Titanic task facing society in wake of Covid

Families living in poverty through Covid-19 have been hit by an iceberg and will feel the impact for the rest of their lives. So says our Operations Director, Michele Deans, in this hard-hitting blog:

Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic we’ve heard commentators talking about how ‘we’re not all in the same boat’. We may all be facing the same Covid-19 virus, but we’re not all experiencing its impact in the same way.

For many, Covid-19 has been the equivalent of the iceberg facing the Titanic. Unavoidably destructive – but you might have some chance of clinging on to survival and rescue if you’ve got the resources to do so. For others, they have no chance.

Passengers on board Titanic were not all equal – they were classed as first, second and third. And their class went on to have a direct impact on their chances of survival.

In the same way, families in our region have been – and will continue to be – affected differently by the impacts of Covid-19.

On Titanic, the first class passengers board the lifeboats, those who don’t are provided with lifejackets – many of them go on to survive.

Some second class passengers manage, through determination and luck to get on to the lifeboats, but in the main they are given lifejackets and told to get on with it and survive – some are picked up by rescue ships and go on to live their lives.

And then there are the third class passengers – many are locked below deck, unable to escape to safety, those who do manage to get up onto deck find all the lifeboats have gone, there are no lifejackets left and they are just told to jump and hang on to what they can – many don’t survive while waiting on the rescue ships.

Third class passengers

The impact of Covid-19 on the poor is much like the third class passenger – no lifeboats, no lifejackets and no rescue boats and the impact is so severe it will last their entire lives.

There is no getting away from this. The iceberg has struck, the damage is done. Already disadvantaged families have been affected the most, and will continue to feel the impacts the most – through loss of incomes, children falling behind with learning, worsening mental and physical health and more.

In 2010 the Child Poverty Act was passed with cross party support to end Child Poverty by 2020.

It is now 2021 and it has not happened. Instead, the picture is worsening. We were already facing a huge crisis, and Covid-19 has deepened that.

The facts are stark and grim:

• The North East has the second highest rate of child poverty in the UK at 35 per cent (set to rise).

• The North East saw the UK’s biggest increase in child poverty rising from 26 per cent to 35 per cent.

• All 12 North East councils are included in the 20 UK local authority areas which saw the highest increases in child poverty (with Middlesbrough and Newcastle seeing the biggest increases).

• Of the 20 UK Parliamentary constituencies which saw the highest increase in child poverty, more than half are in the North East.

• In the most deprived areas, boys can expect to live 19 fewer years of their lives in ‘good’ health, and girls 20 fewer years, than children in the least deprived areas.

• The poorest groups in society are dying almost a decade earlier than the richest – this has been exacerbated by welfare cuts and the rising cost of living (Imperial College London).

• Due to Covid there has been a 4.5 per cent fall in median household income between May 2019 and May 2020 – this is the largest yearly fall since the 1970s.

• It is estimated that another 300,000 children will have been pushed into poverty through the pandemic.

• Children who have lived in persistent poverty during their first seven years have cognitive development scores on average 20 per cent below those of children who have never experienced poverty.

• Work does not provide a guaranteed route out of poverty in the UK. Seventy two per cent of children growing up in poverty live in a household where at least one person works.

• In 2015, 33 per cent of children receiving free school meals obtained five or more good GCSEs, compared with 61 per cent of other children.

• Of the 35 per cent of children living in poverty in the North East, 55 per cent are aged 0-5 years.

So what can we do?

There is much good work already underway but we must do more – and by working together, we can make much more of an impact.

Collectively, we must continue to campaign to address the impact of poverty on children and families.

We must continue with the research that leads to evidence of what works and what doesn’t work, and lobby for policy change on the back of that. We must continue to push for real increases in funding, for longer term solutions, for recognition at the very highest level that this is a real and serious issue that isn’t going to go away.

Alongside this, and at a local level, we have families in real need, right now. As a community, we can work together to make sure babies, children and families can get the resources and support they need. By working in partnership with local authorities, other charities, schools, community organisations, we can do our best to ensure that children in need don’t become invisible or fall through the net.

At Children North East, our everyday work involves a lot of immediate and on-the-ground work – such as food parcels, support for expectant parents, domestic abuse support, resources for schools, poverty proofing in schools, and more.

The Supporting Children and Families theme of work in the ARC North East and North Cumbria gives us the ideal vehicle to bring together our collective local knowledge, experiences, expertise and ideas.

Working together will give us the very best chance of tackling these significant challenges facing our local communities and the very best chance of supporting babies and children in our region.

By working together, we can create a better future for our local families.

We can be that life raft.

  • This blog was originally written by Michele Deans for the NIHR’s Applied Research Collaboration (ARC) for the North East and North Cumbria where Michele is Deputy Lead for their Children and Families Theme. ARC is a partnership that brings together six regional universities, the NHS, health and social care providers, local authorities, the voluntary sector, community groups, members of the public and others.