolk with the highest levels of child poverty, defined as living in families with income below 60pc of the national average.

For Mr Waters, pictured below, who described the situation as “bleak”, low wages and part-time work are among the factors which mean even if parents are in work, they still cannot earn enough to claw their way out of hardship.

He said: “I think the really depressing thing about it is that it’s been a stubborn and persistent figure for some years, although there has been some improvement in the last decade.

“There’s a lot of part-time work in Norwich and that follows a national trend, and what we are finding is people are entitled to benefits on part-time work but the system is quite complex and they often don’t know what help they are entitled to.

“If people cannot get out of poverty when they are in work there’s clearly something wrong with the sytem.

“We need to raise the minimum wage and, as an administration, we are campaigning about the importance of a living wage, which would also mean more money is spent in the city and in the local economy.”

Supporting families is part of the work of Norfolk and Norwich Families’ House, based in Ber Street in Norwich.

Director Suzanne Bryant believes mental health is a large contributor to child poverty in Norwich, with 50pc of the parents they work with having mental health issues.

She said: “I think being able to really empower people, to give them the confidence to be able to make changes in their lives is so important.”

Catton Grove Primary School has two pastoral workers who help families in trouble, as this can often affect children’s education – a vital factor in helping to break the cycle of poverty.

Tim Lawes, headteacher at the Weston Road school, said: “We recognise families find themselves in difficult circumstances from time to time and we try to offer them support to stabilise circumstances.

“Our pastoral workers do an awful lot of work with families who are either in or about to go into crisis.”

He said during his 12 years at the school he had worked hard to make things welcoming for parents, many of whom may have had a negative educational experience themselves, and that building up long-term trust was vital for people working in the community.

Mr Waters fears some of the changes to the welfare system will end up making the situation worse – a fear shared by the Campaign to End Child Poverty. But Norwich’s MPs say steps are being taken to address the issue.

Norwich South MP Simon Wright said: “It’s scandalous the levels of child poverty in Norwich have been so high for so long.

“The fact the circumstances of a child’s birth will dictate their opportunities in life is not fair and that has to change.”

Mr Wright said the government was introducing 15 hours of free childcare a week for under-twos from disadvantaged backgrounds, and giving a pupil premium to schools would also help.

Norwich North MP Chloe Smith said: “I think the most important things are getting the economy growing so families can earn in jobs, making sure it pays to be in work rather than on benefits and investing in education early in life to help children get on. As a local MP I’m campaigning for all of those things.”

What should we be doing to try to eradicate child poverty from Norwich? Write with your experience to eveningnewsletters@archant.co.uk or write to Evening News Letters, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich, NR1 1RE

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