People without financial security live shorter, sicker, less productive lives. Growing up in a family without enough money has a long-term impact. Pupils who are eligible for free school meals are less likely to go to university than those who aren’t.
So why would anyone make a bad situation worse?
The two-child benefit cap
Ask the government and the official opposition. Both support maintaining the two-child benefit cap. A policy that punishes children for having brothers or sisters. Since its introduction in April 2017 it’s affected 400,000 families and 1.4 million children. Those families are missing out on around £3,000 a year for every child they have after the first two.
Evidence shows the two-child limit has not reduced family sizes. It’s had no impact at all on employment rates. In fact, two-thirds of affected families are already in employment. But it has caused sharp increases in poverty and hardship. Nearly half of children with two or more siblings now live in poverty.
This is why I’ve consistently called for the policy to be scrapped. I did so again when I heard directly from people with lived experience at our Policy Truth Commission on Wednesday.
But while the welfare state remains under the control of Westminster, devolution gives us a way to fight poverty.
If we can get everyone a secure job that pays their bills with enough left over a holiday and some savings, half of our other problems will disappear. With powers over adult skills and local investment decisions we can and do make a difference.
Sometimes people think that jobs magically appear by divine intervention. Or that jobs will appear if you just shout hard enough. But the reality is more complex. It involves working with the private sector to help businesses start up and scale up. It involves programmes designed and funded by my Combined Authority, like Technology, Innovation & Green Growth for Offshore Renewables.
Fortunately it forms the acronym ‘TIGGOR’. And like its near-namesake from Winnie the Pooh it’s full of enthusiasm with people determined to make a difference.
On Wednesday I went to the launch of the second round of the programme. We awarded £2.5 million in grants to nine local companies in round one. Scaling up the technology we need for offshore wind has generated £4.4 million and is expected to create 118 jobs over the next five years.
Guaranteeing lower energy prices and getting to net zero
We know that the only way to guarantee lower energy prices is to reduce our exposure to the global energy market. In short: to generate more of our energy at home. As an engineer by profession I get this industry.
We also know that we will not get to net zero unless we scale up investment in renewable energy. Wind energy now provides 60% of the electricity generated from renewables. It provides more than nuclear, at a fraction of the cost.
As with child poverty both Westminster parties have ummed and ahhed about investing in our clean energy future. We haven’t.
We are delivering the goods
So we’ve invested in companies like Soil Machine Dynamics (SMD), based in Wallsend. They make subsea robots controlled from the shore. I had a go controlling one. They look like giant, mechanical lobsters with arms and eyes. But it means engineers don’t have to bob up and down on a ship in the middle of the North Sea.
We’ve invested in companies like Kinewell Energy, based in North Shields. Who would’ve thought that a business that gets computers to do clever maths would be a success? But it is. Their software helps wind farm engineers account for temperature, terrain, and different loading conditions. It reduces power losses in transmission. It can save 20% on construction costs.
Our money supports local firms like Cramlington based Transmission Dynamics. Their smart bolts can detect when something is overloaded, and transit the data to an engineer. It increases the life expectancy of wind turbines.
Central government keeps stopping and starting green energy programmes. The official opposition can’t decide if it’s investing £28 billion or £0 billion in green infrastructure. But we’re delivering the goods. We’ve even got the old Swan Hunter Yard ready for business again.
The North East invented renewable electricity, with hydroelectricity at Cragside, in Northumberland. Thanks to programmes like TIGGOR and TIGGOR 2, we’re growing our green energy industry. I hope it’s a truth universally acknowledged that fighting the climate emergency is good for our planet, good for our economy and good for our people.