I’m sure many of you will know the phrase “a week is a long time in politics”. At the moment, it seems to me that a day is a long time. I’m writing this on Tuesday 18 October 2022 and the current Prime Minister is Liz Truss and the Chancellor of the Exchequer is Jeremy Hunt. I’m not saying this to be facetious, but given we have had four Prime Ministers in six years and four Chancellors of the Exchequer in four months, I just want to clarify the time frame.
I’m sure that many of us with an interest in politics have been mesmerised and horrified in equal measures in recent times. Twelve years ago if you had suggested that the UK would deliberately try to disengage from its closest trading partner (economically, socially, culturally and geographically), completely trash its reputation for stable and secure governance, be at high risk of the nation states wanting to leave the UK, deliberately downgrade and reduce investing in public services, and preside over a substantial growth in poverty, no-one would have believed you.
However, this is the reality of 2022. Clearly all countries have been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, many are facing fuel crises because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and there is a general economic downturn; but given the resources and position of the UK, we have quickly descended into chaos and our reputation has been trashed.
Child poverty in the North East
But this isn’t just a masterclass in how not to do politics, it has real impacts. Last month the North East Child Poverty Commission, of which I am a member, published a new report – Getting the building blocks wrong: Early childhood poverty in the North East –whichseeks to understand why child poverty, and particularly early childhood poverty, has risen so steeply in the region.
The research was carried out this summer, before the most recent incident of the pound crashing. It showed almost two in five children (38%) in the North East of England are living in poverty. This rises to 47%, almost half, of North East children living in a household with a child aged under five years. The research digs deep into why child poverty, and particularly early child poverty, is now so high in the North East. It looks at the reasons that explain the steep rise. As well as facts and figures, it describes what this actually means for children and families living in poverty.
The report also looks at several examples of how early childhood poverty is being challenged and it makes a set of policy recommendations to address child poverty. There are a number of brilliant community-based initiatives that support children and families. Unfortunately given the turbulence and torrid times within this government, it is unlikely that there will be any serious consideration of these sensible proposals.
So the next time we laugh at a cartoon, meme, post on social media or photo of a wilting lettuce, we must never forget the real impacts this charade is causing. The life chances and futures of too many children are being destroyed by the current crew of disastrous decision-makers.