While child poverty has dropped nationwide, it’s only getting worse in some areas. Image: Save The Children
The North East has become the region with the highest level of child poverty in the UK, overtaking London for the first time, according to new analysis.
Research conducted by Loughborough University on behalf of the End Child Poverty Coalition shows that in 2020/21, 38 per cent of children in the North East were experiencing destitution, a rise of seven per cent over the last decade. In London, just over a third of children (35 per cent) are now living in poverty.
All local authorities in the North East region have seen a worrying rise in child poverty figures since 2015. Newcastle upon Tyne, for example, has seen the level of child poverty rise by 14 per cent since 2015, while Gateshead has since a rise of 13.9 per cent in the same period.
Middlesbrough, Sunderland, and Redcar and Cleveland are some of the other cities that have seen some of the biggest leaps.
“These new figures are deeply alarming,” said Anna Turley, the chair of the North East Child Poverty Commission. “Rather than being levelled up, it’s clear that inequalities for children and young people across the North East are widening even further – and this must surely act as a serious wake-up call for both the current and incoming government about the scale and urgency of the child poverty crisis we face.”
On the flip side, the average child poverty rate across the country has decreased slightly since the year before the pandemic, with slightly more than a quarter (27 per cent) of children facing hardship last year, compared to 31 per cent in 2019/20.
This is likely down to the fact that the analysis considered data up until March 2021, at which time universal credit claimants were still receiving the £20-per-week increase in payments introduced at the start of the pandemic. The uplift ended in October 2021, to much controversy.
“The additional £20 support from the government during the Covid crisis does appear to have affected the figures positively in most areas,” said Joseph Howes, who chairs the End Child Poverty Coalition.
“This shows that change is possible, these levels of child poverty do not have to be the norm.”
The coalition, which is made up of poverty and children’s charities including Save The Children and the Child Poverty Action Group, is now concerned about how the removal of the £20 uplift and the spiralling cost of living crisis will push thousands more into destitution across the UK.
“It still feels like we are on the edge of a precipice,” Howes said. “There is significant concern that the numbers of children in poverty will now rise again sharply with families facing huge cost increases in the coming months.”
While the government will this week begin rolling out its cost of living support package, which includes a £650 two-part payment for people who receive universal credit, the coalition believes this will only enable families to keep “treading water”.
“All it has done is help with some of the increased costs but it has not prevented a real terms cut in income,” said Dan Paskins, the director of UK impact at Save The Children.
“There must now be an immediate focus on the universal credit system as a means of helping families on the lowest incomes weather the cost of living crisis.”
Despite the likely temporary drop in the level of child poverty nationwide, certain local areas across the country are still seeing staggering levels of deprivation, particularly in cities.
Five of the top ten local authorities with the highest levels of child poverty are in London. At the top of this list is Tower Hamlets, where, despite having its lowest level of child poverty since 2015, more than half of the borough’s children still living below the breadline.
In terms of parliamentary seats, Bethnal Green and Bow had the highest volume of child poverty in 2020/21, at a staggering 56.1 per cent. Even still, this represents a drop of more than two per cent on 2015 levels in the constituency.
“The stark local and regional variation in child poverty rates presented in this report suggest that the government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda has a long way to go where child poverty is concerned,” said Juliet Stone, who authored the report.
Other key revelations from the report include the fact that child poverty has risen by three per cent in Wales, despite it falling in both England and Scotland.
The coalition is now calling for the introduction of a specific child poverty strategy, as well as for the removal of the benefit cap and the extension of free school meals to all children in families who receive Universal Credit.
“There will always be conflicting government priorities, but surely the wellbeing of the most vulnerable children in our society should be front and centre, particularly as we go through the most severe period of price rises for 40 years,” Howes said.
“It remains incredibly worrying that at a moment like this there is nothing in the government’s Levelling Up strategy on this issue. I just don’t understand this.
“We must see a national child poverty strategy created. It is heartbreaking that there isn’t one when we can see evidence that shows change really is possible.”