There were a number of welcome announcements contained within the Chancellor’s statement, including schools investment which should be carefully targeted at supporting disadvantaged pupils in areas like the North East that have been hardest hit by Covid-19 and the ongoing disruption to children’s education.
However, the glaring omission was any reference to the rising number of children growing up in poverty in regions like ours, or the sign of any comprehensive, long-term plan from Government to tackle this growing issue. This despite the North East having the second highest rate of child poverty in the country, and experiencing the UK’s steepest recent increase in child poverty even before the pandemic devastated family incomes.
Whilst it will once again involve local areas competing against each other for Whitehall approval, the £4billion Levelling Up fund will be an important step in improving in the physical infrastructure of the North East – but what about investing directly in the people who live here? If it’s to have real impact, ‘levelling up’ has to include better supporting families in the region, and investing in the lives and life chances of our children and young people.
Crucially, the Chancellor missed today’s opportunity to reassure the hundreds of thousands of families across the region who have benefited from the £20 Universal Credit uplift, and who now face yet more uncertainty about the overnight loss of this lifeline in April after many months of enormous hardship and stress for so many.
The government must put this right and confirm the increase will be made permanent with some urgency, otherwise the number of children and young people living in poverty in the North East will continue to grow even further.