TORBAY has tens of thousands of working people living on the edge of poverty — one big bill away from destitution.
A new survey puts Torbay top of the list in a national table with more than one third of all households falling into the 'at risk' category.
Many of the 22,000 households are working families but, because Torbay has the lowest wage economy in the country, many have no savings, no equity in their homes and no assets to cover any financial setback.
The shocking league table shows Torbay has 37 per cent of at risk households, seven per cent ahead of Hyndburn in Lancashire which has 30 per cent of people living on the edge of penury.
Teignbridge is placed 13th in the league, with 28 per cent at risk, and the South Hams is 110th with 18 per cent of households at risk of falling into poverty.
The families at risk are described as a 'traditionally proud, self-reliant, working people'.
Bruno Rost, head of Experian Public Sector, which carried out research to identify those belonging to At-Risk Britain, said: "These are the new working class — except the work they do no longer pays.
"These people say that being forced to claim benefits or move into a council property would be the worst kind of social ignominy and self-failure."
Following news that Torbay is the area most at risk of rising poverty in England, MP Adrian Sanders has called on the Government to refine its economic policy.
Mr Sanders (pictured) says it is a result of the lack of high quality, full time jobs in the Bay.
He says that in the current recession Torbay has been relatively insulated from the high unemployment levels of previous recessions but this has masked the pressure on living standards as the cost of housing, fuel and food rises while local wages remain comparatively low.
Mr Sanders has urged the Government to concentrate on investing in skills, affordable housing and better transport links to help reduce the danger of poverty to these 22,000 families.
Mr Sanders said: "We already have the vital investment for the bypass which will encourage investment locally and work is progressing well on the skills agenda because of our excellent colleges and schools.
"The new bypass is already having a positive impact with more people wanting to grow businesses here and wanting to invest on the back of that."
But he said the biggest problem now is the lack of affordable family homes.
"It's a vicious cycle. We have the skills and the transport but if you cannot house your family, you will have to move away.
"What is now needed is a clear strategy for revamping the housing market.
"Housing costs in Torbay have rocketed compared to wages while demand for low cost housing has increased enormously.
"It's not being tackled by the local authority. Direct Government investment in good quality family homes will be the simplest way to rectify this problem and reduce the danger of poverty locally and I will be encouraging ministers to look at this closely."
He said: "We have the lowest wage economy in the country.
"There is also a failure to understand that anti-social behaviour problems are not linked to areas where there is social housing.
"It's in places where there are higher numbers of private sector rented accommodation with absentee landlords and inadequate accommodation for families with children.
"It's a problem that has been creeping up on us for decades."
Liberal Democrat group leader on Torbay Council, Steve Darling, said: "The figures released by Experian are very worrying and highlight the problems facing the residents of Torbay within an economy based on low-wage, seasonal jobs.
"The future of Torbay's economy must lie in better quality, year-round employment which gives its residents the chance of a better quality of life, not simply struggling to keep their heads above the line."
He says mayor Gordon Oliver (pictured right) needs to re-think his strategy of pushing Torbay further down the tourism route and look for alternative job creation schemes.
A Torbay Council spokesman said it 'recognises the issues affecting Torbay' and had 'many measures and strategies in place to try and reduce poverty and social deprivation in the Bay'.
He added: "We are working closely with our partners to address inequalities but it is a complex issue heightened by the fact that we are experiencing financial constraints.
"We do adopt a 'first and most' policy which targets resources at the areas and people that are most at need.
"Torbay Council is also committed to creating opportunities for the community through job-led regeneration, creating an environment that encourages inward investment and raising skills levels in the Bay.
"All these things will help improve the prospects of Torbay's economy to prevent more people from experiencing financial and social problems and to help more people escape poverty."