A ‘map’ put together by The Campaign to End Child Poverty found more than half of children are living in poverty in nine Welsh wards, including Townhill, Swansea (55%), Pen-y-waun, Rhondda Cynon Taf (53%), and Plas Madoc, Wrexham (53%).
That level of poverty is higher than in Tower Hamlets in London, where 52% of children live in poverty.
And the study says the percentage of children living in workless families has grown from 16% to 18%, faster than any of the English regions, suggesting the number of families struggling to get by is also increasing.
The poverty report warns tax and benefit changes outlined in the recent Autumn Statement showed the greater burden was being placed on the poorest, which “not only puts children’s wellbeing at risk, it carries economic risks too”.
The report also warns that more children are living in homes where only one parent works or where they can only find part-time work, increasing the risk of wages not stretching far enough.
Campaigners and opposition parties called on the Welsh Government to do more to meet its target of eradicating child poverty in Wales by 2020.
James Pritchard, head of Wales for Save the Children, said the report was “terribly worrying” and said the problem needed to be the Welsh Government’s number one priority.
He said the growing scale of child poverty means it is heading towards becoming a visible issue for everyone.
Mr Pritchard said: “There’s no longer this sense that people might have had that this was a problem for someone else, not something I have to worry about for my family or community.
“That’s becoming less and less the case. It’s a problem for the whole of Wales. This is what these statistics demonstrate.
“If we don’t get this dealt with and we don’t get solutions soon, we’re storing up problems for generations to come, because all the statistics show that children who grow up in poverty are more likely to bring their own children up in poverty, more likely to struggle to find a job and more likely to suffer poor health.”
Mark Isherwood AM, Shadow Minister for Communities and Housing, said: “These figures are a major blow to the Welsh Labour Government’s flagship commitment to eliminate child poverty by 2020.
“Child poverty in Wales has been rising since 2004, with resources too often subsidising the problems rather than tackling their deep rooted causes.
“Far from making progress, it is now clear that the situation is getting even worse with more young children forced into a life of poverty.
“Welsh Labour Ministers need to focus on tackling health inequalities, raising educational attainment, challenging the complex causes of worklessness and creating jobs as part of a joined-up strategy to ensure that no child grows up in deprivation.”
Plaid Cymru’s Children and Equal Opportunities spokesperson, Lindsay Whittle AM, said worsening economic conditions meant more and more families were facing extremely difficult times.
He said: “Plaid Cymru has called on the Labour Welsh Government to stand up and act in light of the economic crisis. Considerations of child poverty should be at the heart of the government’s decision-making, and we have called on the UK government to bring an end to means testing for benefits to create a fairer, more inclusive system.
“We have also called on Labour to take action to help Welsh businesses in order to save jobs, but without these investments, Welsh families are being left to fend for themselves, and the situation continues to deteriorate.”
The report used tax credit data to examine the proportion of children living in low income homes, also taking into account recent unemployment figures to estimate changes in the number of children who are sinking into poverty because their parents have lost their jobs.
Campaign executive director Alison Garnham said: “The child poverty map paints a stark picture of a socially segregated Britain where the life chances of millions of children are damaged by poverty and inequality.”
A Welsh Government spokesman said: “The Welsh Government maintains its rightly challenging target of eradicating child poverty by 2020. There is no greater priority for us than ensuring that children and young people whose lives are affected by poverty have the same life chances and opportunities as their more affluent peers.
“Our Programme for Government details our concerted and co-ordinated approach to tackling poverty, ill-health and worklessness. Our aim is to improve skills and achieve better educational, health and economic outcomes for children, young people and families living in poverty.
“We are going to do this through a range of actions: including developing an anti-poverty action plan by March 2012, doubling the number of children benefiting from our Flying Start early years programme, improving the way we support families through our new Families First programme and our Jobs Growth Wales initiative, which was announced in October.
“These, plus Communities First and our Integrated Family Support Services, form a considerable package of support and show we are using all the leavers available to us to support families and boost our economy.
“Our continued and increased investment in co-ordinated programmes to tackle child poverty is evidence of our utter commitment to tackle the issue head-on. This commitment is now more important than ever in the face of huge cuts from the UK Government that will undoubtedly hit the families we are trying to lift out of poverty. Our focus nonetheless will be to do everything we can to address this across all our areas of responsibility.”