NEARLY a quarter of children in ‘wealthy’ South Lakeland are living in poverty while rough sleeping is also on the rise, a council meeting has heard.

And there are fears that ‘social inequality’ could get worse across the area in 2020 with Universal Credit being extended and rents for housing association tenants set to rise for the first time in five years, councillors were told.

This Christmas, some people in Kendal are having to make the choice between ‘heating the house or buying food’, according to the King’s Food Bank.

SLDC cabinet member Cllr Suzie Pye told a meeting of the full council in Kendal on Tuesday night that 23 per cent of the local population are in poverty, according to

The Kendal foodbank had reported a year-on-year 18 per cent rise in referrals for food parcels compared to last year, said Cllr Pye, the portfolio holder for health, wellbeing and financial resilience for SLDC.

“That’s a trend that keeps on happening,” said the Liberal Democrat member for Sedbergh and Kirkby Lonsdale. “It is rise upon rise upon rise.”

Rough sleeping in South Lakeland had also seen ‘a significant increase’ with the reasons being ‘investigated’ and a report to the council expected in the new year.

By contrast, the number of second homes locally is closing in on the 4,000 mark, she said.

She said: “In a society where the poorest fifth only have four percent of total income whereas the top fifth have 47 per cent, tackling social inequality at a local level is certainly a challenge and one that will rely heavily on policy laid out in Westminster by the new Government.”

South Lakeland District Council has helped cut council tax bills for poorer householders with 1,945 people across the district benefiting, she said.

She said there are 14.3 million in poverty nationally, including 4.6 million children. According to Shelter, as of March 2019, the number of children living in temporary accommodation in the northwest had risen by 385 per cent compared to five years earlier, she said.

The extension of Universal Credit in South Lakeland in 2020 is also likely to see ‘rising financial issues’ for those on low-incomes, the meeting was told.

The controversial benefits system sees six different benefits, often paid weekly, merged into a single monthly payment.

Cllr Phil Dixon, a Liberal Democrat for Kendal Town, said the council’s independent auditors had made reference to the ‘increasing levels of inequality’ in Britain.

“It almost read like something out of The Guardian,” he said. “But it’s from our own independent auditors Grant Thornton.”