MORE THAN 27,000 children live in poverty in Bolton in what one group says is becoming the norm in the North West.

MARY NAYLOR reports.

JUST under 37 per cent of Bolton's children are living in poor homes, struggling to eat and coming to school without socks and underwear.

Teacher and union secretary Julia Simpkins remembers children from Tonge Moor coming to school hungry.

Ms Simpkins, the district secretary for the National Education Union in Bolton said: "I was a teacher at a reception class in Tonge Moor, the children there were hungry.

"When they came to school they were hungry."

For teachers children coming from impoverished homes are all too familiar. When asked about figures showing 36.8 per cent of Bolton's children, 27,291, were living in poverty Ms Simpkins said she was "not surprised".

She said: "In a lot of schools, primary schools in particular in Bolton, we have been aware of the level of child poverty for years.

"There are basic things like children not having suitable clothing, coming to school in winter with no socks, no underwear, no winter coat. Or turning up in summer in a thick woollen dress.

"You hear it when children talk about Christmas or birthdays.

"I remember one lad very proudly told me for his birthday he'd had a colouring book and for most children they wouldn't have been very happy to get a colouring book.

"I think he was just pleased he got something really."

The figures have come from 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 onwards has been up.

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.”

Researchers also warned: “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.”

Dave Bagley, from Urban Outreach which runs a food bank and food pantries in Bolton says they help a total of 20,361 people through their various schemes. 8,281 of them are children.

Mr Bagley said he and others will be helping support children entitled to free school meals during the summer holidays again this year.

He expects to hand out 60,000 lunches to Bolton's school children this year.

He said: "The human face of this is that children are hungry in the seventh richest country in the world. That poverty is a child with a rumbling stomach at night."

As well as handing out lunches Urban Outreach also teaches cooking skills to adults and children.

Mr Bagley said: "I have a real bugbear about teaching our young people to cook."

He said the lack of basics like food technology/home economics at schools has "consigned people to poverty" because they have to use more expensive ready made food furthering the problem.

Urban Outreach works with Bolton at Home running two food pantries, one in Johnson Fold and another in New Bury. These allow families to pick £15 of food for £2.

Gemma Parlby, director of housing said: "Anyone can have financial difficulties at times in their lives through no fault of their own.

"This is why we’re committed to the Greater Manchester poverty pledges, doing what we can to mitigate the impact of welfare reforms, supporting families who have complex needs and working with local organisations, charities and community groups to deliver a range of activities to address poverty in and around our neighbourhoods

On the back of Loughborough's research End Child Poverty, a coalition of charities, trade unions and faith groups, is calling for all political parties to work together to create an ambitious plan to tackle child poverty.

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.

“Growing up in poverty means growing up trapped. It restricts a child’s chances of doing well at school, of living a healthy and happy life, and of finding well paid work as adults.

“We urgently need Government to set a course of action that will free our children from the grip of poverty.”