The Leeds Community Foundation event heard that thousands of people are finding it hard to break away from the cycle of poverty because they lack access to affordable financial services and are weighed down with debt.
The discussion, hosted by RSM in Leeds, heard that two million people in the UK do not have a bank account and an estimated 24 per cent of the population are without savings.
The community foundation, which supports thousands of charities and voluntary groups across the city, believes organisations must work together to improve financial education.
The speakers included Richard Colbrook, of Flourishing Families, a charity that supports children, parents, carers and families. He said there was a cycle of deprivation that was reducing life expectancy.
He said: “In some areas of Leeds, people will die 12 years younger than most of us around this table. People don’t move around because they are poor.”
There were also huge levels of disengagement and people suffered from a bad diet, Mr Colbrook said.
Flourishing Families runs cookery clubs for children and their parents or carers, in partnership with local primary schools, to try to encourage healthy eating.
Sam Caldwell, the head of grants at Leeds Community Foundation, said there were great examples of community organisations working to tackle inequality.
“They are working with real families who are really struggling,’’ he said.
“It’s a really shocking thing. Leeds is a thriving city in so many ways.
“There are sections of the economy that are doing incredibly well but a number of our neighbourhoods have been left behind for a long time.”
He added: “The gap between the richer people in our city and the poorer people is growing wider.
“The reasons for that are complicated but a lot is down to the fact wages aren’t growing for a lot of the people in our city.
“While unemployment is not particularly high, we are seeing the growth of jobs that don’t provide people with the money they need to make ends meet from week to week and month to month.”
Helen Handzel, the relationship manager at the StepChange Debt Charity, warned that growing numbers of people were on zero- hours contracts and did not earn a living wage.
Mr Caldwell added: “We are seeing neighbourhoods who are not sharing in the prosperity.
“How can we talk about Leeds being one city when we are seeing it increasingly divided as a city of haves and have-nots?
“In the community foundation, our vision is all about making Leeds a city of opportunity for all and we really want to be part of bridging that divide.
“It’s about making sure we have good jobs, good wages and regular hours.
“It’s about making sure that people and communities are skilled up so they can take on those jobs in our changing economy
“It’s not necessarily about bringing extra resources into the city but investing in the neighbourhoods we have. What we have seen in Leeds is that we have these real pockets of poverty.
“There are significant chunks of people in the city living in those pockets.
“Our Leeds Fund is all about getting the people of Leeds and the businesses of Leeds to express their passion and make it a city of opportunity for all.”
Since its launch in 2016, the Leeds Fund, a branch of Leeds Community Foundation, has attracted investment from John Lewis, the Asda Foundation and HARIBO.
Other speakers at the event, chaired by Greg Wright, the deputy business editor of The Yorkshire Post, included Sam Tasker-Grindley, an associate director of RSM in Leeds and Jo Rowland, the financial-inclusion manager for Leeds City Council, who outlined how the council was working with partners to reduce social inequality.
The talks, organised by Leeds Community Foundation, aim to address issues including financial inclusion.