CHILD poverty levels across Bolton have risen annually in the past four years, according to research published today by the End Child Poverty coalition.

The coalition said the data shows the scale of the challenge faced by government if it is to realise its ambition to build back better and level up opportunities for children across the UK.

The research by Loughborough University shows that, even before the pandemic, in Bolton four in ten children were growing up in poverty,

once housing costs are taken into account.

The borough had the seventh highest percentage increase in child poverty  in the region between 2015 and 2019 with the proportion rising 6.3 per cent from 32.7 per cent to 39 per cent in that time.

Those figures estimate the number of Bolton children suffering hardship has risen from 19,087 in 2014/15 to 23,727 last year.

In the past, low incomes in some areas were counteracted by cheaper housing costs, but in the last five years rents have continued to rise across the region.

It means for many families, once their housing costs are paid, they do not have enough money to meet their children’s needs and are left no option but to turn to crisis help, like food banks, and are increasingly reliant on free school meals.

Sam Royston, director of policy at The Children’s Society, said: “This data is so shocking, it shows that over the last five years thousands of children across the North West have been pulled into poverty in part because of unmanageable increases in rental costs.

“That is thousands more children living in households where parents struggle to make ends meet.

“This was the picture before the devastating impact of the Coronavirus crisis, which we know has hit low income families particularly hard.

“Children are deeply affected by poverty; they are more likely to experience poorer physical and mental health, do less well in school and have fewer opportunities in the future.

“The government needs a clear strategy to end child poverty, providing free school meals to all children in families receiving universal credit would be a big step in the right direction.”

The End Child Poverty coalition is calling on the Government to recognise the scale of the problem and its impact on children’s lives.

They are urging the Government to set out a plan to tackle child poverty encompassing not only social security spending but the high cost of

housing and childcare and investment in children’s services.

They are urging an uprating of housing assistance in line with inflation, to retain the £20 uplift in universal credit introduced at the start of the pandemic,

which the Government has indicated will end in April 2021 and end the benefit cap and the two-child limit on benefits.

Last month Bolton Council unveiled its public health report.

It identified targets in the next 12 months on child poverty which includes to ‘undertake an adverse childhood experiences prevalence study which shall present us with an accurate picture and understanding across Bolton, ensuring we can address these underpinning issues’.