Child poverty in pockets of deprivation across the Westcountry is as high as 40% and rising, experts claimed in response to a new report charting the extent of the problem.
Figures show that children defined as living in poverty account for around one in four in some areas, a figure characterised as seven youngsters in a typical school’s classroom.
The study comes amid Government plans to change the way the measure is worked out by moving away from a purely income-derived figure.
The authors – a coalition of charities under the banner the Campaign to End Child Poverty – calculated the measure as those in families earning less than 60% of the median income of £26,000 before housing costs or claiming out-of-work benefits.
It found the highest number was 25% in Plymouth’s Moor View and Sutton and Devonport constituencies.
Next worse off was Torbay, where some 22% were identified, followed by Camborne and Redruth in Cornwall, where the total was 20%, then Totnes, St Austell and Newquay, with 18%.
Torbay Liberal Democrat MP Adrian Sanders said the region’s four key industries – tourism, agriculture, fishing and defence – had all suffered, contributing to the problem.
He said there were structural problems holding back Torbay but added that simply counting those below a percentage of income alone was “meaningless”. “There is no easy solution,” he said.
“But what we call child poverty today is not the same as a century ago when children did not get a balanced diet, lived in poor accommodation and had nil chance of breaking free.
“We have been trying to invest in people early on to give them more opportunity through our Pupil Premium, which is directed at people from the poorest backgrounds.”
The research charted a UK-wide map which identified 69 wards were more than half of children were in child poverty.
Typical across Devon and Cornwall was 10% to 20%.
Nicky Williams, Plymouth City Council’s executive member for children’s services, said a “huge analysis” of the problem had been undertaken across the city after it had been identified as a major issue.
“In some hotspots in the city like Stonehouse it is as high as 40% – we need to target our resources and are about to publish a strategy,” she added.
Labour MP for Plymouth’s Moor View constituency Alison Seabeck said the numbers were shocking and accused the Coalition of “fudging the issue”.
“The Government is embarrassed by these rising figures which are a direct response to their welfare measures,” she said.
“By moving away from an income calculation they are trying to perform a smoke and mirrors act.”