MORE children are living in cash-strapped households in Oldham than anywhere else in the UK, shock government statistics have revealed.

The data published by the Department of Work and Pensions shows the town tops the list of boroughs where young people under the age of 16 are living in both relative and absolute poverty.

And the statistics paint a grim picture for the North West as whole, with more than half a million children living in poor families. Seven boroughs in the region feature in the UK's 20 poorest boroughs

There are 388,000 children in relative poverty - second only to London - and 335,000 in absolute poverty - more than the capital or any other region.

In Oldham, 33 per cent of children are in absolute poverty. The town is joined at the top of the list by Pendle (33 per cent) and closely followed by Blackburn and Darwen (31 per cent). Manchester and Burnley are joint seventh in the UK with 29 per cent, Bolton is eighth on 28 per cent and Rochdale 12th with 26 per cent.

For children living in relative poverty, the figures are even worse for Oldham - 38 per cent, followed by Pendle (37 per cent), Blackburn and Darwen (37 per cent), Manchester is seventh on 34 per cent, Burnley ninth with 33 per cent, Bolton 10th on 32 per cent and Rochdale 14th on 30 per cent.

Responding to the publication of the data, MP for Ashton and Failsworth and Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said: “For me child poverty is not a theory or something I read about in policy papers or the media, I know how it feels to be go to school hungry and to come home to an empty fridge.

“It is shocking that in the fifth richest country in the world so many children are living in poverty.

“The government’s own data shows the devastating impact of Tory cuts to our social security system. The Covid-19 crisis is putting families under further pressure and exacerbating already unacceptable levels of child poverty.

“That is why Labour is calling for an emergency package of social security reforms to help parents to provide for their children during this emergency, and reform or our social security system to address the shocking levels of child poverty that exist.”

Cllr Sean Fielding, Oldham Council Leader, described the rise in child poverty in recent years as “a national disgrace”.

He said: “We have been warning for years that the government’s punishing austerity agenda would hurt our most vulnerable residents the most, and these statistics make that reality stark.

“Since becoming a pilot area for Universal Credit, Oldham has seen foodbank use go through the roof, and sadly the current pandemic is only likely to make matters worse.

“In Oldham we’re taking proactive steps to tackle poverty. Last November, the council became an accredited Living Wage employer, giving a pay rise to people across the borough. And our investments in education have seen huge improvements in our children’s development, particularly in early years.

“But tackling poverty is a long term challenge. To do it properly, we need the support of government. Now is the time to invest in the future of our borough, to show that Oldham is a great place to do business, to create jobs and to lift people out of poverty."

Oldham East and Saddleworth MP, Debbie Abrahams, who sits on the work and pensions select committee, and is backing Labour’s proposal for a temporary coronavirus emergency income support scheme to alleviate some of the increasing poverty, said: “Children in Oldham were already being affected by this government’s austerity policies but the hardship, debt and potential destitution too many people, including children, are facing as a result of the pandemic, and our meagre social security support, has made the situation even worse.

“That’s why Labour has called for an emergency package of social security reforms, including scrapping the two-child limit and benefit cap, to help parents provide for their children during this emergency.

“The work and pensions select committee inquiry into the impacts of the pandemic on poverty and debt, has also shown that the Government must convert the Universal Credit loan payments to grants and help those who have ‘no recourse to public funds’ in spite of them working and paying UK taxes.”

Oldham West and Royton MP Jim McMahon said, “These stats show the devastating impact that 10 years of Tory austerity have had on our young people, when almost a £1 billion is taken out of youth services nationwide since 2010 it’s no wonder that young people in the most deprived parts of our country are suffering.”

“We know Oldham Council and the fantastic voluntary and community groups we have here in Oldham, like Mahdlo are trying their hardest to improve the lives of young people but it’s really hard for them when they’ve had the rug pulled out from under them.

"A great place to start with the levelling up agenda would be to invest in our young people, at the very least replace the funding that’s been cut from youth services, let them flourish and let them enjoy their youth.”

“And these are the numbers before the full impact of Covid related job and income losses are taken into account, government urgently needs to step up to the plate to prevent even more young people from being trapped in a cycle of poverty.”