Linda Colling: Kids on the breadline deserve so much more

A scene from Oliver Twist
A scene from Oliver Twist
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ALL over this city tonight there are children going to bed hungry and cold in homes with no heating.

Too many have to fend for themselves, no different than Oliver Twist and Fagin’s ragged urchins run by the Artful Dodger.

The scandal is that we haven’t strayed far from Dickensian times. And it’s going to get worse.

A staggering 71,000 children in the region are trapped in a cycle of poverty with numbers set to soar even higher.

For the first time, Save the Children has exposed a national scandal bringing together figures from each council in the UK – a first attempt at understanding extreme child poverty levels by local authority areas.

The highest rate of youngsters living in severe hardship in the North East was in Newcastle, with 19 per cent, and Sunderland and South Tyneside, both with 18 per cent. And every local authority in the region had a level above the national average of 13 per cent.

This picture of poverty is shocking. Given the benefits system provides for the essentials of life, why are there cold and hungry children?

Living on the breadline is a very delicate balancing act and it’s so easy to go under.

Yes, some do spend their money on drink, drugs, cigarettes and gambling at the expense of paying their way and putting food on the table for their children.

But that’s only half the story. When you are in an endless cycle of deprivation and debt there is no escape.

Those who take a pride in being responsible parents, when money is tight, struggle to make ends meet. Some just can’t manage their money.

And more will have their backs to the wall as jobs go the same way and their commitments outstrip their incomings.

It’s not just people living on benefits who are caught in the poverty trap, but there’s the working poor who need a car to get to work and when it fails its MOT don’t know where to turn. They have no money for emergencies.

The benefits system provides for day-to-day living but life can plunge you into poverty – one small disaster can tip you over the edge.

So many children are suffering but you wouldn’t know.

Once you could pick out poor kids from the clothes they wore, tatty, washed out togs, looking down and out and down-at-heel. But now you don’t see that. I certainly don’t see bairns with raggy backsides looking like street urchins. I do see plenty of chavs.

Today you can have nowt but kids will be wearing trainers and trendy gear. But that’s no measure of how hard-up a home they come from.

With Government cutbacks in benefits, services, more job losses and spiralling food and living costs more poverty looms.

Thousands don’t stand any chance because they are born into penury, others are fecklessly fathered and brought into this world by those who can’t afford them.

Then there are children fleeing with their mothers from violent men.

We have a lost generation of 1.6 million children growing up in severe poverty.

And this frightening fact is one that should send shockwaves into our homes

All too easily I can see these children written off as another statistic when we all know they are our future and deserve one.

Campaigners can call, as Save The Children is doing so commendably, till the cows come home, for this Government to ensure children don’t go begging in the poorest areas by announcing an emergency plan in the next budget to channel new jobs and increase financial support for low-income families.

But we all know the stark truth is it will end up dead in the water.

The 2011 census is a mere headcount and won’t show these children or their desperate plight which is hidden from official view and set to get worse.

Set them against the backdrop of the critical hardship this country is facing and the toll it will take in homes already deprived and others tasting deprivation for the first time. That’s a certainty. And we don’t need a crystal ball to see what’s on the cards.

Britain is the sixth richest country in the world, so fill the Prime Minister’s postbag. He changed his mind about the forests and it’s the future of the next generation that’s at stake.

Poverty isn’t as bad as it once was. But the poor are always with us and always the ones that suffer.