Our Chief Executive, Leigh Elliott, shares the charity’s view on the urgent need for a national approach to tackling Child Poverty from all sides.
In 1999, the government made a historic cross-party agreement to eradicate child poverty by 2020. At the time a quarter of British children were living below the poverty line. Yet as I write this, almost 25 years later, the situation has worsened; and growing regional inequality means that in the North East a shocking 35% of children are now growing up in poverty. The impact of austerity, Covid and the cost of living crisis is having a catastrophic impact on families who are struggling to pay for the basics – enough food, nappies and baby milk formula, school shoes.
As one of the world’s strongest economies, it should be unthinkable that in the 21st century children in our communities are growing up in poverty. But this is the reality. And there is a deafening silence from our government in response to the issue.
Our experience supporting babies, children, young people and their families tells us the reasons for child poverty are complex.
Low-paid work, with wages that are not keeping up with inflation, is one of the biggest causes of child poverty; almost 70% of children living in poverty in the North East are in households where at least one parent works.
The Universal Credit system is also failing families; eligibility criteria that penalise children with two or more siblings, and a basic entitlement that doesn’t cover the cost of essentials. For families who can’t work, and the millions whose meagre wages are topped up with Universal Credit, it’s still not enough to make ends meet.
For many parents who are working – and others who want to work, the availability and cost of childcare, and the complex childcare funding system create another difficulty – parents have told us they can’t afford to go to work but they can’t afford not to. It’s an impossible dilemma – and it is children who are suffering.
Our leaders need to acknowledge that child poverty is a problem, and one which needs to be tackled, for the benefit of the economy, the future of our society, and because it is the right thing to do.
That’s why we are calling on the next government to commit to a new Child Poverty Strategy, which works across government, to address the issue from all angles. We need clear targets that drive forward action, to get more money in families’ pockets. And we need to remove the barriers preventing children in poverty from fully participating in society, achieving at school, and growing up happy and healthy.
Children North East is campaigning to end child poverty for good, working alongside our Ambassador, Denise Welch, and the Sunday Mirror, calling for change to bring Hope not Hunger to our children. As part of the End Child Poverty Coalition, we are calling an end to the two-child limit which are keeping thousands of families in poverty. We are contributing to the work of the North East Child Poverty Coalition, looking for regional solutions to child poverty, and are championing the Real Living Wage, leading by example and challenging other employers to make work pay.
Our pioneering Poverty Proofing© model is working in schools, healthcare settings and community venues to identify and remove obstacles that make it harder for people in. We know this makes a huge difference to people’s day to day life.
We are playing our part, but we need a concerted, national approach that tackles poverty from all sides, and we are failing our children if we do not commit to eradicating it in our generation.