One in 10 children in East Hampshire were living in poverty last year, new figures show.

Children’s charity Barnardo’s said youngsters “can’t be happy and healthy if they are going to bed in a cold home, on an empty stomach”.

Figures from the Department for Work and Pensions show 2,198 East Hampshire children aged under 16 were living in relative poverty in the year to March 2023.

It meant 9.9% of children in the area were in a family whose income was below 60% of average household income before housing costs. They also claimed child benefit and at least one other household benefit.

This was down from 12.2% the year before and significantly lower than the UK rate of 20.1%.

Of all the children facing poverty in East Hampshire, 583 were below school age.

Lynn Perry MBE, CEO of Barnardo’s, said: “Living in poverty means children miss out on opportunities and the activities that make childhood fun and support their development.

“The Government needs to urgently focus on reducing child poverty.

“That should start with a strategy for ending child poverty, including ending the two-child limit ‘sibling penalty’ on benefit payments and ensuring struggling families can afford essentials like food and household bills.”

Children’s commissioner for England Dame Rachel de Souza said she was “horrified” by the figures and called for welfare reform, including auto-enrolment for free school meals and more free breakfast clubs.

She said: “We need to go much further, faster to support these families, because no child should grow up in poverty in the sixth richest country in the world.”

Across the UK, there were 2.5 million children living in low-income families before housing costs. However, the number hit a record high and was nearly double after housing costs were considered, with 4.3 million children in relative poverty.

Alison Garnham, chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group, said: “In a general election year, nothing should be more important to our political leaders than making things better for the country’s poorest kids.

“We know that change is possible, but we need to see a commitment from all parties to scrap the two-child limit and increase child benefits.

“Anything less would be a betrayal of Britain’s children.”

Overall, there were 228,739 children experiencing poverty across the South East last year, who accounted for 13.1% of all children in the region.

Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Mel Stride said: “I know the last few years have been tough, with the aftershocks of Covid and the war of Ukraine driving up inflation and cost of living pressures.

“That’s exactly why we stepped in with the biggest cost of living package in Europe, worth an average of £3,800 per household, and this unprecedented support prevented 1.3 million people from falling into poverty in 2022-23.

“We’re also going further in April, by uprating benefits and pensions to support millions of people on the lowest incomes and extending the Household Support Fund to provide vital support for those most in need.”