Concerns over child poverty gap in Stevenage and North Herts

Photograph modelled for The Children's Society | © Laurence Dutton

Photograph modelled for The Children's Society | © Laurence Dutton - Credit: Archant

UP TO a third of children in Comet country are living in poverty, with the latest figures showing a large divide between different towns and wards in the area.

The Child Poverty Action Group, which released the figures, says there are “gross levels of inequality” between areas which neighbour each other.

One such example is in parts of North Herts, with nearly a quarter of children living in poverty in Hitchin Oughton, compared to less than five per cent in Hitchin Priory.

A similar pattern has emerged in Letchworth GC. Letchworth East and Letchworth Wilbury have 24 and 25 per cent of children living in poverty – nearly double the number in Letchworth South West.

The worst rates in the county, though, can be found in Stevenage. A third of children living in Bedwell are in poverty, while one in five or more are in six other wards. The town average is 20 per cent.

Hitchin Oughton councillor David Billing said the key to cutting figures was employment.

“The main thing we have got to do there [Oughton] is get people into jobs,” he said.

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“[We need to] create more jobs and more training for people who at the moment haven’t got the skills.”

Overall poverty rates in Comet country are also up on last year, and there are fears things will only get worse.

Gary Grindal, who is chairman of Howard Cottage Housing Association as well as a Letchworth Wilbury district councillor, said he was concerned welfare reforms, coming into effect in April, would increase rates.

“Those most likely to suffer under welfare reforms are those already suffering,” he told the Comet.

“We’re trying to do what we can, but the Government hasn’t helped us.”

He added: “It’s important that all agencies involved work together to come up with a strategy to deal with it [child poverty].”

Sharon Taylor, leader of Stevenage Borough Council, echoed those comments.

“We’ve not had the full impact of welfare reforms, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this was heading in the wrong direction at the moment,” she said, adding: “It’s very important we give young people a good start in life so when it comes to the point they are having children, they have the skills to they can support a family.”

“We all have a responsibility to do that.”

Comet country wards in Central Beds have lower poverty rates than Herts, with 10 per cent of children in Stotfold and Arlesey and Shefford living in poverty.

• For the full figures, see Thursday’s Comet.