SPECIAL REPORT: Children in crisis

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The enormity of the challenge facing Wigan borough’s early years reforms has been laid bare in a shock town hall report.

A major overhaul of children’s services is planned to rollout in September prompted by concerns over poor development levels among school starters.

Spending cuts pushing families and children into poverty are part of what’s holding back the economy

Yvonne Fovargue MP

Full details of the Start Well project have been revealed for the first time as part of a report set to be discussed by the ruling cabinet this week.

Members will be told of how thousands of under 5s across Wigan borough are being left behind under the current system. These include:

Of 19,275 under 5s, 4,725 are living in out of work households;

9,780 are living in areas within the worst 30 per cent neighbourhoods in terms of deprivation;

36 per cent are not achieving a “good” level of development by the time they start school;

This figure rises to almost 80 per cent in the worst deprived areas;

11 per cent of reception age children in the borough are classified as obese, higher than the national average.

The Start Well reforms, which will see five hubs set up in areas deemed to have the greatest need, will ensure more families get the support they need, council bosses have said.

However, the changes are being made against a backdrop of increasing budget restraints and staff are facing cutbacks as the town hall aims to slash a quarter of its current £2m annual spend on children’s centre services.

Borough politicians agreed on the scheme’s merits but have clashed on what has caused

the disparity of achievement in different areas of the borough.

Yvonne Fovargue MP said: “These figures reveal that not only are the poorest families being left behind but also that their living standards are going into reverse as they struggle to absorb the impact of wave after wave of government decisions that hit families with children the hardest.

“This is not just about pace and scale of cuts, it boils down to ensuring that our children are not on the frontline of George Osborne’s austerity.

“Spending cuts pushing families and children into poverty are part of what’s holding back the economy. This is because low income families spend their money straight away in their local shops and services, helping struggling businesses to survive.

“With the economy still stagnant, the recent budget was a missed opportunity to do more to help families. It’s fair pay, affordable childcare, affordable homes and full employment that is needed by families if we are to make progress towards ending poverty and getting the economy growing strongly again.”

Coun James Grundy, the Conservative leader of the opposition on Wigan Council, said the figures were more a reflection of rising house prices in the borough rather than the actions of the government.

He said: “Since the borough was created in 1973 we’ve always had a problem with poverty and I welcome what the Start Well reforms are trying to achieve.

“To suggest it is a reflection of the current government is just rhetoric from the Labour Party. What has happened is young families have been priced out of the more affluent areas of the borough and therefore you will find a high proportion of under fives living in the most deprived areas.

“Even in the new housing developments (coming to the borough), houses classified as affordable are around the £180k mark.

“I support the reforms as they are targeting the areas that are among the most deprived and need that support.”