No time to wait: An ambitious blueprint for tackling child poverty

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By Amanda Bailey, Director at the North East Child Poverty Commission

The North East of England has enormous strengths and incredible potential – and can be the most fantastic place to grow up and raise a family.

But when a third of children are living in poverty, this is not only limiting the opportunities and outcomes of tens of thousands of young people across the North East, it is holding the whole of our region back.

While we know the UK Government continues to hold the most important levers available to tackle child poverty in England – and a joined-up, national child poverty strategy has never been more needed – we also have a new opportunity in the North East to begin to turn the tide on this fundamental challenge: devolution.

Next month, for the first time, all parts of the North East region will be covered by a mayoral combined authority. Our regional leaders must ensure the benefits of devolution – and any resulting improvements in prosperity – are felt by the children and young people that need this most. This includes doing everything within their power to reduce poverty rates, and levels of inequality, within the North East.

The North East Child Poverty Commission recently published a plan for how this could be done. Based on extensive new data analysis, and a year’s worth of qualitative research across the region, our new report, ‘No time to wait: An ambitious blueprint for tackling child poverty in the North East’, makes the case for using the vehicle of devolution to take a ‘public health approach’ to tackling the structural drivers and impacts of child poverty in, and on, our region.

We set out that this should be convened and driven forward by our mayoral combined authorities (North East and Tees Valley), but a collective effort in which organisations across all sectors – and particularly our anchor institutions – must pull together and play their part.

Our blueprint identified four strategic priorities for action, grounded in the evidence base detailed in our report. Under each of these, we set out several recommendations for organisations in the region – many of which will require the pooling of resources across systems:

  • Priority 1: Maximising family incomes now – with our key recommendation being region-wide take-up campaigns and a ramping up of investment in welfare rights and advice in community spaces. New analysis undertaken for us by Policy in Practice estimates the annual value of unclaimed benefits and social tariffs in the North East to be a staggering £1.3 billion – this should be in people’s pockets, and being spent in the local economy.
  • Priority 2: Making work a route out of poverty – including by our elected mayors committing to make both combined authority areas Living Wage Places. It is unacceptable that around 16% of employee jobs across the North East are paid below the real Living Wage, and tackling endemic low pay in our region must be a top priority across all sectors.
  • Priority 3: The best start in life for the next generation – with our key recommendation being for our combined authorities to pool resources with others – principally our Integrated Care Board – to pilot an expansion of free school meals to all families receiving Universal Credit, which we estimate would benefit 75,000 primary, secondary and college students across the region.
  • Overarching priority: Securing a region-wide anti-poverty commitment – to underpin our first three priorities, including through the adoption of the socio-economic duty by organisations across the region; and our elected mayors vocally advocating on the national policies which are exacerbating levels of hardship, such as the two-child limit and debt deductions from Universal Credit.

Devolution provides us with an opportunity to decide what sort of region we want to be. Until we take a collective decision to prioritise poverty prevention and reduction at all levels of government, we will never achieve the economic and social outcomes we all want for the North East.

We look forward to working with whoever is elected next month, to ensure our evidence-based recommendations are adopted at pace. Children growing up in the North East deserve better, and they don’t have time to wait.


This article is featured in our 10 April newsletter

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