'Thousands of Brent children in severe poverty'

Eleven thousand children are living in severe poverty in Brent

Alarming new figures have revealed that 11,000 children are living in severe poverty in Brent, and 7,000 in Harrow – which can include going without food, clothing or heating. TARA BRADY reports.

FOR the first time, Save the Children, has provided a local authority breakdown showing the number of children living in severe poverty.

Brent is the joint fourth worst affected area in London. Eleven thousand children are living in severe poverty in Brent and the situation is likely to get worse, according to the children’s charity’s report.

In Harrow, it is estimated that there are 7,000 children living in severe poverty, which equates to 16 per cent of nought to 18-year-olds. With increasing unemployment and cuts in welfare payments, the charity warns that even more children will be forced into severe poverty in the coming months.

Navel Clarke, a father of two and youth worker who helped set up St Raphael’s Youth Football and Sports Club, says parents need more support to keep their children out of poverty before they turn to a life of crime.

He said: “Many parents just don’t have the money to send their children to leisure centres and after-school clubs and it is going to get worse. We can already see it.

“Young people in the area are vulnerable and we know parents do not have money to keep them entertained and off the streets, which is a big problem in the community. Poverty leads to crime. There is no question about it.

“I was here when Stonebridge was going through its worst time with high levels of crime. A lot of hard work has been done, but the area will revert back to the way it was if poverty increases.”

Stonebridge ward has the highest number of under-19s in Brent, and the highest number of households in the borough with an annual income of less than £15,000.

With cuts to benefits, children’s centres and other assistance for young people, such as the Educational Maintenance Allowance, families on low incomes are going to find it hard
to make ends meet, says Stonebridge ward councillor Zaffar Van Kalwala.

He said: “It is devastating that so many of our young children are living in poverty in Brent. The cuts, coupled with increases in living costs are going to make it even more difficult, particularly for residents in our most deprived areas, to make ends meet.

“The government needs to take urgent action. We simply cannot have a situation where residents are having to make a choice of whether to eat or heat their homes.”

Brent Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) provides support in the borough’s 20 children’s centres and, since July 2008, more than 18,000 children have benefited from the service.

The busiest centres are in Harlesden and Stonebridge, which are also the most deprived areas in the borough.

Jacqueline Carr, director of Brent CAB, said: “We regularly see parents who cannot afford to pay their bills, parents who cannot afford school uniforms; parents who are living well below the poverty line because they are not aware of the benefits they are entitled to claim, or have difficulty challenging wrong decisions.

“We have seen parents whose children go to school without food. Those on disability benefits are unable to cope, leaving children to become carers.”

According to the report, a lone parent family with one child aged under 14 in severe poverty is living on an income of less than £7,000 a year and a couple with two children under 14 is on less than £12,500.

Figures from the Greater London Authority also show a staggering 19,600 children in Brent are living in families dependent on benefits such as Jobseeker’s Allowance, Incapacity Benefit, Disability Allowance and Income Support.

Fernando Ruz, project manager at Brent CAB, says more and more families are requiring help, but
services are being cut just as the government’s new housing benefit capping system is being introduced, which is expected to affect about 18,000 families in Brent by 2012.

Mr Ruz said: “We are already seeing families struggling – not being able to pay electricity and gas, falling behind on rent or losing their home through repossession. I fear this will be made worse with the Department of Work and Pensions cutting help by half on mortgage interest payments and HMRC reducing tax credit childcare from next April.

“This is before the full impact of housing benefit changes begin to unfold. Even now, months before it comes into force, landlords are seeking repossession in anticipation of the cap on housing benefit.”

The thousands of children in Brent going without the things that many of us take for granted is a grim picture, but one that is mirrored across the UK.

Sally Copley, Save the Children’s head of UK policy, said: “Children up and down the country are going to sleep at night in homes with no heating, without eating a proper meal and without proper school uniforms to put on in the morning.

“No child should be born without a chance. It is a national scandal.”