Government urged to put child poverty at heart of levelling up agenda for Sunderland and North East
The North East Child Poverty Commission (NECPC) and city’s education chief are calling on the Government to put children at the heart of its levelling up agenda by increasing child benefit provision and the availability of free school meals.
The independent group was commissioned to help eradicate child poverty across the region which currently has the second highest levels of childhood deprivation in the country with the latest figures showing 37 per cent of of all children classified as growing up in poverty.
Speaking ahead of the Chancellor’s Autumn Budget on October 27, NECPC director Amanda Bailey said: "More than one in three children in the North East are growing up in the grip of poverty, having their opportunities and ability to fulfil their potential severely limited.
‘The single most important step the Government could take to achieve its levelling up in our region is to put investing in children – including with an ambitious, joined-up child poverty plan – at the heart of this agenda."
In particular the NECPC has urged the Chancellor to increase child benefit by at least £10 per child per week and to widen criteria for free school meals (FSM) eligibility.
The report submitted to the Government stated: “Child Benefit has been eroded over the last decade as a result of freezes and sub-inflationary increases meaning it has lost a quarter of its value since 2010.
"There are currently 3,800 pupils classed as living in poverty in Sunderland and 2,000 in South Tyneside who do not qualify for FSM. We urge the Government to restore the previous eligibility threshold to include all families in receipt of Universal Credit and to also extend this to all those on equivalent legacy benefits.”
The submission has been backed by Sunderland City Council’s portfolio holder for Children’s Services, Cllr Louise Farthing.
Cllr Farthing said: “Poverty is the single biggest factor which affects families and I fully back these calls. Children need to be at the centre of any levelling up and here in Sunderland we are endeavouring to become a living wage city.”
The education leader and the NECPC are also calling on the Government to scrap the current two child limit for child benefit which currently affects 1,350 families in Sunderland - around 4,050 children – and 760 families in South Tyneside impacting on 2,280 children.
Cllr Farthing added: “I know some people may say don’t have more than two children if you can’t afford it but there are many people affected adversely by this through no fault of their own.
"People may plan for three children and then find through illness, accidents or loss of jobs they need support. These are things which can happen to anyone.”
Responding to concerns a Government spokesman said: “We are committed to ending poverty and are putting more money in the pockets of hard-working families, which is why this year we provided a pay rise to two million of the UK’s lowest-paid through a higher minimum wage.
“It’s right the Government should focus on our multi-million pound Plan for Jobs, supporting people back into work or to earn more.
“We’re also uniting and levelling up every part of the UK by empowering local leaders - boosting living standards, spreading opportunity and improving public services, and restoring local pride across the UK.”