Almost 23,000 children in Milton Keynes are living in poverty, shocking report reveals

A commission set up to tackle child poverty in MK has admitted the statistics are "shocking".
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Their investigation has found 22,940 children in the borough are currently in poverty after their families have paid housing costs.

Eight areas of MK are rated among the worst 10 per cent of deprived places in England, while two areas rank in the two per cent of deprivation areas.

The Child Poverty Commission was set up earlier this year in a bid to tackle the problem. Made up of local people from Milton Keynes and chaired by barrister Hannah Markham, it has this week revealed its action plan.

The amount of child poverty is shocking in MK, say the Poverty CommissionThe amount of child poverty is shocking in MK, say the Poverty Commission
The amount of child poverty is shocking in MK, say the Poverty Commission

The Commission's report, due to be presented to MK Council tonight, states: "Since October last year, we have listened to families and professionals, from decision makers and support workers. We have heard widespread praise for what professionals and volunteers do to support people’s basic needs. However, the scale of child poverty in Milton Keynes is shocking."

It adds: "We have spoken to parents, children and young people. What they told us was a story of frustrations and barriers. What they hoped for was an end to the harsh treatment and a respectful rethinking of services. What they wanted were solutions that were locally focussed, more joined-up and better communicated. Most of all parents wanted allies who would work with them to change the narrative for their children.”

Many families living on the breadline said their major concerns were the wait of up to five weeks for Universal Credit payments and the high rents for private housing in MK.

The Commission's report states: "It is difficult to grasp the scale of Child poverty in Milton Keynes - over 22,000 children are in poverty after housing cost are taken into account, which is still 10,900 children based only on income levels, 7000 qualify for free school meals (and are at risk of hunger) and 970 are in temporary accommodation.

"Some of these children face double disadvantage - they have parents with poor mental health, or a disability or long-term limiting illness. The numbers of children in poverty has continued to rise, mirroring what is happening nationally, but with two unique local features - in all parts of Milton Keynes, meeting housing costs is more of a struggle than it is in many other places outside of London, and most of these households have at least one adult working – which was particularly true before the Covid crisis."

The Covid pandemic has "intensified" child poverty in Milton Keynes, say the Commissioners.

"Most notably benefits claimants have increased from 3,000 to over 11,000. We also know that this includes over 2000 ‘18-24-year olds’ (390 in March) that have over 600 dependent children between them."

Their report adds: "Milton Keynes entered the coronavirus pandemic and related economic shock from a starting position of growing child poverty and low levels of financial resilience. 65 per cent of families in the bottom income quintile had either no savings or savings below £1,500.

"The pattern of employment loss and furloughing by income suggests that the future economic consequences of Covid-19 may be borne by those on lower incomes. This in turn heightens the risks of persistent poverty without ongoing support."

The Commission's first report in February identified that the number of children in poverty has continued to rise in Milton Keynes, following the national trend. In all parts of Milton Keynes, meeting housing costs is more of a struggle than it is in most places outside of London. Most households in poverty have at least one adult working so employment alone will not end child poverty, states the Commissioners.

They are is now calling for major change from businesses, residents, charities, MK Council, the government and local partners to help reduce child poverty in MK.

Their plans include a ‘Childcare plus’ project to deliver a childcare deposit scheme, an 'Accommodation Plus' project to reduce families suffering homelessness, and free meals for children in school holidays.

Ms Markham said: “The aims throughout this process were clear. The Commission wanted to draw on what we and others have learnt since the last report and to hear from those working on the ground for their views. We heard from those directly experiencing poverty and listened to a broad range of life stories from parents, carers and children alike.”

The Commission has made three recommendations - to establish a Child Poverty Challenge Board in Milton Keynes, to help child poverty work to flourish, and to work to challenge child poverty through actions and influence. All are expected to get unanimous approval from Mk Council tonight

Labour's Cllr Zoe Nolan, Cabinet Member for children and families, said: “The work of the Commission is a real opportunity both for us and our partners to make the changes that will make a difference to the lives of children and families in MK. We want to remove the barriers, such as expensive childcare paid in advance, which stops some families moving forward. There are 21 ideas for 2021 ready to expand across MK. I want to thank the chair and commission members who have shown such dedication and enthusiasm over the past 18 months.”

Lib Dem councillor Jane Carr said:: “We have seen evidence from a range of partners and organisations about what can work. Now we need to use these insights to drive positive change in Milton Keynes. Let’s not allow the dust settle on this document as it did with its predecessor. It’s our collective responsibility to keep the focus on sustainable change.”

Tory councillor David Hopkins, said: “The barriers faced by some families cannot be overcome by the council alone. To give all children in Milton Keynes the best chance to reach their full potential, we must work with our partners across all aspects of daily life. It’s amazing what we can achieve when we work together.”