New research published today by the North East Child Poverty Commission highlights “a growing chasm” between welcome government commitments on levelling up and the reality of rising child poverty in the North East – finding that the gap between the living standards of children in the region and the UK average has reached a twenty-year high.
Almost two in five children in the North East (38%) are living in poverty. This rises to almost half – 47% – of North East children living in a household with an under five year old. Both are now the highest rates of any UK nation or region, with the North East experiencing by far the steepest increases in child poverty in the country in recent years.
The new report
Today’s new report, Getting the building blocks wrong: Early childhood poverty in the North East, explores why child poverty, and particularly early childhood poverty, has risen so steeply in the region in recent years – as well as the devastating impacts of this for families and the organisations working to support them across the North East.
The new analysis finds that:
- The gap between the living standards of children in the region compared to the UK average has reached a twenty-year high – and this is part of a clear trajectory that began around 2014/15, well before Covid-19 and the cost of living crisis.
- Child poverty in the North East is not inevitable – but a combination of economic trends and demographic factors help explain steep increases in child poverty in the region since 2014/15, particularly for our youngest children.
These include the North East:
- Experiencing a much steeper increase in in-work child poverty than that seen across the UK
- Not seeing the fall in out-of-work child poverty observed across the country
- Seeing a larger rise in the proportion of families who are much less likely to be in a position to work, or who find it much harder to work without the right support in place
- Having the highest proportion of children (or higher than the UK average) in a number of groups of families who are much more likely to be in poverty. These include families where someone has a disability; lone parent families; families with parents aged under 25; and families in rented homes.
- Critically, these factors mean that North East families – both in and out of work – have been disproportionately impacted by the erosion of our social security safety net over the last decade, which has been a leading driver of many of the inequalities the levelling up agenda now seeks to tackle.
Research undertaken for this report with organisations across the region – including ‘baby banks’, food banks, children’s charities and frontline advice services – also shines a light on the dire consequences of long-term inadequate family incomes, now exacerbated by the pandemic and cost of living crisis, with local charities and community groups experiencing significant, and possibly unsustainable, increases in demand to help growing numbers of young families in the North East just meet their basic needs.
A call for government action
Ahead of this week’s ‘fiscal event’, today’s report urges the government to take further immediate measures to support low-income families in the region through the cost of living crisis:
- Raise social security payments to match inflation now, not next April as currently planned
- Pause ‘deductions’ from Universal Credit, which are disproportionately impacting children in the North East
- Lift the two-child limit and benefit cap, which hit families with young children hardest
- Pause Universal Credit sanctions, particularly for families with children
Without change, the levelling up agenda is fatally undermined
And the new report warns that – until the erosion of our social security system, and the ongoing challenge of low paid work and lower household earnings in the North East, are fundamentally addressed – the government’s flagship levelling up agenda will continue to be fatally undermined. It concludes:
“In the medium to longer-term, it is clear that we have to stop lurching from crisis to crisis if the government is to deliver on its levelling up pledges to improve living standards and increase opportunities for children and young people in places like the North East. Giving every baby ‘the best start in life’ means getting the building blocks right. This will require a commitment from the new Prime Minister to take comprehensive, ambitious and joined-up action to reduce and then end child poverty as a central plank of levelling up.”
This should include:
- Committing to undertake, and act upon, ‘levelling up impact assessments’ of all major Government policy and spending decisions – including those taken by the Department for Work and Pensions
- Investing in our social security system, so that it provides a genuine, timely and dignified safety net
- Addressing in-work poverty
- Improving access to affordable childcare/early years education
- Better supporting those who are ‘economically inactive’
- Providing transformative investment for Family Hubs
- Taking action to address high costs and poor quality housing for renters
- Most importantly listening to and involving children, young people and families in the North East in all of this work, including future policy development on levelling up and poverty reduction
From the North East Child Poverty Commission
Anna Turley, Chair of the North East Child Poverty Commission, said:
“This new report lays bare the growing chasm between pledges to ‘level up’ places like the North East and the reality of rising child poverty in every part of our region, which started well before the Covid pandemic.
“Without both immediate and longer-term action to raise family incomes, particularly for those with the youngest children, there is no prospect of inequalities in the North East being reduced – and our region will continue to be held back from fulfilling its enormous potential.
“The single most important step the government could take to improve the living standards and opportunities of children across our region, both now and in the future, is to commit to a clear plan – backed up with decisive action – to tackle this issue. Child poverty in the North East can be solved, with the right policies, support and investment in place.”
Report author and Director of the North East Child Poverty Commission, Amanda Bailey, added:
“Given the mountain of evidence on the immediate and lifelong impacts that experiencing poverty in childhood can have – particularly during the earliest years – it’s deeply concerning that the child poverty gap between the North East and the UK is now at a twenty-year high.
“It’s also clear that government policy decisions are not only resulting in significant and avoidable levels of hardship for families across our region, they are also exacerbating many of the inequalities the levelling up agenda seeks to tackle, with local charities and community groups increasingly left to pick up the pieces. It’s not right that the basic needs of thousands of North East families, in and out of work, are now being met in this way.
“It’s vital that the government takes further, urgent action to help families in our region keep their heads above water in the coming months. But we also need longer-term, joined-up measures to reduce child poverty and support every baby, child and young person in the North East to thrive.”