Children North East, the North East Child Poverty Commission and Schools North East have come together to write an open letter to the region’s MPs asking them to press for more support for disadvantaged children in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.

The three organisations  warn of a rising tide of poverty and say existing inequalities are on the increase as a result of Covid-19. The letter states:

We must work together to ensure that the North East’s children and young people do not become the forgotten victims of this unprecedented situation – and to ensure the existing inequalities this crisis has thrown into sharp relief and exacerbated are addressed in the long-term

The three bodies, who are all committed to combating the effects of poverty and inequality on children, young people and their families, point out that life was already tough for many communities even before the pandemic struck.

More than 35 per cent of the region’s children and young people (almost 11 in a classroom of 30) were already growing up in poverty after housing costs were taken into account – compared with a national figure of around 30 per cent.

This percentage is not only likely to increase more steeply than previously projected – but those children already trapped by poverty in the North East will face even greater hardship as a consequence of Covid-19.

Children are being affected in a number of adverse ways as a result of the current lockdown:

  • Household incomes: The organisations highlight that for thousands of North East families already struggling, the impact of immediate job losses, 20 per cent pay cuts or reduced working hours will be devastating, as will the anticipated medium and longer term increase in unemployment as the economic effects of the lockdown continue to play out.

  • Learning loss: Through its long-standing Poverty Proofing the School Day work, Children North East hears directly from pupils about the barriers to learning they already face without access to digital devices and the difficulties of finding a quiet space at home to complete their work, issues now exacerbated by lockdown.

 

  • Food insecurity: Before the crisis hit, the North East had the highest percentage of both primary and secondary age pupils on free school meals (FSM) and, with over 1.8 million people nationally applying for Universal Credit since March 16, many more families in our region will need support with food. There have been serious operational issues with the Government’s national FSM voucher system.

 

  • Impact on wellbeing: Some children are increasingly vulnerable as a result of the lockdown and schools across the region have had to develop emergency measures to support the welfare of pupils and their families. The letter calls for ‘significant additional support’ for all school staff, to help them to continue to support pupils’ mental health and wellbeing once all schools reopen.

 

Leigh Elliott, interim Chief Executive of Children North East said:

Poverty levels in the North East are a national disgrace and the coronavirus crisis will only deepen the divide between the haves and the have-nots in our society.

It is our children who are suffering as parents lose their income and family stress levels rise. Meanwhile, the learning gap will continue to increase and poorer pupils will continue to go hungry unless the Government addresses the widening inequalities in our region. We're asking our region’s MPs to keep pressing this message home.

 

Jane Streather, Chair of the North East Child Poverty Commission said:  “We know that MPs across the North East will already be raising concerns about the impact of Covid-19 on children and young people in our region, and the action required both now and in the aftermath of the pandemic to support those most disadvantaged by this crisis.  

“However, we mustn't lose sight of just how acute levels of inequality already were for thousands of families in the North East - a situation which has only been exacerbated by the current lockdown. It's clear that children, young people and schools in our region will need significant additional support to address the wide-ranging consequences of this pandemic.”

Chris Zarraga, Director of Schools North East added:  “School leaders and teachers in the North East have rallied to support their students, families and local communities during this difficult time.

“There is no doubt they will also work tirelessly to overcome the problems we have identified. The new challenges our schools will face are not insurmountable provided policy makers and practitioners do not assume that, post-coronavirus, schools will be operating as ‘business as usual’. 

 “To properly support schools to help our students through this, it is essential that policymakers involve them in conversations around what happens when schools extend their opening, and how to mitigate the impact of Covid-19 on our students.”

The full briefing sent to MPs can be read here