Friday, 04 September 2015

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Archbishop of York shocked at Cumbria's rising poverty levels

The Archbishop of York has spoken of his shock at the county’s rising levels of poverty and malnutrition, saying: “This is Cumbria, not the Congo”.

Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu with our sister paper the News & Star which revealed the malnutrition figures

Dr John Sentamu has described deepening problems blighting households in some of the poorest parts of the county as a scandal which people should be ashamed of.

He spoke of his anger as our sister paper, the News & Star, revealed that rates of malnutrition in Cumbria have more than doubled in the past four years.

It can also be revealed today that a third of all children in some parts of Carlisle are living in poverty – with fears that problems could be even worse than the official figures suggest.

Dr Sentamu, on a two-day visit to Cumbria, told The Cumberland News: “This is shocking and I think it should leave every British person ashamed.

“I thought rickets had been cured in this country. We are not talking about the Democratic Republic of Congo, we are talking about Cumbria.

“Poverty has hit people so hard and the question they are asking is should they buy food or should they keep warm.”

Dr Sentamu, in Carlisle to confer degrees in his role as the University of Cumbria’s chancellor, used his presidential address at the Church of England’s general synod this week to highlight “new and terrible” growth in levels of poverty.

He said the need for church action was now more urgent than ever as “hard-pressed” people found they were on a “down escalator” in life.

Cumbria has not escaped the problems he has highlighted.

New figures show the numbers of people hospitalised for malnutrition have jumped from 24 in 2008/09 to 51 in 2012/13, with conditions such as rickets also growing.

Health leaders have described the statistics as “depressing reading”.

Poverty problems affecting children are also worsening, with parts of Carlisle heavily affected.

In some places youngsters are going to school hungry because their parents can’t afford to feed them breakfast.

Newly published figures from 2011 – the most recent – reveal that 32 per cent of children growing up in Upperby and Botcherby are living below the poverty line.

In Castle ward it is 27 per cent, Denton Holme and Belle Vue 22 per cent, and Currock 20 per cent.

Just a few miles away, in more affluent areas, that figure drops considerably – to just four and five per cent in Stanwix and Dalston, and just over two per cent in Wetheral.

Despite efforts to reduce inequalities in the county, the figures show little change from the previous year.

And Anne Burns, the Cumbria County councillor responsible for children’s services, fears that since the data was collected in 2011, the picture could actually have worsened as a result of national cuts, cost of living increases and job losses.

“I do not think it’s improving. Things like the bedroom tax are putting even more pressure on finances.”

Child poverty means, in statistical terms, youngsters who are living in households where the income is less than two-thirds the national average.

In Carlisle alone there is widespread variation in average incomes. The lowest, between £25,000 and £28,000, are in Botcherby, Upperby and Morton. The highest, £40,000 to £45,000, are in Stanwix Rural, Wetheral and Great Corby.

Mrs Burns said in reality it is far more than that.

“They class poverty as low wage, bad housing, no central heating, no car – but I think it’s worse than that in some areas of Cumbria,” she said.

“Foodbanks are expanding because people can’t afford to feed their children. Children are going to school hungry with no breakfast. That’s not because their parents are lazy, it’s because they have no food in the house to give them.”

Mrs Burns said that without a sudden influx of jobs there is no quick fix. But she believes that raising aspirations of children in these areas is key.

Dr Sentamu, the Church of England’s second most senior cleric, also said that having a job was now no guarantee of financial security.

He pointed out the mininum wage rose by 12p this year to £6.31 an hour but also claimed that the heads of FTSE 100 companies were paid on average £4.3m per year, adding: “Something is going wrong.”

Dr Sentamu also spoke about changes to housing benefits dubbed the “bedroom tax”.

“It has now been shown that the money the Government is paying to private landlords for people moving out of social housing is more than was being spent before (the welfare changes).”

He added that people would also be affected by cuts to councils.

Cumbria County Council alone must make another £80m of savings in the next three years. Carlisle City must shave £1.8m off its budgets by 2015.

“It is good to get rid of the deficit but there are humans behind these figures and cuts,” Dr Sentamu said,

He added: “People talk about hard-working families but that should be changed to hard-pressed families.”

Meanwhile, Dr Sentamu also said this week’s vote in favour of legislation which could see women bishops given final approval by next year.

“I think it is very good news,” he said.

He also said legislation voted down last year was not rejected because of opposition to women bishops but because “it was not good enough”.



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