Luke Bramhall, who leads our Poverty Proofing and Participation Service, on why we need a fresh, new child poverty strategy:
Poverty: in my world, this word flies about constantly – my job title at Children North East is Poverty Proofing and Participation Service Manager – and, as we hear more each day about the social and economic impacts of the Covid pandemic, there is undoubtedly a risk of people becoming desensitised to the term. But we must never become immune to understanding the serious consequences for children and families of being caught in poverty’s grip.
Because income inequality – a longstanding injustice now exacerbated by Covid-19 – not only damages childhoods today but blights children’s life chances tomorrow, with households having low and inadequate incomes being a major underlying driver of physical ill health, worse mental wellbeing, poor living conditions, lower educational achievement and lives being prematurely lost. As a result of families not having enough money, children are unable to fully participate in all aspects of childhood and therefore face barriers every day to being able to thrive.
So when Parliament’s Work and Pensions Select Committee opened an inquiry into children in poverty (focussing initially on how this issue can most accurately be defined and measured), we teamed up with our colleagues at the North East Child Poverty Commission to make a very clear submission: that the defining feature of child poverty is families not having enough resources to meet their basic needs and participate fully in society and the fundamental way to tackle child poverty is therefore to increase household incomes.
Cabinet Minister for child poverty
But we know that recognition of this on its own is not enough. Equally important is having a comprehensive, ambitious plan in place to reduce and then eradicate child poverty, with targets to measure progress and a Cabinet Minister responsible for meeting them, including by ensuring that no policy across Government hinders the achievement of this aim.
This will undoubtedly be a lengthy and complex task but if we do not take meaningful action now, then organisations like Children North East will continue to invest time, resources and effort into alleviating poverty, while we continue to see income inequality increase even further. This is all the more frustrating when we know from relatively recent history that significant reductions in child poverty can be achieved with targeted, joined-up action in place.
I believe there is support across a range of sectors for a new child poverty strategy, and I am comforted every time I speak to yet more people who have had enough; who recognise that it’s not right – in one of the largest economies in the world – that ever-increasing numbers of children and young people are being held back by inequality and disadvantage; and that it is in all of our interests to change this.
Indeed, our colleagues at Voluntary Organisations’ Network North East, the umbrella organisation representing the third sector regionally, have previously combined forces with the North East Child Poverty Commission and the North East Chamber of Commerce to demand urgent and ongoing action from Government to tackle child poverty levels in our region.
More recently, the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, joined with church leaders across the North East in calling on the Chancellor to use his Spring Budget to ‘set out a plan to tackle deeply concerning levels of child poverty in our country.’ And we at Children North East added our voice to those of over 80 others in urging the Chancellor to ‘put children at the heart’ of both the Budget and the Comprehensive Spending Review expected later this year.
It is heartening to know there is a groundswell of cross-sector support for action.
Let’s grow this coalition and ensure we use the compassion, determination and commitment shown across our country throughout the Covid-19 pandemic to wage war on this other disease that blights our communities. And, as MPs explore the issues associated with child poverty, we hope that our region’s call for a different kind of roadmap to recovery – one that clearly outlines this nation’s route out of child poverty – will be acted upon by Government.