THOUSANDS of children in Swindon are living in poverty.

Figures released by the End Child Poverty coalition show 11,042 young people qualified as living in poverty between 2018-19.

Its report, which combined figures from the Department for Work & Pensions with local housing costs, identified 24.4 per cent of all those aged 16 and under were from families where the income was less than 60 percent of the median income.

Mountford Manor Primary School has a higher than average number of pupil premium children due to being in Park North, one of Swindon’s most deprived areas.

Suzanne Gregory, a family support worker at the school said: “Sometimes we see children coming in who haven’t had breakfast in the morning, or who have old uniform or old shoes that need replacing.”

The school has 212 pupils between the ages of two and 11. It handed out 30 food boxes to families in need between March and July this year.

“Being hungry affects so many things in terms of children’s learning, behaviour and concentration,” she explained.

“Children are aware if they have holes in their clothes or shoes, and this affects their self-esteem, which affects other areas of their life at school .And it’s something that gets worse as children get older.

“As they become more aware of themselves they see the differences between themselves and their peers. Low self-esteem holds them back. It affects their confidence and we see children who become withdrawn from a lack of confidence, who don’t go out of their comfort zone or explore new things as much as we would like them to,” she said.

The figures are based on DWP data from March, before the pandemic hit.

Suzanne said: “The stress on families, not knowing how long the lockdown would last, with having to make sure there was enough food at home for children who were eating more because they were suddenly home for much longer, was huge.”

“We would expect the situation now to show an increasing strain local services which means families will have been finding it even harder to access these services.

“The closure of schools in the past and possibly in the future will also affect access to education if more remote learning takes place because these are families who can’t afford the devices needed.”

A DWP spokesman said. “There are 100,000 fewer children in absolute poverty than in 2009-10, which is a measure against median income in 2011 rather than the current level.”

Councillor Mary Martin, Swindon Borough Council’s Cabinet Member for Children’s Services, said: “Although the overall level of child poverty nationally, as quoted by Ending Child Poverty, has increased by two per cent for 2018/19, Swindon’s figures reduced by 1.9 per cent for the same period. However, this figure is still too high and we are working hard with our partners to bring it down.

“Like many towns and cities, Swindon has pockets of child poverty across the town. We recognise COVID-19 has placed additional hardship on families on low incomes and we have focused our early intervention and early help services around the needs of our most vulnerable families. The Council is using its Emergency Assistance Fund to help vulnerable children in food poverty, who are eligible for free school meals, during the half-term school holidays. Over the last six months alone, the Council’s Emergency Assistance Fund has helped 291 people, while the Council has distributed 625 free food parcels to residents who could not afford to pay for their food and had no-one to look after them.

“The Council has also been extremely proactive in providing practical help to those people who are struggling financially, physically and mentally. This has included boredom-busting activity packs for children, online Parenting support programmes, funded childcare sessions as well as working with the voluntary sector to provide support around debt management and benefits advice. We are working closer with schools, partners and communities to ensure vulnerable families are supported as early as possible.”