Children North East’s Campaigner Katie McSherry takes a look at the latest set of government figures on the levels of child poverty in the UK, and talks about what they mean in real terms.

Poverty, including child poverty levels on the increase 

The government released its annual Households below average income data this week, which showed increasing levels of  severe poverty and material deprivation, with child poverty levels on the increase.

The stats show that 4.1 million children in the UK now live in poverty – almost three quarters of whom have a parent in work - the highest levels on record.  

Organisations across the country have reported increasing poverty and inequality, but to date the government have refuted this, relying on statistics on absolute poverty. Yet for the first time since 2011/12, the data also shows a rise in absolute poverty. 

We join with charities across the country in calling for urgent action to ensure that families are not locked into poverty.  

Working families face poverty 

Counting money

UK employment is the highest since 1971, but despite record breaking employment levels, poverty levels are not declining.  

This week’s statistics show the highest ever in-work child poverty levels, with seven out of ten children in relative poverty in households with someone who works. Despite going out to work, these families are struggling to put food on the table or pay bills.  

Efforts to address low income through the National Living wage and tax cuts, have been undermined by changes to tax credits and benefits that help top up low wages. 

The poorest are getting poorer 

Social security should mean that everyone can afford the basics in times of hardship. But the current freeze on benefits has meant that social security to protect those out of work or on low incomes, is decreasing in value against raising living costs.

As a result, the poorest are getting poorer. This decrease in the value of benefits has been exacerbated by other cuts to support, such as the ‘two-child limit’.  

What about the picture in the North East? 

Housing in the North East

Today’s statistics paint a picture at the national level, but these offer an average and hide regional differences. This matters, because some regions such as the South East, are seeing rising living standards, while elsewhere including the North East is seeing living standards fall.  

Newcastle is in the 20% most deprived English Local Authority areas. Research published last year showed that in four wards in Newcastle, over 49% of children were living in poverty.

Meanwhile 97% of cuts in social care children and homelessness since 2011 have taken place in the 5th most deprived councils of which Newcastle is one 

In other words, poverty in the region is likely to be worse that the national picture.  

Life expectancy 

The figures come the day after new data shows poverty is a strong indicator of life expectancy.

Wealthy men can expect to live 10 years longer than their poorer counterparts, and the gap in life expectancy between the poorest and richest is widening, with life expectancy for women in the poorest areas actually decreasing. 

In 2017 Stockton on Tees was found to be the most unequal Local Authority with 17.3 years difference in life expectancy at birth for men and 11.4 for women.

Increasing inequality 

Children playing in the street

Four UN Special Rapporteurs have expressed serious doubts about the compatibility of ‘welfare’ reforms with UK's international human rights obligations on the basis that they are increasing inequality and have discriminatory effects on the most disadvantaged.

I’ll leave you with our Chief Executive Jeremy Cripps's thoughts on this week’s figures:

Today's statistics reflect what Children North East sees every day in our work with children, young people and families. Despite more employment, wages remain stubbornly low so the majority of working families are struggling to make ends meet and provide a decent standard of living for their children. Long term money worries cause stress, anxiety and depression for parents and children alike.

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We need your help to support families, children and young people in the North East who are suffering the effects of living in poverty - please consider making a donation.

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