WITH double the national average of people claiming benefits and worse health problems than the rest of Bolton, is Farnworth grappling with a range of poverty-related issues?

Or is it — as one community group boss claims — a victim of “bad press”.

The poverty report published by the Greater Manchester Poverty Comm-ission used information gathered from a range of organisations including Bolton Council, social landlord Bolton at Home and Bolton Citizens Advice Bureau.

It claimed more young people in Farnworth were living in poverty than anywhere else in Bolton, which has an average of 17 per cent of children in this category.

According to the Department for Work and Pensions, there are 8,300 people of working age — aged 16-64 — in Farnworth, with 2,575 of them claiming some kind of benefits — including 1,175 who claim incapacity benefit.

The figure for total benefit claimants, which stands at 31 per cent, is more than twice the national average of 15 per cent and higher than the Bolton average of 20 per cent.

According to the most recent NHS Health and Wellbeing Survey, 46 per cent of Farnworth residents questioned said they would like to move out of their neighbourhood, 34 per cent felt it was not a good place to raise children, and 25 per cent said they were not attracted to living there — compared to the Bolton average of 12 per cent.

One in five — 20 per cent — said they were having trouble coping financially, compared to 13.7 per cent across Bolton.

And 39 per cent said they could not afford to heat their homes properly, while 32 per cent did not have access to the internet, compared to 23 per cent in Bolton, and 31 per cent did not have access to a car, compared to 21 per cent in Bolton.

A quarter of people in Farnworth — 25 per cent — were clinically obese compared to 19 per cent across Bolton and 33 per cent had possible mental health problems, compared to 27 per cent in Bolton, while 35 per cent had high blood pressure and one in 10 had chronic bronchitis.

The area scored slightly better than the Bolton average for binge drinking, with 29 per cent saying they binge drank at least once a week compared to 30 per cent across Bolton.

But what about improving life for Farnworth’s young people.

One leading headteacher said more investment was needed to stop talented people leaving the area.

Robert Flood, headteacher at Harper Green School in Farnworth, said: “From our point of view one of the things we do in conjunction with parents is build up the expectations among young people.

“The government has got to look at the figures in the report because we’re in danger of creating a two- nation Britain.

“It seems there’s a lot of investment going into the south compared to the industrial north and we need to see a commitment to all the people of this country to give them the opportunity to develop.

“When you look at the issues with the Royal Bolton Hospital — which would be one of the main employers for people around here — and council funding cuts, it’s mostly bad news at the moment in terms of opportunities for young people.

“We need to see a strategy and investment in Farnworth to make sure we develop the community and to make sure we keep our talented young people.”

Volunteer Margaret Kay set up Farnworth Parents’ Group seven years ago and four years ago extended it to include an after-school club.

It hosts about 30 children and their parents at twice weekly meetings where mums and dads get a chance to socialise and youngsters can play.

Mrs Kay said: “We give snacks to the children and one parent was heard saying “make sure you have that because there’s no tea”.

“It worries me and I always make sure they’ve had some toast or something when they come.

“We can help with things like parenting skills because if your parents never sat you down and, say, played a board game with you, you won’t know how to do it with your own children.

“We’ve got funding to run a cooking session every week where they can learn how to cook a meal and then go home and do it.”

Since she started the group Mrs Kay says the age of people attending has been the most noticeable change.

She said: “It used to be people who were 35 to 40, but now we’re getting younger people coming through, they’re kids having kids.”

Bolton College’s New Bury Community Learning Centre in Buckley Lane runs courses ranging from IT to art.

Area learning manager Bernadette Tither — who has run the centre since 1996 — said: “The only way out of all this is employment and the creation of jobs. We need jobs otherwise I don’t see how people can get out of the cycle of deprivation.

“The food bank hasn’t been open long but has really taken off, but it’s shocking that people are having to use it, but it’s a national problem not just local.

“We run a free jobs workshop where we help people search online and help them with interview techniques. We get people who are 40 plus wanting to learn how to use computers.

“People are coming out of school with these kinds of skills now but there’s a lot of people who have that gap.

“There seems to be an apparent drop in enrolments from what we normally see at this time of year and I wonder if it’s because people are worried about course fees due to the current economic climate.”

Craig Weatherby, chairman of the New Bury Residents’ Association, said the situation in Farnworth is “not all doom and gloom” and claims the area gets a bad press.

He added: “I moved here from Little Lever 15 years ago and people asked me “why are you going there?”, but I’ve never had trouble here, it’s a fantastic place to live and people here said the same things about Little Lever.

“There are a lot of positive people here just getting on with their lives and a lot of people volunteering. I’ve been involved with the group for 10 years and I think community spirit has increased in that time.

“There are problems but they’re the same across country. Bolton Council is trying to do things here and Bolton at Home has done a lot of good work.”

Farnworth councillor Asif Ibrahim insisted the town’s problems were not unique.

He said: “In the current economic climate where we find people struggling to make ends meet it is hardly surprising that people are finding their income simply does not go as far as it has in previous years.

“There is for many a cut in what they receive by way of income or benefits. The impact on those who were just about making ends meet before having to contend with the current economic climate is likely to be devastating.”

“It is very concerning when we hear of any vulnerable people, in particular children being affected in this manner, and it’s certainly something that I have, and would take up robustly when residents raise issues of this nature with me.”