Yorkshire's 700,000 in poverty trap

NEARLY three-quarters of a million people in Yorkshire are now struggling far below the most basic standards of living, as fears grow over the low wage levels in deprived parts of the region.

A study by academics at the Joseph Rowntree Trust suggests around one in seven households across Yorkshire – more than 700,000 people in total – are existing "significantly below" what is considered by the average person to be a minimum standard of living.

The report states wages for low-income workers have failed dismally to keep pace with the soaring price of essentials such as food, fuel, council tax and bus fares, leaving hundreds of thousands of families forced to make stark choices between basic goods or face an ever-growing mountain of debt.

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On Saturday the Yorkshire Post launched its Communities in Need appeal, asking for donations from every reader and every local business to help community projects and grassroots charities which are battling deprivation across Yorkshire. One of the key groups the appeal has pledged to support are families who remain trapped in poverty despite being in work.

The chief executive of East Yorkshire family support charity Children and Family Action, Gina Rebeiro, said her organisation frequently came across working families who were battling to keep their heads above water.

She said: "We find ourselves helping families who need basic items like a cooker or a bed, a fridge or a washer. They may be working, but they may also have debts and can find themselves right on the poverty line. If something big like that breaks, then they just cannot get the money.

"We can sometimes help them to apply for crisis grants to get them out of a difficult situation, but it is amazing that working families are having to rely on charitable grants for basic goods."

A key issue is that wages in parts of Yorkshire remain pitifully low.

Hull suffers the lowest incomes in the region, lagging almost 40 per cent below the national average. The household average in the city is around 18,000 a year – less than half what equivalent households earn in Harrogate.

However, more than one in five households earn far below this figure, and "significantly below" what the Rowntree Trust has assessed to be the minimum living standard in 2010.

"This is a low wage area," Mrs Rebeiro said. "We have offices in Goole, Hornsea and Withernsea, and the fact is a lot of the jobs around these areas are low-skills jobs – shop work and that type of thing. That's not to demean those jobs, but they are not usually highly paid.

"These areas just do not have the infrastructure to bring in large companies which will invest here. And young people have long distances to travel for college and training, and so the drop-out rates tend to be high."

Bradford, too, is suffering, with wages around 30 per cent less than the national average. One-third of the children living in the city – more than 40,000 youngsters in total – are now living in poverty, the largest number of any local authority area in the region. A recent survey showed households in the Bradford West constituency are almost three times more likely than the average English household to be struggling with their mortgage.

Such large-scale deprivation has left the city deeply divided, with the gap between rich and poor in Bradford wider than anywhere else in the entire country.

Latest figures suggest that while local authority wards such as Wharfedale and Ilkely have average household incomes well in excess of 40,000 a year, there are at the same time almost 43,000 households earning less than 10,000 annually.

The problems faced by struggling families are not restricted to deprived urban areas. In rural communities, too, working families regularly require help from a range of support charities.