More families in Waltham Forest face poverty as childcare becomes ‘unaffordable’

“Many more” low-income families will face poverty as living costs continue to rise in Waltham Forest.

Around 50 per cent of residents in the borough are “very concerned” about the cost of living, according to a report published by Waltham Forest Council.

The report says that low-income families, or those with a single earner, will be “plunged into debt” and “struggle to provide for their children”.

Council research into the average annual spend of a family comprising two adults and one child suggested that even those earning above the average would still struggle.

Childcare – the second biggest overhead after housing – has become one of the largest barriers to escaping poverty.

Around £18,000 is spent on rent and a further £16,000 on full-time childcare, which the authority has called “unaffordable”.

Women in the borough are “disproportionately burdened” with unpaid family care and face “significant barriers” to returning to work, due to such high costs.

In a bid to alleviate the issue, the council will be offering free provision to select families from April.

Families with children aged two and above, and who receive income-related benefits, will be entitled to 15 hours’ education and care for 38 weeks of the year.

From September, the scheme will be extended to eligible working parents of children from the age of nine months.

The following year, 30 hours for eligible working parents of children from nine months to primary school age will be introduced.

Children growing up in poverty can become trapped in a cycle, the report suggests.

They are more likely to perform poorly in education and be less able to access training and decent jobs.

Research by the Marmot Institute, commissioned by the authority, found that “many” of those in low-income households end up in low paid work.

This has all been compounded by the poor rates of pay in the borough. Just shy of 29 per cent of workers receive less than the London Living Wage of £13.15 an hour, a February survey by the Living Wage Foundation revealed.

It is the third worst area in both the UK and the capital.

The borough of Haringey, where 32.7 per cent of workers are paid less than a ‘real’ living wage, topped the list. It was followed by Brent (29.5 per cent), Waltham Forest (28.8 per cent), Bexley (28.5 per cent) and Redbridge (28.2 per cent).

Outside of London, the districts of Hyburn in Lancashire, Mansfield in Nottinghamshire, and East Lindsey in Lincolnshire all ranked similarly.

Going forward, the council will look to convene an advisory group and join up with volunteer organisations to support young people, mental health services and rough sleepers.

Additionally, councillors hope to work closely with the burgeoning University of Portsmouth campus in Walthamstow, which will see 3,000 students enrolled by the end of the decade.

Waltham Forest already operates ‘family hubs’ in Chingford, Walthamstow, Leyton and Leytonstone, but their future is not guaranteed. They offer a range of services, including childcare, housing advice, and support with finding employment.

While they will be funded up until March 2025, officers warned in the report that external income is “not always guaranteed” and a potential change of government could mean changes to what is provided.

Further investment in childcare was previously identified as a priority for the council in its multi-pronged ‘Mission Waltham Forest,’ approved back in February.

The new policy hopes to tackle inequality in the borough by 2030, but it drew criticism from opposition councillors for being “vague and vacuous”.

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Sebastian Mann

Local democracy reporter