Ambitious child poverty plan must be central plank of levelling up agenda

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The North East Child Poverty Commission (NECPC) has called on the Chancellor to commit to making an ambitious, joined-up plan to end child poverty ‘a central plank’ of the Government’s levelling up agenda.

Put children and young people at the heart of the levelling up agenda

In its submission to this year’s Spending Review and Autumn Budget, the regional child poverty network has welcomed the Government’s pledge to raise living standards and spread opportunity for areas like the North East – emphasising that one of the most tangible and impactful ways of doing so would be to put children and young people at the heart of the levelling up agenda, central to which must be ‘concerted, joined-up and sustained action to reduce and then end child poverty’.

Second highest level of child poverty

On the latest available figures – which do not yet take account of the impact of Covid -19, the North East has the second highest level of child poverty in the country and experienced the UK’s steepest increase in child poverty rates in the years leading into the pandemic, with 37% of all children and young people in the region growing up poor in 2019/20.

The NECPC’s submission to the Treasury stresses that it is ‘critical for the well-being and prosperity of our region – both now and in the future – that this alarming trajectory is halted and then reversed’, going on to set out the wide range of policy challenges that a cross-cutting, long-term child poverty strategy should address.

Urgent action is needed

The Commission has also urged the Chancellor to prioritise a number of issues for immediate action at this year’s Spending Review and Autumn Budget, which is due to take place on 27 October:

  • Reversing the planned £20 a week cut to Universal Credit – taking effect from 6th October, this will directly impact 46% of all families with children in the North East, pushing many into significant and avoidable hardship.
  • Increasing Child Benefit by at least £10 per child per week – as this vital support for families has lost a quarter of its value since 2010.
  • Lifting the ‘two-child limit’ – which has been the main driver in rising poverty for children from larger families since its introduction in 2017, with particular concerns about its impact on early childhood poverty which stands at 46% in the North East.
  • Expanding eligibility for free school meals – with one in four, or over 35,000, North East pupils living in poverty ineligible for this support as a result of the current narrow threshold.
  • Making a long-term investment in the Holiday Activities & Food scheme – building on this year’s welcome funding to ensure the programme is available every year in all parts of the North East.
  • Providing dedicated long-term funding for local welfare assistance schemes – to ensure local authorities are properly funded to provide support to families facing unexpected financial crises or hardship beyond the pandemic.

North East Child Poverty Commission Director, Amanda Bailey, said:

“More than one in three children in the North East are growing up in the grip of poverty, having their opportunities and ability to fulfil their potential severely limited as a result.

“The single most important step the Government could take to achieve its levelling up objectives in our region is to put investing in children and young people – including with an ambitious, joined-up child poverty plan – at the heart of this agenda.

“The Chancellor must make this commitment at this month’s Spending Review and Autumn Budget, starting by reversing the planned £20 a week reduction to Universal Credit.

“A strong social security system should both prevent and reduce poverty, but this cut will result in significant, avoidable hardship for thousands of families across our region – both in and out of work – whilst taking over £5 million a week out of the North East economy.

“This is totally incompatible with the Government’s commitment to levelling up, and it is inconceivable that this will take place when families are already facing rising bills and a National Insurance increase.”

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