MORE than 26,000 children in Oldham are living in poverty, making the town fifth worst in the North West for children living in need.

The council admits the issue is a "significant challenge" in the town and recognises that many of those in poverty are working.

Based on research published by Loughborough University the group End Child Poverty has said the problem is becoming the norm in the North West with more than half a million children living in poverty.

Cllr Arooj Shah, deputy leader of Oldham Council, said: "We know Oldham has areas where child poverty is a significant challenge and there’s many factors driving this.

"These include austerity, the four year freeze on social security benefits, low quality rented homes, low skills, stagnant wages and increasing living costs.

"There’s also growing numbers of ‘in work’ poverty, where at least one family household member works, and the poverty premium, which means people that can least afford it actually pay more for goods and services like energy tariffs."

Research published today by Loughborough University predicts the situation will only get worse without a change to government policies.

Researchers looked into child poverty rates around the UK between 1990s and now.

The data revealed the number of children in poverty fell steadily between the late ‘90s and 2010 when it began to fluctuate.

However, the trend from 2016 onwards has been up.

In Oldham 26,127 children are living in poverty, this is 40.4 per cent of the child population in the town.

Researchers said: “The income of less well-off families has been hit by severe real-terms cuts in benefit levels and by higher housing costs, while being constrained by limited opportunities to improve earnings from work.

“At least half a million more children are in relative poverty as a result, with two-thirds of child poverty occurring in working families.”

Researchers also warned: “The present national increase is projected to continue under the present policies, with rates set to reach record levels by the early 2020s, children’s life chances in the worst-hit areas are set to diminish further.”

Cllr Shah added: "Oldham was also an early adopter of Universal Credit and has high levels of people dependent on council services which have had their funding repeatedly cut by the Government when they are needed the most.

“Oldham Council is working hard alongside communities and partners like the Oldham Poverty Action Group to tackle these issues together. One example is the Oldham Opportunity Area, which is targeting specific places to improve literacy and give children with disadvantaged backgrounds the language skills they need before they get to school, rather than being left behind from day one. We also have schemes underway to investigate and tackle poverty during the school day, plus a holiday hunger scheme which provided thousands of healthy meals during summer holidays last year.”

On the back of Loughborough's research End Child Poverty, a coalition of charities, trade unions and faith groups, is calling for all political parties to work together to create an ambitious plan to tackle child poverty.

Anna Feuchtwang, chairman of the End Child Poverty coalition, said: “We know what causes child poverty and we know how to end it.

“We know that the income of less well-off families has been hit by severe real-terms cuts in benefits and by higher housing costs. And we know that work alone does not guarantee a route out of poverty, with two thirds of child poverty occurring in working families.’

“Yet in many areas growing up in poverty is not the exception it’s the rule with more children expected to get swept up in poverty in the coming years, with serious consequences for their life chances.

“Policymakers can no longer deny the depth of the problem or abandon entire areas to rising poverty. The government must respond with a credible child poverty-reduction strategy.

“The Government’s own data shows that child poverty in the UK has been rising steadily in recent years. This just isn’t right.

“Growing up in poverty means growing up trapped. It restricts a child’s chances of doing well at school, of living a healthy and happy life, and of finding well paid work as adults.

“We urgently need Government to set a course of action that will free our children from the grip of poverty.”