I called for urgent Government action yesterday after new figures revealed that 37% of children in Easington are living in poverty.
A Westminster Hall debate was held on Monday afternoon in response to e-petition 554276, relating to child food poverty. The petition was signed by over 1.1 million people, including 904 in Easington.
I attended a virtual briefing last Thursday organised by the End Child Poverty Coalition and North East Child Poverty Commission after shocking new data published last week revealed that, in the three years before the Covid-19 pandemic, the North East had the second highest rate of child poverty in the UK at an average of 37%.
This is just behind London at 38%, and compared with a UK average of 31%.
The data means that 11 children and young people in a classroom of 30 in the North East are living in poverty.
The North East saw the UK’s biggest increase in child poverty from 2014/15 to 2019/20. It rose by over a third from 26% to 37% – meaning that it has risen from just below the UK average to the second highest of any region, after London. One third of this overall increase came between 2018/19 and 2019/20.
Of the 20 Parliamentary constituencies across the UK with the highest increases in child poverty rates from 2014/15 to 2019/20, more than four fifths are in the North East.
In my speech, I paid tribute to the sterling work of organisations such the East Durham Trust, for stepping in where the Government and its agencies continue to fail. I condemned the situation where organisations are being forced to ‘paper over the cracks of government and its agencies failing to do their job.’
I said, ‘This is the defining issue of our time. It’s not some happenstance that so many children have been driven into poverty. This is a result of direct Government policies. It’s deliberate policies of this Government to close Sure Start Centres, to deprive local authorities of the means with which to support children, and this is the consequence.’
I also expressed my support for the Right to Food Campaign, and praised the work of footballer Marcus Rashford in bringing the issue to the Government’s attention. I fully support the three recommendations from the National Food Strategy to expand access to Free School Meals, provide meals and activities during the holidays to stop holiday hunger and increase the value of and expand the Healthy Start scheme.
It is particularly worrying that the figures published last week cover the period 2014/15 to 2019/20 and therefore still do not take account of the devastating impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The figures make clear that – even before family incomes were devastated by Covid-19 – the North East urgently needed a new, comprehensive, credible Government strategy to end child poverty. The pandemic has made this more pressing than ever before.
I called on the Government to support children by boosting child-focussed support, such as Child Benefit, which has lost 23% of its value since 2010.
I also mentioned Unite the Union’s campaign to urge Government to reverse the planned £20 per week cut to Universal Credit to help struggling families, and insisted that this must also include extending the £20 per week uplift in Universal Credit to those in receipt of legacy benefits.
Finally, given the findings of recent joint briefings from the End Child Poverty Coalition on free school meals with Child Poverty Action Group and Children North East – which calculated that 1 in 4 schoolchildren living in poverty in the North East aren’t currently eligible for free school meals – I called on Government to extend free school meals to all families in receipt of Universal Credit/equivalent benefits, and to those with no recourse to public funds.