A million more British children from working families are living in poverty than in 2010, a study from the Trades Union Congress revealed last month.
This year, an estimated 3.1m children with working parents will be below the official breadline, while in 2010 there were 2.1m in the same situation.
Unfortunately, the Greater Manchester area has the highest rate of child poverty in the UK – but it’s no new issue for the city.
In the 1840s, when philosopher Friedrich Engels was sent from Germany by his father to run one of the family’s factories in Salford, he was horrified by the living conditions of the working class, describing the city as “Hell upon Earth”, lamenting its “filth, ruin and uninhabitableness”.
Deansgate may now be a hotspot for restaurants and bars, but in the Victorian era it was home to terrible slums. People lived 14 to a room with no sanitary facilities, and both adults and children were forced to work long hours in the nearby factories.
UNDER THE RADAR: With Manchester’s poor children so badly looked after, methodist preacher Alfred Alsop founded Wood Street Mission in 1869 (Image courtesy of Wood Street Mission, with thanks)
Methodist preacher Alfred Alsop was so affected by the plight of the city’s poor children that he founded Wood Street Mission in 1869.
It has been based on Wood Street since 1873 in a striking red-brick building nestled behind John Rylands Library. Since its inception, the charity has prided itself on providing much-needed practical help to Mancunian children and families in financial difficulty.
“When you’re dealing with the working poor, they tend to be less likely to come forward and ask for help,” says manager Des Lynch. “It really goes under the radar.”
Struggling families are referred to the charity by teachers and health visitors. They then have access to in-demand items such as clothes, books and toys.
One of Wood Street Mission’s key projects is SmartStart, which helps children get kitted out with everything they need to make school a success. The provision of everything from polo shirts to coats, from rucksacks to pencil cases, can be assisted with, meaning families don’t have to let finances get in the way of their children’s formative years.
“We want the children to look like their peers and fit in,” says Des.
The charity’s clothing project is another unique initiative. Des stresses that they do not work like a typical charity shop – no money is exchanged between the recipient and the Mission.
Instead, it works on a point system, with everything in the charity’s “shop” given a points value. This means that users cannot just take anything and everything – they really have to think about what they choose.
Parents are given 15 points per child to spend, whether that be on bedding, waterproof coats or toys. Once they’ve selected their items, there are no markings on the bags to say where it comes from. They are allowed to visit the “shop” four times a year.
It is stocked with donations from kind Mancunians. “Toiletries always fly out of the building,” said Des.
“We always struggle for clothes for children aged eight years and upwards. With teenage clothing, we’re always short.”
— Wood Street Mission (@WoodSt_Mission) June 9, 2018
Other projects include the popular book clubs, and not to mention the annual Christmas project, which saw 11,500 toys and gifts given out over the festive period.
The child poverty rankings are one league table Manchester most definitely does not want to top. But thanks to the work of Wood Street Mission and its peers, there is hope for a brighter future for the city’s young people.