In depth: child poverty in Tower Hamlets and Newham
- Credit: Rehan Jamil
A higher proportion of children are living in poverty in Tower Hamlets than in any other UK local authority, with research showing four in 10 are living below the bread line.
A report published by pressure group Campaign to End Child Poverty last week shows that 42 per cent of children in Tower Hamlets are in poverty – compared to 32 per cent in neighbouring Newham.
The figures in Tower Hamlets show a 10 per cent drop on levels published last year – but more than 20,000 of the borough’s children remain affected.
The borough’s mayor, Lutfur Rahman, warned the coalition government’s welfare reforms could exacerbate existing problems when they come into force in April.
He said: “End Child Poverty are rightly concerned with the difficulties that families in poverty face, and I think that the government should listen to concerns for children’s and families’ welfare and reconsider their approach.
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“The children and families targeted by welfare reform need support services to help them get out of the poverty trap, not proposals to force them further into it.”
Single mum Kazi Khatun said she fears being forced to choose between paying her rent and feeding her children.
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Kazi, who has a seven-year-old daughter and a one-year-old son, said changes to the benefit system mean she will find it even harder to make ends meet in the future.
The 25-year-old, who is unemployed, said: “I am currently applying for permanent housing, and with the cap, I know that the cost of my rent might mean that I have to choose between paying my rent and buying food for my children.
“My children are aged seven and one, and childcare is difficult, so applying for a job is tough. I think the government should think about the implications of these reforms. They need to look at people’s life circumstances – and the fact that good, decent jobs just aren’t out there.”
In Newham, the constituency of West Ham had a rate of 33 per cent, while East Ham had 32 per cent of children in poverty. Levels are down by five per cent on those recorded in the borough last year. A spokesperson for Newham Council insisted it was working hard to allow children in the borough opportunities which they may be at risk of losing out on.
“We are doing everything we can to help both children and their families in these tough times”, he said.
“We invest in free school meals for all primary school pupils, and we’re ensuring all Newham school children get the most out of their education.”
Bethnal Green and Bow in Tower Hamlets was found to have a child poverty rate of 42 per cent, while in Poplar and Limehouse the figure was 41 per cent.
Children in Bethnal Green and Bow are therefore six times as likely to live in poverty as their peers in Richmond, where just seven per cent of children are affected, the report says.
Tower Hamlets Fairness Commission has been set up in a bid to tackle inequality in the borough.
Its chair, former Canon of St Paul’s Cathedral Dr Giles Fraser said child poverty is one of the Commission’s areas of focus, and cited the high levels of poverty in the borough when accepting the position.
He welcomed the drop in child poverty levels in the borough since last year, but warned against treating it as evidence of a seismic change.
Reacting to the research, he said: “It’s quite clearly an outrage, and goes to demonstrate what an unfair place east London continues to be.
“We shouldn’t be on top – it’s still a ridiculous figure, and a terrible indictment on our society.
“It doesn’t feel like Tower Hamlets has had a remarkable transformation. It’s still the case that [the figure is] way too high and still the case that it’s higher than anywhere else – so we’re not complacent.”
The Commission is set to produce its report in early summer, and has engaged with children in the borough to hear of their concerns and experiences.