The truth behind Norfolk’s child poverty figures

Children's diet, health, education and job prospects are being hit as the pressure grows on family finances.

The plight of youngsters has been highlighted by experts and volunteers dealing with social issues who say while children are not starving, they are suffering more subtle deprivation in poverty blackspots across Norfolk and Waveney.

A report from the End Child Poverty campaign, says up to half the children in the region's worst-hit areas live in low-income families who are struggling to meet basic needs.

These include food, heating, transport, clothing and the extra costs of schooling, such as equipment and trips.

These 'low-income' households are left with having just �12 a day left to spend on each family member after taking away housing costs and household bills.

Chief executive of Norfolk Rural Community Council Jon Clemo, said he was not surprised by the figures and explained that although people might not be starving or homeless, the deprivation meant there were serious but subtle knock-on affects.

He said: 'People might not be starving in Norfolk but it could mean they have poor nutritional intake.

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'Children may also have a lack of access to transportation which could affect educational attainment if they are unable to go on school trips or take part in after-school activities.

'If children are disadvantaged in their education from day one then social mobility becomes harder. It's not that they won't get jobs compared to children from richer backgrounds, but it means that their choice in jobs will be limited by location and costs of travelling.'

He added that poor nutritional intake from a young age could affect growth and development, including problems with smoking and obesity, which could lead to serious health problems later in life, such as heart disease.

Nationally the figures show that on average one in five children (20.9pc) are living in poverty. But some areas in Norfolk and Waveney have come out with almost half of the children living below the breadline, such as Nelson ward in Great Yarmouth (49pc), while there are further blackspots in the Norwich and Lowestoft areas.

Mr Clemo believed that solving the problem should be a 'priority' and warned that cuts in services should not disproportionately affect young people.

He added: 'I think solving the issue is complex and it really requires a whole partnership of responsibilities - councils, housing providers, health support, communities and grassroot activities.

'The young people in the county are the county's future.'

One group helping to improve the lives of young people affected by poverty is Holt Youth Project, in the north of the county, which has an image of affluence rather than deprivation.

Almost a quarter of children in the popular Georgian shopping and cafe culture town are living in poverty.

The news may have come as a shock to some, but local groups said the figures just reinforced what they already knew – that there is another side to the town.

Project manager Julie Alford initially opened her home to plug a youth club gap 25 years ago, before the scheme evolved into an award-winning purpose built centre in recent years.

She said children who came from poverty-stricken families in Holt, and other rural areas, were more likely to 'get into mischief' unless they were given the right support from the community.

'I think young people get a really bad reputation and the media does concentrate on bad things that have happened,' she said.

'We must highlight the positive things. At Holt Youth Project we have never had any issues surrounding drugs, fights or anything negative.'

Now housed in a building which incorporates a kitchen, hall, gym, salon, workshop and computer studio, the project aims to help fund young people across north Norfolk to work towards accredited qualifications and training opportunities relevant to their needs. Free transportation is also provided.

Mrs Alford explained: 'We provide them with skills and everything they need to order to move forward in life. We are a stepping stone for young people and our projects are tailored to the individual's need with no time restrictions. That enhances and enriches their lives.'

The project also helps to fill gaps for young people by offering an alternative curriculum.

'We are a project that prides itself on our preventative programmes which allow young people to reach their full potential as well as meeting their own aspirations, from whatever background,' she said.

'For us it's about providing them with opportunities they may not have had.'

Mrs Alford added that by combining the efforts of parents, schools and the community it would help to combat the problem of child poverty.

Echoing this ethos, principal of the Open Youth Trust based at the Open Venue in Norwich, Sarah Mintey said: 'If you want to change a community then you have to provide young people with the key to unlock the door to their future - education.'

One of the things Open Youth Trust helps with is directing young people to find housing, educational opportunities and employment but Mrs Mintey added there were still pockets of areas in the county not covered by adequate youth provisions.

And in the worst-affected Nelson ward at Yarmouth councillor Michael Jeal said the problem would not be solved in an area 'at the extremity of all the networks' until organisations trying to combat the problem visited the place.

He said there was a need for 'somewhere decent to live' and jobs, adding 'until someone makes the Great Yarmouth area a priority then nothing will happen to bring about a change.'

Norfolk County Council said that, despite the recent cuts, they had made sure that they worked closely with their partners across the public and voluntary sector.

Alison Thomas, cabinet member for children's services, said: 'As part of this work we continue to invest heavily in children's centres to support parents at the earliest opportunity. The centres are focused on supporting the most vulnerable and that includes children who are living in poverty.

'We have developed our own child poverty needs assessment and are focused on working alongside other agencies to tackle the range of social and economic issues that can affect children living in these circumstances. This includes the continuing work of our Family Intervention Projects.

'Schools also play an important part in raising the aspirations and achievements of pupils living in poverty and helping to break the cycle. The new pupil premium will help to target funding to those schools with pupils who are the most economic disadvantage to further support this work.'