WHILE unemployment rates have risen since the start of the pandemic, thousands of children in Cheshire were already living in poverty before the coronavirus crisis.

Researchers from Loughborough University has looked at data from the Government and estimates of the effect of housing costs on poverty rates between 2014-15 and 2018-19.

They have found that in three of mid Cheshire's four constituencies, the percentage of children living in poverty increased during that time.

The End Child Poverty coalition says the Government now 'needs a clear strategy to end child poverty' and suggests providing free school meals to all children in families receiving Universal Credit.

Sam Royston, director of policy, said: "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."

The Congleton constituency, which includes Middlewich and Holmes Chapel, saw mid Cheshire's biggest increase in child poverty from 2014-15 to 2018-19.

According to the figures, the number of children living in poverty there rose from 3,134 to 3,614 over that period, which is a 1.9 per cent increase.

It was also the only constituency in the area to see its level of child poverty rise in the last of those years, from 21 per cent of children to 21.7 per cent.

Weaver Vale, which includes most of Northwich, saw the number of children in poverty rise from 23.9 per cent to 25 per cent in five years – with a total of 4,288 children in poverty in 2018-19.

Eddisbury, including Winsford, also saw an increase from 24.2 per cent of children to 24.7 per cent in five years – having hit a peak of 25.7 per cent in 2016-17 – with 4,165 children in poverty in 2018-19.

However, Tatton saw its number of children living in child poverty fall by 1.1 per cent over the five years, with the total at 2,884 in 2018-19 compared to 2,972 in 2014-15.

These figures come as the latest data from the Department for Work and Pensions shows more than twice as many people in Cheshire are now claiming out of work benefits than before the pandemic.

In Cheshire East, there were 11,095 claimants as of September 10, compared to 4,680 in early March.

Meanwhile in Cheshire West, there were 11,415 claimants on September 10, compared to 5,380 in early March.

The Food Foundation says three in 10 schoolchildren have registered for free school meals this autumn across the country, of which 42 per cent are new to the schemes, following the Covid-19 crisis.

A Government spokesman said: "We have taken substantial action to make sure children and their families do not go hungry during this pandemic, extending free school meals support to those eligible when schools were partially closed during lockdown, increasing Universal Credit by up to £20 a week, funding councils to provide emergency assistance to families with food, essentials and meals and allocating £63 million to councils who are distributing it to those in need.

"Since the beginning of this term school kitchens have done an outstanding job in providing hot and nutritious free school meals to those who are eligible. With the vast majority of schools now open across the country, many schools have also been providing weekly or daily food boxes to those on free school meals who are self-isolating due to Covid.

"But we know that many families are struggling, which is why we have increased the safety net available to them with more than £9.3 billion extra welfare support, and have supported thousands of young people through our summer Holiday Activities and Food programme."