North East of England 'levelled down' with surge in child poverty rates

Can the North really be ‘levelled up’ when child poverty is on the rise?

Families in the North East of England are being pushed to the brink, as new research shows a dramatic rise in child poverty rates.

A leading think tank said the situation was a direct consequence of policy choices, bringing into question whether the Government can deliver on its promised ‘levelling up’ agenda.

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An ongoing problem

Around 3.8 million children in the UK live in poverty

The research carried out by Loughborough University for the End Child Poverty Coalition shows 37%, or approximately 180,000 children, live in poverty in the North East.

The figures are based on official Government data from the Department of Work and Pensions with housing costs factored in. It relates to children aged 0-15 only.

The region has seen a staggering rise in child poverty rates in the past five years, with an 11% percentage point change on 2014/15’s figures – the greatest increase of any UK region.

It has moved from just below the UK average to the second highest of any region, just after London at 38%.

Children in poverty after housing costs (NationalWorld)

Newcastle upon Tyne has seen the greatest increase in child poverty rates anywhere in the country with a 12.8% percentage point increase.

Despite being in power since 2010, child poverty continues to rise under the Conservative Government, with around 3.8 million children now living in poverty in one of the world’s richest countries – 410,000 more than in 2014/15.

‘We’re not living, we’re just about surviving’

Vikki Waterman is a single mother of two. She is from Durham where more than a third of children live in poverty.

She struggles to make ends meet despite working full time, and says the Government has to do more to help people, especially working families.

Three quarters of children living in poverty in 2019/20 were in households with at least one working adult.

Ms Waterman said: “Too many of us in the North East work twice as hard for half as much. We’re not living, we’re 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.”

A problem that can be solved

Erica Roscoe, senior research fellow at IPPR North, the dedicated think tank for the north of England, said that ending child poverty must be at the core of future devolution deals.

Ms Roscoe said: “Despite progress made on reducing child poverty in the region between 1999 and 2013, today’s analysis is further evidence that child poverty has risen dramatically in the North East in recent years.

“Child poverty is a problem that can have both short and long-term impacts on individuals' health, education and development. It is also a problem that can be solved. It is a direct result of economic circumstances and policy choices, and we can choose to end it.

“A commitment to end child poverty must be at the heart of the Government’s post-Covid economy, and at the very core of future devolution deals”.

Challenges to levelling up

The End Child Poverty Coalition is urging the Government to create a credible plan to end child poverty.

It wants a commitment to maintain the £20 uplift to Universal Credit that has been implemented during the pandemic – and for it to be extended to people still on old forms of benefits – and an increase to child benefits.

Anna Feuchtwang, chair of the End Child Poverty Coalition, said: “The figures speak for themselves – the situation for children couldn’t be starker.

“The UK Government can be in no doubt about the challenge it faces if it is serious about ‘levelling up’ parts of the country hardest hit by poverty.

“After the year we’ve all had, they owe it to our children to come up with a plan to tackle child poverty that includes a boost to children’s benefits. And they need to scrap plans to cut Universal Credit given parents and children are having a tough enough time as it is.”

The Government said it is committed to supporting families most in need.

A spokesperson said: “Latest figures show that the number of children in absolute poverty has fallen by 300,000 since 2010.”

Measuring the number in absolute poverty is this government’s preferred way of measuring living standards. The absolute poverty line is fixed in real terms.

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