New figures released today (Wednesday 19 May) by the charity Action for Children reveal that over a third of children in the North East are growing up in poverty, once housing costs are taken into account.
The research, carried out by Loughborough University for the End Child Poverty Coalition, shows our region has seen the most dramatic rise in child poverty over the past five years, fuelled by stagnating family incomes.
Overall child poverty rates in the North East have risen by over a third – from 26 per cent to 37 per cent – over five years, moving from just below the UK average to the second highest of any region, after London. Every North East local authority reported increases in child poverty rates, after housing costs are taken into account. Newcastle and Gateshead in particular have seen their child poverty rates soar.
The new data also reveals the North East constituencies with greatest numbers of children living in poverty are Middlesbrough (46 per cent) and Newcastle upon Tyne Central (45 per cent), closely followed by South Shields (39 per cent), Gateshead (38 per cent) and Hartlepool (38 per cent).
Vikki Waterman is a single mum of two from Durham who works full-time. She says poverty in the North East cripples hard-up families and it beggars belief that the UK Government doesn’t understand the struggles facing working parents, even more so following the financial impact of COVID-19.
“Too many of us in the North East work twice as hard for half as much. We’re not living, were just about surviving.
“Working families, particularly single parent families, already live day to day with the constant fear of having no flexibility or financial safety net, often forcing them to turn to high interest loans in times of desperate need. The government must not allow those of us barely managing to keep our heads above water from going under.”
Leigh Elliott, Chief Executive of Children North East, said:
“Poverty levels in the North East are a national disgrace and the Covid-19 crisis is deepening the divide between the haves and the have-nots in our society. It is our children who are suffering as parents lose their income and family stress levels rise. Meanwhile, the learning gap will continue to increase and poorer pupils will continue to go hungry unless the Government addresses the widening inequalities in our region.”
Imran Hussain, Director of Policy and Campaigns at Action for Children, said: “These deeply worrying figures reveal the true extent of the hardship facing families across the North East– even before the pandemic hit. With child poverty rates soaring, children in the region are among those most exposed to the devastating economic consequences of the pandemic.
“Our frontline workers tell us that poverty levels are at the worst they ever seen, as they deliver vital support to families in the region desperately trying to keep their kids clothed and well-fed.
“We are desperately concerned this generation of children have had their childhoods and life chances damaged and disrupted by poverty and the pandemic. If the government truly wants to level up parts of the country hardest hit by poverty, they must scrap their plans to cut Universal Credit later this year and give families a fighting chance at recovery.”
Amanda Bailey, Director of the North East Child Poverty Commission, added: “This alarming new data really does demonstrate the scale of the challenge in reducing inequalities for most parts of the North East, which have only been exacerbated by the pandemic – and yet we are still to hear how the post-Covid recovery and proposals to level up the country will address this growing child poverty crisis.
“The single most important step the Government could take to improve the lives and opportunities of children and young people across our region is to commit to a clear plan – backed up with decisive action – to tackle child poverty.
“This must start by not going ahead with the planned cut to Universal Credit which will have a devastating impact on thousands of families across the North East.”
Children’s charities are calling on the UK Government to recognise the scale of the problem and its impact on children’s lives and to create a credible plan to end child poverty which must include a commitment to increase child benefits. Given the extent to which families are already struggling, the planned £20 p/w cut to Universal Credit come October should also be revoked, with the support extended to those on the ‘legacy’ benefits system.