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Effects of child poverty ‘last a lifetime’ says Bishop of Newcastle

09 October 2020

Regional and BAME inequalities: a call to action, says bishop

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CHILD poverty is the “most pernicious thing” in the world because its effects last a lifetime, the Bishop of Newcastle, the Rt Revd Christine Hardman, has said.

She was introducing a new report from the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), Child Poverty and Devolution in North East England, published at the end of last month. The report, written by Anna Round and Sarah Longlands, highlights stark regional inequalities in levels of child poverty across the UK.

“The North East currently has the second highest rate of child poverty of any English region,” it states. “Thirty-five per cent of children in the North East live in relative poverty; the national rate is 30 per cent. The region saw the largest fall in child poverty between 1999 and 2013 (13 percentage points), and the largest rise since then (9 percentage points, compared to 3 percentage points nationally).”

More children in the north-east than the rest of the country live in low-income households that go without heating, an annual week’s holiday, hobbies and leisure activities, or school trips. This is reflected in children’s health and secondary-school attainment in the region, it states.

These discrepancies are critically affected by Covid-19, the authors warn. “The north of England, and the North East in particular, will enter this economic crisis with the scars of a decade of austerity and a long history of regional inequalities and fiscal and political centralisation that have done the region no favours. . . Disruption to schooling and other services is likely to have the worst impacts on children from poorer homes, and in the most deprived parts of the UK.”

Children from BAME families also feel the impact disproportionately: 46 per cent of children from BAME groups live in poverty, compared with 26 per cent of white children. Lone parents are also more likely to live in poverty generally (15 per cent), more so in the north (17 per cent).

Successive governments had failed to reduce child poverty rates significantly, despite pledges to eradicate it completely, the report says. Under Labour, between 1999 and 2013, child poverty fell by six percentage points across the UK; since 2013, however, under the Coalition and Conservative governments, these gains have begun to unravel, rising by three percentage points nationally.

The north-east of England experienced the largest fall in child poverty in the 14 years to 2014 (13 percentage points), and has had the largest rise since then (nine percentage points).

The report makes nine recommendations to combined authorities. These include: putting child poverty at the centre of future devolution deals; fostering partnerships; supporting parents into good-quality employment; working with schools; delivering income-maximisation programmes; and making childcare financially accessible.

In her foreword, Bishop Hardman, who also chairs the North of Tyne Combined Authority Inclusive Economy Board, writes: “All poverty is a terrible thing. Human lives are diminished by it. And child poverty is the most pernicious thing of all, as all too often its effects last a lifetime. We read in this report that here in the North East we have the second highest rate of child poverty of any English region.

“This is an urgent call to action. . . I warmly welcome this report and pledge to do all I can to see that its recommendations do not stay as a list of good intentions on a page, but rather shape and focus our actions, at the personal, regional and national level.”

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