CALLS are being made to support families after new figures reveal one in six children in Dorset were living in poverty last year.

A youth worker suggests the situation is even worse in parts of Weymouth.

Data from the Department for Work and Pensions shows 9,291 Dorset children aged under 16 were living in relative poverty in the year to March 2023.

Of all the children facing poverty in Dorset, 2,465 were below school age.

It meant 16.1% of children in the area were in a family whose income was below 60% of average household income before housing costs.

They also claimed child benefit and at least one other household benefit.

This was a slight rise from the year before and the highest rate since comparable records began in 2014-15.

Tom Lane, primary youth worker at STEPS in Weymouth, suggests the situation is even worse in parts of Weymouth.

Mr Lane said: "Most of rural Dorset is affluent but my experience in Weymouth and Portland is that families are really struggling."

Weymouth has some of the most deprived areas in England, with Westham, Rodwell, Melcombe Regis, Underhill and Chapelhay all falling into the top 20 per cent of areas in the country suffering from economic deprivation

Mr Lane added: "Whilst one in six children shouldn't be living in poverty, some areas in Dorset are double or worse than that.

"Where I work in Weymouth, two thirds of children and young people we surveyed last year said they experienced poverty in one way.

"Some are turning up hungry or with clothes that have not been washed as their family can't afford it.

"When I discuss it with them they say they are struggling, they don't have access to a washing machine.

"There has been more evidence of young people and families struggling in last few years which is heart-breaking."

STEPS offers young people from ages 13 to 19 a place to escape the hardships of day-to-day life by providing a safe space where support and advice can be given.

However, since 2016, there are fewer places like STEPS available.

Dorset Council has cut back heavily on its youth services over the past decade with Weymouth going from three full time youth centres to just one.

Mr Lane has previously spoken on the issue saying that because there is no legal requirement to provide them, youth services are the 'first thing to cut'.

Dorset Council does provide a youth fund grants programme, which allows youth clubs and groups to apply for up to £5,000 per year, and is committed to the safety of young people in Weymouth.

The council has previously said:  "Dorset Council has been recognised for its ground-breaking work with children and families and has been selected as one of three local authorities to be a pathfinder in the government's new programme to ensure families are better supported.

"This will drive investment to the area, which we will prioritise spending on children and young people.

"We are working to distribute funding to families experiencing hardship through our Household Support Fund, in particular offering free school meal vouchers in the school holidays and financial support to our care leavers."

Support is also available at places like the NEST community store which provides affordable food and household goods and Weymouth Foodbank is available to families struggling to put food on the table.

People in the Weymouth area seeking support can visit