CHILD poverty has risen across St Helens over the last four years, new analysis has revealed.

The End Child Poverty coalition, which commissioned the report showing almost a third of children across the UK live below the breadline, said families were already on a "cliff edge" before the coronavirus pandemic.

The research combined recent figures from the Department for Work and Pensions with local housing costs to produce new estimates for low-income families – those earning less than 60 per cent of the median income.

The analysis shows 31.6 per cent of children aged 16 and under in St Helens were living in families with low-incomes in 2018-19 – compared to 29.2per cent in 2014-15.

The figures emerged in the week that MPs have voted against Labour's motion to extend free school meals over school holidays until Easter 2021.

The motion was defeated by 322 votes to 261 – a majority of 61 – in the House of Commons on Wednesday. Both St Helens MPs supported the motion.

The bid was the idea of England footballer Marcus Rashford.

The Manchester United player urged politicians to "unite" to protect the most vulnerable children and vowed to continue campaigning, writing on Twitter: "For as long as they don't have a voice, they will have mine."

The report into levels of child poverty in St Helens is based on DWP data from March, and estimates of the effect of housing costs on poverty rates by Loughborough University's Centre for Research in Social Policy.

The figures show a rise in child poverty in nearly every local authority in the North West since 2014-15, with last year's highest rate in Manchester (40.6 er cent).

In St Helens, the number of children in low-income families rose from 9,411 in 2014-15, to 10,443 last year.

The coalition is calling on the Government to recognise the scale of the problem and its impact on children’s lives.

Sam Royston, director of policy at The Children’s Society, said: “This data shows that over the last five years thousands of children across the North West have been pulled into poverty in part because of unmanageable increases in rental costs.

"That is thousands more children living in households where parents struggle to make ends meet. This was the picture before the devastating impact of the coronavirus crisis, which we know has hit low income families particularly hard.

“Children are deeply affected by poverty; they are more likely to experience poorer physical and mental health; do less well in school; and have fewer opportunities in the future."

Responding to the report on child poverty, St Helens North MP, Conor McGinn said: “The rising child poverty in St Helens and across the North West is deeply concerning. 

"The fact that many low-income families have been forced into destitution is a damning indictment of ten years of Conservative rule, with their handling of the crisis likely to push even more into hardship.

"This week Labour forced a vote in Parliament to ensure all children on free school meals received enough food for the holidays, but shamefully the Government said no."

His words were echoed by St Helens South and Whiston MP, Marie Rimmer, who cited Department for Education data stating that the number of children eligible for free school meals in the St Helens North constituency is 3,310, while in St Helens South and Whiston it is 2,738. 

Ms Rimmer said: “If the Government can subsidise ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ then they can help hungry children. For once, it really is that simple.

“The pandemic has left hundreds of thousands unemployed, and more families will be struggling below the poverty line. Yet as a nation we have a duty to make sure no child goes hungry.

 “When children go hungry it has a huge negative impact on their development. It can set them back years, so much so that they may never catch up with other kids.

"Not only is it simply just the right thing to do, but it makes economic sense to give these children a fair chance at life.”

David Baines, the leader of St Helens Council, said: “Sadly, this report should be no surprise.

"A decade of cuts to essential local services and the dismantling of welfare for jobseekers and those on low incomes has caused this situation and it’s what Labour both locally and nationally have been consistently fighting and warning against.

"No child should grow up in poverty.

"The last Labour government was serious about reducing child poverty and did so through the introduction of policies like the National Minimum Wage, Sure Start Centres, tax credits, and more. In stark contrast, as this report shows, the current Tory government is presiding over huge and unacceptable increases in child poverty. 

"This week Tory MPs lined up to vote against providing free school meals for our most vulnerable children in the middle of a pandemic which is affecting jobs and incomes.

"That should tell us everything we need to know about their values and their priorities, and I fear that child poverty will continue to rise until we get the Labour government our country so desperately needs.”

Across the UK, the proportion of children in low-income families rose from 28 per cent to 30 per cent between 2014-15 and 2018-19.

Anna Feuchtwang, chair of ECP, said: "The children affected are on a cliff edge, and the pandemic will only sweep them further into danger.

"An ambitious plan to put this shameful situation right would be transformational for millions of children."

ECP are calling on the UK Government to uprate housing assistance in line with inflation, abandon the "unconscionable" planned cuts to Universal Credit, end the benefit cap and the two-child limit on benefits, and increase child benefit.

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.

He added: "Making sure every child gets the best start in life is central to our efforts to level up opportunity across the country.

“We have already taken significant steps to do this by raising the living wage, ending the benefit freeze and injecting more than £9.3 billion into the welfare system to help those in most need.”