Comment: Poverty must be tackled by everyone

Jan O'Connor is manager of Manchester and Salford children's charity Wood Street Mission.
Jan O'Connor is manager of Manchester and Salford children's charity Wood Street Mission.

We need immediate poverty relief coupled with greater opportunities in the long term.

By Jan O'Connor

Figures released this week by charity Save the Children have revealed more children live in severe poverty in Manchester than anywhere else in the UK. While the Save the Children statistics are certainly upsetting, they are not surprising. We work with children and families in Manchester and Salford and the demand for our services is at an all-time high.

The report highlighted Manchester as the city with the highest number of children living in 'severe poverty'. With more than a quarter of children in Manchester affected, we work with all statutory and voluntary services to try and help ease the burdens on those most affected. It's an uphill battle.


It's incredibly sad to know 1.6 million children are still living in poverty in the UK today. For Manchester to top this table has come as a shock to many and shows all the support services and voluntary agencies in the north-west have much to do to address this.

This year alone, at Wood Street Mission, we have seen demand for help with clothing, bedding, toys and baby equipment rise by 20% compared to the same time last year. We expect these figures to continue to rise as charities are asked to meet ever-increasing needs as more public services are cut.

So what can we do to make a difference?

Manchester has areas of severe deprivation and we need a joined-up approach to tackle this. Children shouldn't be going without meals or school uniforms or be left without the opportunity to undertake full-time education because of restrictions placed on them by living in poverty.

We launched our school uniform project three years ago to ensure we can help as many families as possible by providing a new school uniform for the start of the new school year. This isn't a material gesture, it's about giving children the opportunity to engage in full-time education without fear of stigma or bullying for not having the basic clothing required.

Improving skills is another step we can take to help beat the poverty trap. We host regular book clubs during school holidays to try and encourage children to read more. Only with a full education can children develop the life skills needed to enable them to live an independent life, free from poverty as adults. Breaking this cycle of poverty is key if we are to end child poverty for good here in Manchester and the UK.

Save the Children wants the government to take emergency action to channel new jobs into the poorest areas as well as increasing financial help for low-income families. We must tackle this problem two-fold - by providing immediate relief from the poverty families face today, alongside offering greater opportunities to help them build life skills to be independent long term.

Working together, we can then give the children of today and the adults of tomorrow the chance to live a better life, free from poverty and full of opportunity.

Jan O'Connor is manager of Manchester and Salford children's charity Wood Street Mission. Founded in Manchester city centre in 1869, Wood Street has been helping families for more than 140 years. From practical help with clothing and baby equipment to Christmas toy and food parcels and Easter eggs, the charity has been ensuring families do not go without.

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