“It’s all a bit f*****”: The home of Greater Manchester’s poorest kids

In one of the most deprived areas of Greater Manchester, a mum-of-four walks her children home from school. “I hardly sleep,” she says as her young daughters play beside her.

“I’m struggling big time. It seems to be forgotten about here – there’s nothing, not like in other deprived areas. When they have school trips coming up, I can’t afford them. When they have school photos, I can’t afford to pay for them”

This is the bleak reality for many parents living in the Busk area of Chadderton . The neighbourhood has the third highest child poverty rate in the whole of Britain – with 67 per cent of children currently living below the breadline.

Across Greater Manchester, there were 177,326 children living in poverty in March 2021 – that figure being recorded before the latest cost of living crisis hit homes. It comes as millions of families across the nation struggle with soaring energy costs, with many having to choose between heating or eating.

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In Busk, many families are finding it difficult to cope with the rising cost of living. One mum-of-two is currently pregnant with her third child. She fears for her children growing up in such hard times.

“With the gas and electric going up, it’s a bit of a struggle and it’s a bit out of hand,” the 22-year-old told the Manchester Evening News. “It’s all a bit f*****. I’ve started having to turn off plugs when I go to bed.

Joanne with son Hayden
(Image: Paige Oldfield)

“I suffer with mental health like anxiety and depression, it doesn’t bother me as much but there are days where it does and it proper gets to me. But my family help me out.

“It’s quite a worry for my kids to be growing up in this type of predicament. It scares me with them growing up through everything. Hopefully things will start changing.”

Mum-of-one Joanne walks her son Hayden along Eustace Street. She struggles to pay for the two-year-old’s childcare – and feels “bad” whenever she has to ask her family for financial help.

“Even though my partner works 42 hours a week, it’s still difficult,” she says. “Before the price cap got unfrozen, we were only paying £150 a month, now it’s gone up by £100.

“Even prior to that we were borrowing off my partner’s mum. I always shop at Aldi because it’s cheap but the price of nappies have gone up. When it comes to the cost of childcare, it’s just ridiculous. Especially for young mums who need that extra help so they can get back to work. I’ve been out of work for three years.

“It makes me feel bad because I don’t like asking my dad for a bottle of milk. I’ve grown up being grateful for what I have and not asking for more. I asked his grandma for a fiver so I can get some bits for him and she sent me £20 because she knows I will end up needing it.

Joanne with son Hayden
(Image: Paige Oldfield)

“We’re in a one-bed flat and because of prices going up we can’t put money aside to move. He’s two and he should have been in his own bedroom a year ago.

“There’s only so much you can do. You can’t afford arts and crafts and we have no money for days out to take him to the zoo so he can learn about animals. It does have a knock-on effect.”

One mum-of-four, who did not wish to give her name, told the Manchester Evening News she’s had to cut back on certain things to be able to afford the essentials. “It’s rubbish here,” the 30-year-old says.

“I’m struggling big time. I’m on benefits but not Universal Credit. I get paid for one twin – not both. We’ve had to cut down on things like Sky and my kid’s phone because I need mine for loads of other things.

“Electric isn’t too bad but the gas is bad. We try not to have it on. Even if you go to Asda, all the cheaper stuff is gone and we can’t afford to get the dearer stuff.

Busk in Chadderton has a high child poverty rate
(Image: Paige Oldfield)

“I hardly sleep. It’s worrying for the kids, mainly. When they have school trips coming up, it’s bad. I can’t afford them. When they have school photos, I can’t afford to pay for them.

“We want them to be the same as every other kid. If she wants pocket money it’s because she wants to be like other kids. They get free school meals but it’s £2.60. A burger is £1.90 and a drink is 80p, so they aren’t getting the same as other kids.

“We seem to be forgotten about here. It’s getting deprived but they look at other places rather than here. Other places have community centres where kids get free classes and free activities, whereas here we have nothing. I messaged my MP about building a park because we have loads of green space, but people just use it to dump sofas.”

Many children are living below the breadline in Busk
(Image: Paige Oldfield)

Duncan Walker lives at home with his wife and 18-month-old baby Finnley. While their financial situation is currently stable, they no longer visit families in other countries as frequently as they used to.

“We’ve not got to the point where we have to buy school equipment or anything on top of everything else,” the 31-year-old told the MEN. “Me and my partner both work full time and we’re not at the point where we’re struggling to that extent.

“I suppose we are having to cut back. Not on major stuff, but we used to go out to eat more than we do now. We’re both hospitality staff so cooking isn’t too much of an issue. Because my family are in Edinburgh and my Mrs is from Hungary, we will go home less to see them.”

Duncan Walker with 18-month-old son Finnley
(Image: Paige Oldfield)

Joshua Smithies lives in Busk with his parents and younger sister Lois Boshell, 10. “(The cost of living) is quite expensive,” the 21-year-old says. We’re managing at the moment but I have to pay towards the rent.”

Across the UK, 2.8 million children were living in poverty before housing costs as of March 2021 – down from 3.2 million the year before. In Greater Manchester, other areas with high rates of child poverty include North Levenshulme, Cheetham Hill, Lever Edge in Bolton, Alexandra Park in Oldham and Rumworth North in Bolton.

But it’s feared the number will continue to rise, with millions of families feeling the pinch more than ever. From April 1, homes saw a 54 per cent rise in the price cap – which limits the amount that can be charged per unit of gas and electricity – came into effect.

Joshua Smithies with sister Lois Boshell
(Image: Paige Oldfield)

The number of children in poverty across Greater Manchester has dipped slightly from 186,653 in March 2020 thanks in part to financial support from the government during the start of the pandemic. However, with the £20 uplift to Universal Credit gone, living costs rising, and benefits not keeping up, charities have now warned the situation is likely to get much worse.

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Manchester Evening News – Oldham