Chippenham kids in poverty

4:00pm Friday 18th January 2013

By Julie Armstrong

A third of children in parts of Chippenham live in poverty, according to a Government body.

The shocking scale of child deprivation has been revealed by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

It reports that 34 per cent of children in the northwest of Hill Rise and 30 per cent of those in the east of Queens Crescent live in poverty.

Other parts of the town were also flagged up by the ONS as having high levels of poverty.

Chris Caswill, Wiltshire councillor for Monkton Park, told an area board meeting: “It is a shock to most of us to discover numbers like these in our own town.

“It is inevitably going to get worse. The issue of debt is really challenging. Whatever people think of people on benefits, children are not responsible and the tragedy is getting stuck in a cycle.”

Christians Against Poverty (CAP), a centre giving debt advice in Chippenham, said families were missing out on meals because they cannot afford them. It said people seeking help in North Wiltshire have accumulated £500,000 in debt – and two thirds of these are from Chippenham.

CAP centre manager Islay Roberts, at Sheldon Road Methodist Church, has seen an almost 50 per cent increase in people coming for help in the last six months, the rise being from 24 clients to 35.

Mr Roberts said: “It is alarming to find such an increase in our neighbourhood of child poverty and it is not uncommon for families to be missing out on meals, causing other issues especially health related.”

Mr Roberts said: “I have seen an increase in the number of clients coming forward for help from CAP with budgeting and debt management but also from the other areas of Chippenham noted in the report.

“We are handling in excess of half a million pounds of debt, two thirds of which is in Chippenham.”

He blamed benefit cutbacks and increasing household bills.

More children in the town are becoming eligible for free school meals but parents are shying away from applying because of the stigma, said Chippenham Partnership for Schools, a collaboration of 21 schools.

Among those helping parents with their financial difficulties is parent support advisor Sara Stephens, who advises for Charter, Ivy Lane and King’s Lodge primary schools.

Partnership manager Judy Edwards said: “Parent support advisors have noticed more contact from so-called middle income families who may have lost their jobs in the economic downturn.

“The advisors are trying to convince parents who wouldn’t before have been eligible for free school meals but now are to go for them.”

The partnership expects to work with Greensquare in the near future to try to help parents keep tenancies.

CAP prepares a budget for families to follow until they are debt-free. Advice should also be sought from the Citizens Advice Bureau and the Borough Lands charity.

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