NEW figures suggest that an alarming number of children are living in poverty in Weymouth and Portland.

A report by charity End Child Poverty estimates that thirty per cent of under-16s in the borough are now living below the breadline.

In the report, Underhill on Portland is the worst affected, where 41 per cent of children are poverty-stricken.

Not far behind are Melcombe Regis and Weymouth East - both of which have an estimated 39 percent of families struggling to afford the basics.

The report uses government data - including the unemployment rate and number of families on tax credits - to map local and national patterns of child poverty.

It estimates there has been a two per cent increase in Weymouth and Portland since last year.

The area with the UK's highest level of child poverty is said to be Tower Hamlets in London, with 56.7 per cent.

According to the charity, children affected by poverty are less likely to do well at school and earn less as adults.

A total of 5,266 children in south Dorset are said to be affected - 4050 of whom are from Weymouth and Portland.

The news follows a report by the Dorset Echo that revealed how government data ranked Weymouth and Portland UK's worst for opportunities for young people.

Weymouth and Portland Action on Wages (WeyPAW) has been focusing on deprivation in the area.

Philip Marfleet, WeyPAW convener, said: “The latest figures show that low wages and high living costs hit children hard.

"Weymouth and Portland has the lowest social mobility in the whole of England – our children’s chances in life are seriously affected by poverty, insecure jobs and underfunded schools."

The study also highlights the divide between the area's most affluent and those facing poverty.

In Preston and Radipole just 17 per cent of children are affected - a stark contrast with the borough's poorest areas.

Underhill on Portland is among the hardest to be hit by child poverty in the county in the county. It is slightly better off than Boscombe West in Bournemouth, which has an estimated 43 per cent.

Anna Feuchtwang, chairman of the End Child Poverty coalition, said: "We know less well-off families have been hit by severe cuts in benefits and higher housing costs.

"Work does not guarantee a route out of poverty, with two thirds of child poverty occurring in working families."

The WeyPAW group is now calling on councils to address the problem.

“The new Dorset Council has an opportunity to tackle these problems and should not delay a moment longer”, Philip Marfleet said.

A spokesman for Dorset Council said: “We try to support children in Dorset by offering help early on, before they reach crisis point. One way we’re doing this is through family partnership zones. These bring together professionals who help children and young people in their local area, including social workers, teachers, police officers, GPs, health visitors, local businesses and others. We also link to voluntary and community groups such as food banks. “The Chesil Zone is set up to support families in Weymouth and Portland.

“We also offer free childcare places for two year olds and take up of this is above the national average, hovering between 80-90 per cent.

“Acknowledging that there are multiple causes of poverty and child poverty, support works best when these people come together with a family to look at their whole situation rather than just the one problem they can help with."

Facts and figures by Child Poverty Action Group

  • Two-thirds (67 per cent) of UK children growing up in poverty live in a family where at least one person works
  • 'Growing up in poverty' means being cold, going hungry, not being able to join in activities with friends
  • By GCSE year, there is a 28 per cent gap between children receiving free school meals and their wealthier peers in terms of the number achieving at least 5 A*-C GCSE grades
  • Men in the most deprived areas of England have a life expectancy 9.2 years shorter than men in the least deprived areas
  • Women share similar statistics
  • Childcare and housing are two of the costs that take the biggest toll on families’ budgets
  • When you account for childcare costs, an extra 130,000 children are pushed into poverty