It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dr Huq; thank you very much for calling me early in the debate. I congratulate my good and hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist) on securing this important debate. I also thank the North East Child Poverty Commission, which does really vital work and is committed to ending child poverty in the north-east, for providing me with a briefing ahead of the debate.
On the latest data, from 2019 to 2020, the north-east had the UK’s second-highest rate of child poverty, with an average of 37% of all babies, children and young people in our region growing up in poverty, compared with a UK average of 31%. However, I take issue with a point raised by the hon. Member for Darlington (Peter Gibson), who said that there are limited levers and avenues for Government to address these issues. There is a dramatic example today, in relation to social security. There is a statutory instrument on a deferred Division, and the Government have decided that, even though the forecast suggests that inflation will be 7%, they will limit the increase in social security benefits to 3.1%. Clearly, that will have a negative impact on some of the poorest people in our society; it will increase levels of child poverty.
There are also huge regional disparities and variations, but even within our own region there are huge disparities and variations. In my constituency, in the east of County Durham—the same county represented by the hon. Member for Darlington—the average figure for child poverty is in excess of 40%. Nine of the 11 electoral wards in my constituency have child poverty levels above 40%, and 10 of the 11 wards are above the County Durham average. The level in the Blackhall Rocks ward is 48.2%, and in Blackhall Colliery it is 44.2%. The county average is 25.8%. There are 33 electoral wards, out of 63 in the whole county, with a higher proportion of children living in relative poverty than the county’s average. In those circumstances one might expect that Government policy would be to direct resources, following the rhetoric of the levelling-up agenda, to the areas in greatest need, identified as having the highest levels of child poverty, in terms of children in receipt of free school meals and other established measures, but sadly that is not the case. Resources seem to be distributed on the basis of competitions. On the established consensus of using scarce resources to meet the greatest need, I am afraid the Government have broken with that long-standing tradition.